On PAX Australia 2022, An In Person Return

February 6, 2023

Written by Jamie Galea

The following piece was adapted from a script I’d intended to make a YouTube video out of late last year. I couldn’t make the video work, but there’s plenty about the script I liked and wanted to adapt it as a more formal written post.

In the lead up to PAX Australia 2022, there was a lingering part of me that was convinced it wasn’t going to happen. While my mind knew that there was no way this wasn’t the case, there was another part of me that just couldn’t believe it, that the rug was going to get pulled from under me at the last possible moment.

While most cons are starting to come back or come back with in-person events, PAX Australia never really went away. There were a pair of online only PAX’s in 2020 & 2021 that tried to contain the entire experience within Twitch streams and a Discord server. I think it was a noble effort, with the added benefit of being the chillest and most comfortable PAX has ever been. That said, I wouldn’t want to experience it like that again, thanks to then lacking a lot of the personality that makes an in person PAX tick.

I don’t want to use this piece to review PAX Australia 2022, because that just seems silly. However, I do want to put into words what it felt like being at a PAX since we began living in these unprecedented times. I think the best way I can explain it is that it was the most bizarre form of nostalgia that I was drenched in, something that I’m still not quite sure how I felt about it.

Even though I hadn’t looked at a PAX map in three years, the muscle memory very quickly came back to me as I walked through the Convention Center. Classic Gaming was where it always was. The panel theatres are where they always were. Even the wide expanse that is the Tabletop Gaming area is where it’s always been.

As you walked onto the expo floor, you might’ve noticed a bit of a different vibe and feel. None of the console manufacturers had a booth, as well as a heap of the major third party publishers. In their stead were more booths dedicated to PC hardware or content creator gear, further fuelling the creator economy that gaming feels like it’s continually enabling. And then you had companies such as Aussie Broadband, that aren’t traditionally associated with gaming, make a big splash across the weekend.

Arguably the most popular booth at PAX Australia 2022, at its most quiet.

The lack of major players were a talking point across the weekend, but I don’t think it says a lot of anything about the state of PAX or the times we live in. Especially considering there were still plenty of big unreleased games for people to check out, like Street Fighter 6 and Sonic Frontiers. Not only were these the two major unreleased games you could play, they proved to be exceptionally popular. The former was the best place for anyone in the country who wanted to try it, since the weekend also coincided with the first of its incredibly coveted beta sessions. Hell, there were even a few booths where you could’ve played a Steam Deck, something that’s still unavailable for the majority of people.

To me though, PAX has always been great for independent developers and the showcases were killer. The lack of major publishers meant these spaces got a lot more room, and that’s always exciting to see. While Victoria is a major hub for game development, it was very exciting seeing dedicated sections for developers from Tasmania and New Zealand, because talent from all over needs to be highlighted.

As for other highlights, one of the more overlooked parts of the event was PAX Together, formerly known as the Diversity Lounge. In the interest of disclosure, I’m friends with the curators of the space, though even if I wasn’t, I’d still tell people to go check it out. It’s a great, welcoming and inclusive space for people to chill out, play some games, discover new favourites or meet people away from the hustle and bustle of the expo floor.

Complementing this was the PAX Together panel theatre, which had some of the most diverse and interesting lineup of panels across the entire expo. The panels catered to everything from accessibility in gaming, queer representation in media, game developers talking about their craft and projects and more. It was such a cool space that I was excited to see exist amidst the endless panels starring streamers & content creators.

I wasn’t leaving PAX without a photo with the hero and legend.

Though in order to really make it all work, you need people, and this is where the show delivers. PAX has always been a great space for people to really show off their power level, openly encouraging those who’ve got some really amazing talents to get out there and show them off. Cosplay is the most obvious, but you’ve also got artists, musicians and much more. You just can’t get that in the same way online.

The best way I can explain is with an anecdote from last year’s event. Prospect, Liam, myself and Karma, the co-curator of PAX Together were lining up for a panel. Whilst we were waiting, a pair of enforcers surprised us by serenaded our group playing a ukulele cover of Bastille’s Pompeii. They weren’t doing this for a charity or a particular cause, they just wanted to keep people entertained while lining up for a panel.

It furthered my belief that PAX is as much a social gathering as it is a gaming convention, and for good reason: pretty much everyone who’s into games goes to PAX. It doesn’t matter if they’re analogue or digital. It was especially the case this year, thanks to more people getting into games during the unprecedented times we’re still living through. Yet with more people getting into games also meant PAX was going to be even bigger than ever, and that part kinda threw me a little bit.

I’m not an anxious person, but the last few years have definitely shifted my thinking around being in a massive crowd in an enclosed space. Crowds have never been my favourite part of PAX, so combined that fact with the realities of what we’re still living through, as better as it is now than when the in person PAXs were cancelled, it was still a lot to take in. It still meant the usual moments of ducking out of the Expo Hall just to get away from the crowd still happened.

FGC Commentator Tom Scott hyping a crowd.

And yet having said all that, it was a feeling that I’ve genuinely missed. There’s a real energy being surrounded by thousands of like-minded individuals that I haven’t felt since the last PAX. It was great bumping into people I haven’t seen in a while, and even greater to finally meet the people behind the Twitter accounts that I started following since the last PAX. You don’t really think you miss it until you do, and it’s a hell of a revelation.

The tagline for PAX Australia, for as long as I can recall, has been simply “Welcome Home”. I’ve never gelled with it personally, because there’s a part of me that feels that it’s a bit too much? Yet having spent the better part of A weekend at an in-person PAX, the best way I can describe it, as much as I do hate to use this term but it’s honestly the best way to describe it, is that nature is healing.

There was something about coming back to an in person event like this that I didn’t think I’d miss, but I genuinely did. It was louder than I remember, it was more packed than I remember, yet being there was a good reminder of just how these events can be a good thing, even with the realities of the times we live in.

Over on my Twitter feed there’s always someone who makes the joke they’re looking forward to the start PAX or the start of games week right as they both end. It’s always cringe and everyone hates it, but there’s a part of me that’s already looking forward to the next one and could probably go again right the hell now.

So in a lot of ways, it felt pretty good to be welcomed home after all this time. This year’s PAX still feels like forever and a half away, but I honest to god cannot wait to do this all over again.

When he’s not reminiscing about conventions, you can find Jamie on Mastodon, Instagram, Twitch and whatever is left of Twitter.

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