Restoring the Avatar cycle at PAX 2015
Restoring the Avatar cycle at PAX 2015 Matt Baume

One of my very favorite things about living in Seattle — one of the things that convinced me to move here, in fact — is PAX, the giant video game convention held every Septemberish at the Convention Center, a sprawling throng of fandoms and beep-boop screens and clattering dice.

We’re just a few days away from PAX West 2021, which is returning for a big, jam-packed live event this weekend with a few new precautions: Proof of vaccination is required for entry, or a recent negative COVID test — that goes for all attendees, including children. (Full details here.) They’re also reducing capacity (though spokesperson Carter Dotson tells me “tens of thousands of people will attend this year's event”) and they’re requiring face coverings to be worn at all times.

That’s all very nice, and I hate to say this, but: I’m still feeling nervous about attending.

I’ve known a lot of dorks in my time, and the dorks at PAX are among the very finest; but cases are still quite high and, ughhhhhh, is it worth it? I’m cautiously okay with meeting someone in the park, or visiting a friend’s apartment if the windows are open and we’re sitting on opposite sides of the room. I’m not sure how one makes a convention hall, full of recycled air and pawed-over merch, feel safe.

Then again, I worry too much. (When I was learning to drive, the first question I asked when I got into a driver’s seat was, “What do I do if the steering wheel falls off?”) Maybe it’s totally fine! Cases, though high, are declining. PAX says they’re taking lots of precautions. Crowds managed to gather last year for BLM protests without a spike in cases.

And hey — there’s a ton of excellent panels slated for this year’s convention, and it would be a shame to miss them just because I’m too timid to leave the house. If you’re feeling bolder than I am, then here are some highlights on PAX’s schedule.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 3

Kick off your loooooong weekend with some friendly face-to-face time — while still maintaining a respectful distance. Check out the panel Socializing? What's that? A Refresher on Networking IRL to polish up your long-neglected social skills. Panelists will focus on taking online interactions into offline spaces and spending time with people in the same physical space, something we’ve all become very, very bad at, not just nerds.

Also of interest: Powerful Games for Powerful Girls, a provocatively-titled panel hosted by some folks from Wizards of the Coast, among others (including a producer and designer from Riot Games, which certainly reminds one of the company’s history). Topics will include inspirational women characters, empowering women gamers, and career paths for women in the game industry. You may also enjoy Wholesome Games: Little Games You’ll Love. I am almost completely disinterested in triple-A bloat (who needs another Madden?) but the indie game space continues to fascinate. This panel will highlight the “wholesome” genre, paying homage to cooking, coloring, and crafting games. I personally like Donut County, which is both wholesome and holesome.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 4

Human re-socialization continues with It’s Dangerous to Go Alone: Take Friends!, in which various members of the Zelda Universe fansite will reminisce about the franchise’s best relationships. There will be trivia and prizes, so be sure to brush up on your knowledge about Zelda (the boy) and Princess Link.

Crafty sorts may enjoy Build Your Own Retro Gaming Machine in Under an Hour, an intriguing suggestion/command. Tinkerers will walk you through the process of building a little game machine out of a $35 Raspberry Pi and a few other bits and bobs. A child will be on hand to prove how easy it is.

Saturday concludes with a secret! Someone — or something — will appear in the Sandworm theater to play Switch games and give out “weird prizes.” This may be cool or it may be a bust. Or it may be both.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 5

Get ready for a fight at The 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play (2021 Edition), a panel title that I would accuse of being clickbait if clicks actually existed IRL. Game designer Mike Selinker has compiled a list of 100 games that you should know about if you want to sound smart about video games, and he invites you to … oh no … debate him. What qualifies Mike Selinker to be an arbiter of such a list? Well, he was the creative director for the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons, so. You know. That’s one perspective.

Perhaps the most tempting of the panels this year is LGBTQ+ in Voice Acting, hosted by a group of queer professionals offering handy advice, answers to questions, and community support. For the last few months I’ve been helping my friends at Queer Vox, an organization for LGBTQ+ voiceover artists. You owe it to yourself to know all about Maddie Blaustein (the trans woman who was the voice of Meowth), Lexington from Gargoyles, and The Reluctant Dragon.

MONDAY, SEPT. 6

Support The Stranger

What the...? The con is still going? Yup, it runs all the way until Monday, Garfield’s least favorite day of the week. If you can slip away from work (assuming you work on Labor Day), consider popping your head into Video Games are Older Than You Think, an exploration of digital leisure that goes all the way back to — wait a minute, this can’t be right — 1912??? Well, they’re right; that certainly is older than I thought. It feels like everything is older than I thought these days, including me. Even as I type, I can feel the dark hand of death wrapping its talons around my body. I am but particles of dust, momentarily choreographed into consciousness before oblivion condemns me to putridity and liquescence. In other words, I got an ad for baldness cures on Facebook this morning and I’m in a mood.

OUTSIDE OF PAX

There are usually a whole bunch of unofficial nerd events that coincide with PAX, but this year I’m only seeing two. One is an 8-Bit Drag Show at Kremwerk, hosted by Londyn Bradshaw with performances inspired by various video games (will someone do Snake Eater????) and the other is a So Pokégenic! cosplay/photoshoot/dance party in Freeway Park. Of all of the PAX events, I think this is the one I’m most optimistic about — it’s outdoors, it’s free, and the vibe looks very welcoming indeed. Dress up as a Skull Grunt — they have built-in face masks!