PAX Gaming Expo Gets Off to a Playful Start

You know you’re at a playful videogame conference when the hosts kick off the festivities by calling for — and getting — a collective knuckle-cracking from the audience.

That’s how Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, creators of the Penny Arcade comic and site, greeted attendees yesterday morning in Seattle’s Paramount Theater, at the start of their annual PAX get-together.

E3 may be the commercial machine that runs the videogame industry, but PAX is the heartbeat. With their comic-strip alter egos, Gabe and Tycho, and their focus on videogame culture, Krahulik and Holkins have built a worshipful following in the gaming community, and communing was where things began, with the pair taking audience questions in entertaining fashion.

They even managed to slip some news in among the patter: Next year, the Seattle PAX event (there’s also a PAX East in Boston) will be four days long, running from Friday to Monday; a new annual event in Australia is being added to meet demand.

For about 90 minutes, the pair addressed just a few thousand of the estimated 70,000 PAX-goers expected to attend this weekend at the Washington State Convention Center. They answered a range of questions that could safely be described as random — at times offering responses that were equally random, but somehow appropriate for this crowd.

A sampling:

  • Holkins is asked why he’s so “verbose” and “lingual.” “I suspect a lot of people have this problem,” he says. “It’s that I have an overpowering urge to educate people against their will. Right? The worst thing is that when you have a son, you end up telling him things like, ‘there is a creature that has a scorpion tail that is also a lion and a goat.’ It’s very lucky that I have (this tendency) — and can show people new words that I found in the dirt. I can’t help it.
  • What’s this year’s swear word? Holkins: Semen curds.
  • The question: The PAX badges sold out in five nanoseconds. You could raise the price, so that wasn’t a problem, but then only rich people could go. What can you do? Krahulik’s answer: “We have an announcement. The big first announcement is that one way we’ll avoid that in the future is by making it four days. It will now be Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That’s why we originally started to do PAX East; we figured we’ll make two, and we’ll divide them, but we found out that doesn’t work. So, now we are going to have another PAX in another country. So next year you’ll see PAX Australia. That’s three a year, people!”
  • Asked about the possibility of a loyalty program for regular attendees, Krahulik said, “It’s so hard. There’s just not enough space. We recognize that we need to fix how tickets are sold. Even by extending it to four days, we’ll have 30,000 people who won’t be able to come.”

  • But on to more serious matters, Mike — what’s the worst breakfast you’ve ever had at PAX? “That’s so weird that you ask,” says Krahulik. “It was this morning! I had a dry strawberry wafer that I stole from someone’s bag. It was awful, and that’s all I had for breakfast.”
  • A crowdfunding question from the crowd: “So, you recently did a Kickstarter. I have a question about the $15 perk. For those who gave $15, Krahulik was going to think of you during sex. My question was whether you have thought out the logistics of that yet?” Krahulik: “Honey, I know my wife is in the audience. I do have some ideas. People paid for this, and we’re going to have to knock it out. It’s a job, and I’ve got to do it.”
  • Okay, enough with the sex; how about some romance. An audience member (I think his name was Angelo) tells Holkins: “Every year, PAX is a couple’s retreat for me and my wife. We ran into you last year, and asked you to officiate our wedding. You said you couldn’t come to San Francisco, but that you’d do something at this year’s PAX.” And Holkins, apparently vested in some way with the appropriate power, obliges, conducting a perfunctory ceremony that ends with a kiss, wild applause and Holkins saying, “That was a rush — does anyone else want to get married?”

As I said, not exactly a conventional convention. But stay tuned through the weekend, as these folks talk seriously about the business of having fun.


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