Fun fact: I moved to Seattle because of PAX West.

It was August of 2014, and my partner and I were here to work on a documentary about queer geeks. After spending several days interviewing superb nerds, navigating row after row of enchanting indie games, getting lost in game-ephemera discourse over drinks, and allowing my beard to grow to a Pacific Northwest–appropriate length, the convention had perfectly framed the city as a place I belonged.

"What are we doing here?" I asked when we returned to our West Hollywood apartment. A month later, we flew back to Seattle to hunt for apartments. A month after that, we moved. Thanks, PAX.

What started as a modest Bellevue meet-up of a few thousand people in 2004 has grown into an international fandom phenomenon, drawing cosplayers and gamers and collectors and families and, well, anyone who likes having fun.

But it's also become A LOT. With tens of thousands of attendees stampeding between panels and concerts and tournaments, it's easy to get exhausted by it all. Are you coming to game? To cosplay? To network? To learn? To lose to me in the Mario Kart 7 tournament? There's more to experience at this con than any one person can possibly process, and crafting an optimal experience really depends on what you want to get out of it.

So please, as someone for whom PAX is an anchor around which my Seattle identity revolves, allow me to offer some guidance.

First, a quick tip: Rooms that start with "C" are at the Convention Center, rooms starting with "S" are at the Sheraton, "H" is for Grand Hyatt, "W" is for the Westin, and "R" is for the Regency. I only learned that this year, which means I've spent the last four years running around lost like an idiot.

Tip number 2: Expect to be offline. The convention center will have no cellular or Wi-Fi service, maybe because of the crowds or maybe because its walls seem designed to resemble those of an under-mountain repository for depleted uranium.

And remember, some of the best PAX stuff isn't officially part of PAX at all. Check out Stranger Things To Do's PAX calendar for special game-themed events, parties, and concerts. (As for me, I'll be hosting Dungeons & Drag Queens, a live comedy show where drag performers improvise their way through a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. Come see us at Kremwerk on Wednesday, August 28!)

Also, beware of security hassles. As of this year, the front doors will be exit-only, so you'll need to seek out the tunnel doors at the back to enter. If it's anything like Emerald City Comic Con, security will prevent you from crossing Freeway Park and you'll have to go on a 10-minute detour around it instead. There will be metal detectors at the entrances and extensive bag searches. It's a pain in the neck, but we live in a country where it's become normal to have massacres nearly every day, so I guess a lengthy security line is worth the wait for PAX West not to be the place you and your friends die in a hail of bullets.

Now that we have some logistics squared away, it's time to crack open the panel schedule. Panels are PAX's great strength: Some are for players ("Streaming as a Hobby or Career"), others are more for industry pros ("The Art and Science of Mystery Game Design"), but most are for both ("Historical & Visual Transgender Representation in RPGs").

Start your weekend with the panel "Hidden Gems: Discovering the Undiscovered of PAX West" on Friday evening in the Cat Theatre. You might also consider "An Introvert's Guide to Networking," "Latinx in Gaming: Building Community," and the "Cosplay Crunch Contest." That last one sounds truly thrilling: Participants will have 45 minutes to make a full costume using only the materials and tools provided, and they can keep anything they make. Can we get a bunch of furries to crash this one?

On Saturday, I recommend "Queering Up Misconceptions: LGBTQ+ Life in the Game Industry," and if you're feeling bold, "So You Think You Can Act? Video Game Actors and a Casting Director Will Rate Your Performance." I'm also intrigued by "Beyond Tolkien: Queer, Non-European Worldbuilding." And in the evening, I'll be on a panel called "Thirst Unquenched? Sexy Characters for the Rest of Us," where I'll explain why Hubert is the superior romance option to Lindhart, even if it can only happen in headcanon.

On Sunday, you'd be a fool to miss "Ask Game Lawyers Anything: This Normally Costs Money!" That panel alone is worth the price of a badge. Sensitive types will likely enjoy "The Psychology of the Final Fantasy Series," and if you'd like a little nerdery with your geeking, there's "More Fi Than Sci: Bad Science in Video Games."

And oh, what's this? I'll be wrapping up the weekend by hosting a panel version of our drag queen/D&D show. It's Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Sasquatch Theater. And Monday is Labor Day, so you can stay out late.

Of course, there's more to PAX than panels. You can get autographs from local luminary Ellen McLain and Oregon's Anna Prosser, or enter tournaments to dominate in Beat Saber, Catan, Kirby 64, Splatoon, Exploding Kittens, and Double Dash. (First come, first served, so get there early.)

Bring your own PC and connect it to the LAN, or use one of PAX's preloaded machines. They also have a game checkout system, both for console and tabletop, if you'd like to try something new.

And on the topic of games, yes, all the major AAA usual suspects will be present. But skip the long lines to play their jury-rigged demos, and instead head for the Indie Megabooth, where you can sample dozens of fascinating games pushing the boundaries of play.

Indie highlights this year include Wytchwood, where you play a witch gathering ingredients for spells; Epic Tavern, a sort of tavern simulator in which you run a quest hub for adventurers; and Boomerang Fu, a literal food fight in which meals pelt each other with boomerangs. I'm also intrigued by Sunless Skies, a gothic horror RPG that appears to feature a space train.

While you're rushing around, don't forget to breathe every now and then, relax, step away from the crowd, and calm down. For chill time, look no further than the AFK Lounge, a mental-health oasis amid the hustle and bustle. Or check out the Handheld Lounge, where you can settle down into a beanbag among friends. And of course there's the Diversity Lounge, where all are welcome, even heterosexuals. Do they even play games?

So there you have some highlights—and we didn't even have time to talk about the pin trading, the concerts, the VR demos, and more. Pace yourself and remember that you can't do everything. So just give in to the intensity and enjoy the sensation of bouncing from one delight to the next. With any luck, you'll feel your choice of hometown affirmed and recharged for another year.