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12 November 201503:50PMpaxtravel

If you ever want to be convinced that games are meant to be played and not looked at, go to a gaming expo. The point where I started enjoying myself correlates pretty precisely with the point where I started playing things that looked interesting instead of aimlessly wandering around looking at them.

Me, 2013.

If you ever want proof that games can actually be looked at and be just as fun, go to a gaming expo. I'm talking, of course, about the Omegathon.

The Omegathon is a multi-round spectator sport, with a random group of PAX attendees chosen to compete in front of increasingly large crowds. And I am kind of a shameless addict.

PAX is about buy-in for me. I learned about the convention from documentary episodes and blog posts by the event's progenitors. They talk a lot about the stuff that they're doing, and don't have so much time to catch other panels. So for me, the PAX myth was all about drawing comic strips and setting challenges for unsuspecting gamers. That's the experience I try to replicate when I finally get the chance to attend.

I'm not really into the whole streaming thing. I don't really get Let's Plays. I have nothing but respect for professional gamers, but I have zero interest in watching them. The idea of e-sports kind of makes me roll my eyes. I shouldn't enjoy the Omegathon.

progressively bigger stages

But it's like the difference between live sport and televised sport, I guess. There's a whole element of atmospherics and crowd participation that I think, as a predominantly digitally mediated experience, gaming misses out on. There's something visceral about being part of a crowd. Even when the game isn't that competitive. We all knew, somehow, that we had to cheer during Katamari when someone managed to pick up the Kewpie Mayonnaise*. Everyone knew that Gongon was never going to make it past the first island in Monkey Ball, but that didn't stop people from chanting his name.


It's gripping and intense and addictive in a way that streaming just isn't. It's kind of indescribable, but you probably know the feeling I mean, and why I want to chase it.

There's a parallel of sorts to be drawn there: The Omegathon is to streaming as PAX is to gaming. PAX is a physical manifestation of a digital medium, and it exists to fill a unique experiential gap. This is a lot of what PAX is supposed to be for people: A physical place where they can hang out with their own tribe, and finally find a place to be themselves.

I'm not sure I experience that gap so much in my everyday life. I have a fairly decent bunch of mates, who already get this kind of stuff. And it's easier to chase that shared experience on the couch than it is to take it to Melbourne. I get why that particular value proposition might not have been there.

But there is another side to that. Because the people I noticed most were - and this is going to sound a little weird - other instances of us. Other groups of people who were kind of close knit, with snatches of banter indicating that this wasn't a new discovery but something old and comfortable. For these guys PAX isn't a homecoming or a safe space, it's just a really fun weekend out. And it's that level of PAX that appeals to me.

So. Do I go next year? That depends. I've done my "I want to do this, with or without other people" thing, and it worked, and I had an awesome time, but I'm not sure I'd do it again alone. PAX, the way I'm interested in it, isn't a spectator sport. I reckon it's meant to be about the people you're with. And that kind of puts it out of my hands. If I - we - go again, we go again. If not? Hey, I had my fun adventure.


*Katamari is a truly bizarre game. Even more so as a spectator sport.

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