It is a surreal thing wandering into a trade show like PAX East as we are newly into the third year of the Pandemic. My last in person experience with this iconic gaming conference was in March 2020 just before the Pandemic was declared and the world stopped in it’s tracks.
This is the Third PAX being held in person with PAX West and Unplugged happening just before Omicron added new wrinkles to how we deal with COVID-19. Months into this new variant and restrictions are relaxing and travel is starting again.
The nice thing about PAX East, and frankly why I went was that the organizers had a strict health and safety policy that everyone had to be vaccinated and mask usage in the conference centre grounds was mandated. They held firm on this despite Massachusetts dropping many restrictions.
This, plus the smaller footprint, lower attendance caps and lack of major Triple A studio presence made PAX East radically different than previous years. People were calm, people were respectful, helpful and frankly just damn happy to be at the conference whose tagline is welcome home.
The Show Floor
PAX East is a showcase for all things gaming, the major draw at this conference is the Expo Hall that was open all four days of the show. The show floor is roughly divided into two parts with Videogames near the front entrance and Tabletop Games at the rear of the area.
In the past the videogame showcases dominated the majority of the expo space, but as interest in tabletop experiences has grown so has their presence at PAX East. There is also scattered vendors, hardware manufacturers, food/drink vendors and educational entities to fill out the remaining areas.
The result is an immense showcase of games, apparel, dice, tabletop games and opportunities for ad-hoc gaming sessions. The reduced footprint and lack of major players like Sony and Microsoft made the event feel somehow infinite with dozens of Independent games giving us great new experiences to discover.
Frankly it was a pleasure wandering the show floor for the whole event. People were exuberant, the weather in Boston was fantastic so folks were coming in and out and happy to do so. PAX also introduced new security scanners to speed up gate checks so the vibe was one of general glee and wonder.
The Panels and Activates
Another major key focus is well over a hundred panels that run over the course of the conference. These range from major industry showcases like the Gearbox Main Theatre Show to smaller focused talks like Ready Player Queer: Growth of Queerness in Gaming or The Evolution of PC Modding.
These panels run concurrently in multiple theatres so there is always plenty of options to choose from when looking to hear about whatever aspect of the industry catches your interest. Many of the scheduled sessions are also centered around gaming tournaments, outreach and how to play certain experiences.
Across the sprawling BCEC there are also many stages, breakout spaces and hangout spaces that give plenty of opportunities to try new things. A great example is Pinny trading has become a big deal with folks trading the collectible pins with each other and these spaces are scattered everywhere.
Spaces like a Jackbox Games stage, Speedrun stations and charity spaces like the infamous Cookie Brigade and Child’s Play also offer games, entertainment and opportunities to donate. These extra spaces as well as community rooms for LGBTQ spaces and lounges for handheld gaming round out a fantastic experience for everyone who attends PAX East.
The Social Activities
While all of PAX East is a social experience there are specific events tailored to just have pure fun without sitting at a panel or wandering the show floor. Every night there is a major event or concert in the Main Theatre which gives folks a chance to stay at the convention centre in a safe space and listen to Music or watch the iconic Acquisition Inc. team play a live D&D session.
After hours events are also common and while they are not run by the convention organizers they are commonly associated with the event. Black Dessert online, Voodoo Ranger beer and Acer all threw great social events allowing PAX goers to blow off some steam after hours.
The Seaport area around the BCEC has expanded greatly over the years and many new hotels are now attached or within walking distance. These hotel lobbies and bars, in particular the attached Westin become a hotspot of activity with board games, socializing and reminiscing amongst friends happening after each night of the event.
PAX East Experience
PAX East is a truly special event that brings together gamers in a way that no other convention or trade show can compare to. The catchphrase of Welcome Home is truly one that has meaning and feels real as the disparate group of people come together as one for four days in Boston.
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