As we learn to navigate a world amidst the reality of COVID-19, conventions are slowly beginning to return around the country, and this past weekend PAX East made landfall at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. PAX East definitely felt different this year: There wasn't a huge Nintendo booth with walk-around Animal Crossing characters like there was in 2019, Riot Games didn't take over an entire corner of the convention to dedicate to League of Legends, and there was no sign of Sony or Microsoft. Still, PAX East has always been a phenomenal opportunity for indie developers and publishers to get out into the public and get their games in the hands of fans, and that's exactly what this weekend was all about: the games.
PAX East 2022 Had an Incredible Number of Games to Play
Between Features Editor Robert Scarpinito and myself, we played more than 20 games during the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we spent at PAX East in Boston. We saw indie titles in varying stages of development, fast-paced and heart-pounding first-person shooters, intricate puzzle games, narrative-driven point-and-click adventures, and so much more.
For many of us, the gaming space has been dominated by our living rooms, bedrooms, offices, and really any other room in our homes where we can set up a console (or bring a Nintendo Switch). There are online communities that have helped us feel connected, but getting out into the world and appreciating these games with so many others brought an electric energy that I hadn't felt in a long time.
You can check out our previews of the games we played, like the delightful roguelike Cursed to Golf, the action-packed brawler Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge, the outer-space factory-construction simulator Techtonica, and the Souls-inspired, pixel-art 2D adventure game No Place for Bravery, among many others. For so long, we've been relegated to playing demos that have been available online or waiting to purchase games when they've been fully released.
After a couple years of isolation, it was great to get together with the gaming community and just celebrate a whole lot of amazing games.
It was an incredible feeling to stand on a convention floor and play a game while others watched and cheered, and the developers were available to offer advice and answer questions. Even with the huge names like Nintendo and Microsoft not present, there was plenty to satisfy any avid video game fan, with publishers like tinyBuild, Devolver Digital, and Gearbox present at the show. This provided so much to see and experience, no matter what a player's platform of choice was.
Of course, PAX East isn't just an expo for video games: there was a huge tabletop presence there as well. Wyrmwood had their luxury gaming tables on display, there was a large area for people to purchase Magic: The Gathering cards or sit down and play, and of course vendors had more board games than you could possibly want.
The last day I was there, I picked up Flash Point: Fire Rescue, a firefighting board game where you work cooperatively in different roles to, you guessed it, fight fires and rescue civilians. PAX is a time for exploration and discovery, and I can't wait for the next opportunity to have my friends over and enjoy some tabletop fire-fighting roleplay.
It Was Refreshing Being Among Video Game Fans Again
Though attendance was lower than years past, the Saturday of PAX East was completely sold out, and the aisles were packed. PAX East itself was a vaccine- and mask-mandated event, requiring you to provide proof of your vaccinated status to receive a wrist band prior to entering. And the mask compliance was surprisingly a non-issue. It's not an exaggeration to say I saw tens of thousands of people over the course of the weekend, and only once did I see a gentleman walk by with his mask pulled down around his chin (I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt since he was carrying an iced coffee, but still).
There are already reports coming out about COVID cases that were detected at PAX East, and I highly encourage anyone who went to take a test before returning to daily life, but the protocols they had in place helped me feel way more comfortable than I would have been otherwise. This eased my anxiety during the convention and allowed me to just enjoy playing so many games among people who love gaming as much as I do.
The cheers at the panels. The conversations had with strangers over a food truck lunch while sharing one of the coveted tables outdoors. The cosplay. The anticipation of seeing titles many of us have been following for months. Video games can be an isolating medium. Yes, online multiplayer helps us stay together while apart, but so often we as a community get sucked into single-player experiences, so it's always refreshing to have an opportunity to just talk about and celebrate games with people who love them as much as you do.
Few people at my day job or in my family understand the deep connection I have to some of my favorite games. But the people at PAX do. And that's why I'm so happy it was able to be brought back for 2022, and it doesn't hurt that the convention weekend landed on my birthday this year, either.
This Bodes Well for the Future of PAX and Other Gaming Events
The industry at large is hesitant to return to sprawling in-person events. E3 2022 has already been completely canceled (though admittedly E3 has had non-pandemic-related problems as well), and PAX attendance wasn't as high as it has been in previous years. Still, with a sold-out day and thousands of visitors, PAX East proved that that the appetite for in-person events is still there across the games space.
My hope is that this year's attendance will motivate the AAA names like Nintendo and Microsoft to return next year. I get that it's a logistical nightmare coordinating an expo like PAX, and it may be easier to put together a Nintendo Direct or pre-packaged online press release to discuss the latest games, but that's no replacement for being able to actually play and experience these games in person. That's why PAX East is a great equalizer: whether you own every console or none of them, you're able to sample a little bit of everything to see what appeals to your playstyle.
Though PAX East 2022 felt different from previous years (and I would know, I've attended every one since 2014), it still had an enthralling energy and brought people together in a way that only video games can. After a couple years of isolation, it was great to get together with the gaming community and just celebrate a whole lot of amazing games that'll be coming to PC and console later this year and beyond.
It may be the end of this year's PAX East, but I'm already looking forward to next year. I hope to see you there!