Another Labor Day Weekend come and gone -- the sun was out, the weather in Seattle was impeccable, so what does this Birdy do....?  Spend it under the cover of darkness in the Seattle Convention Center for the annual super gamer convention, Penny Arcade Expo (PAX)! Not total darkness as you can see -- there's a handy sunlight-bathed glass atrium area that connects the two sides of the convention center, which gets a nice amount of light for those with particularly epic costumes. I was on hand to snap a few pictures for the Home Team, Runic Games, as they announced their big release date for Torchlight II. September 20th, if you didn't already hear about it.  

I like attending PAX, despite my not-super-gamer self. I did my time with Atari and Intellivision way back in the day, still wishing I had those consoles for no other reason than eBay. I enjoyed several iterations of Nintendo's Gameboy, with vivid memories of my thumbs losing all feeling after playing Tetris or Mario Bros nonstop. And then I just sort of stopped. I never got into XBox or Playstation -- quite frankly, too many buttons, options and combinations of button moves for my feeble brain. Even with PC games, I only recently wandered back into the game-pool with Torchlight and I was reminded why it's best for me to distance myself from the gamer lifestyle: BECAUSE I COULDN'T STOP. Torchlight is a pretty user-friendly game and a lot of fun, and that's a big danger zone for me as I literally lost days on that game. I promise to lose additional days when Torchlight II comes out, maybe even more, now that it's a multi-player game, which adds the element of peer pressure and virtual socialization. I could literally play the game with the Mister, sitting side-by-side, and somehow that may constitute Date Night. Errrhh..... no.  

But that's all an explanation over my limited background with gamers -- I like going to PAX for the good stuff, which is to see people's costumes and this feeling that it's a giant Nerd Prom. I mean that in a good way, I really do. It's a safe environment. You can be yourself and not feel hindered by social expectations (which can be a good and bad thing, I'll admit that). People in costumes are noticed and appreciated, and also respectfully left alone, not pointed out as strange. The whole city transforms -- within a block radius of the conference center you don't think twice when you see zombies sipping martinis or demonic clowns having a slice of pizza. You can show up alone to PAX but make a bunch of friends over the weekend because you know you're in a like-minded community. It's not if you like games, but which ones you like. And it's not just video games, there's role playing board games and card games. Everyone has a story about the first time they played Dungeons and Dragons in someone's basement, or the time they spent way too many quarters and finally beat Street Fighter. The video game industry is no longer just for kids. It's been around long enough to where the kids who grew up on playing with little 8-bit graphic characters accompanied by tinny cartoon music, and those kids figured out a way to pursue a career in what seemed an obscure industry. Since then, those kids have become adults, and made those little characters into heroes, gods and monsters, masters of universes, spirits driven by destiny, and pretty much anything outside of the box you can imagine. And no more wakka-wakka-wakka Pac Man sounds, video game soundtracks are sweeping and dramatic like a film score. The plots behind many games are as complex and multi-layered as a book, so the story engages the player as much as the ability to interact with it.

If you ever get a chance to attend PAX or any big video game conference, think of it like an opportunity to visit a new country, with its own unique customs and cultures -- it really is like walking into an entirely different world.

Jaunty Fine Print: photographs by Denise Sakaki

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