What We Learned From Seattle's Colossal Video Game Convention

PAX West brought thousands of gamers to the Washington State Convention Center.
| Updated: November 27, 2018

The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) was held Sept. 1-4 at the Washington State Convention Center. The convention, now in its 14th year, is an opportunity for the video game industry to show off its most exciting new games and most advanced technology. For the outside observer, it provides a glimpse of nascent trends and ideas before they become prevalent. To that end, here’s what we learned at PAX West 2017.

Penny Arcade is committed to building a diverse community.
As the market for video games continues to diversify, copious effort on the part of industry leaders, community organizers and critics has gone into welcoming new groups and demographics into mainstream gaming culture. PAX demonstrated a commitment to inclusivity with panels about building queer gamer groups, advancing female game designers and finding solutions for challenges faced by streamers whose race or sexual orientation make them a target for online hate.

“Streaming” was the word on everyone’s lips.
Broadcasting video game play online has gone from a niche activity to an expectation for anyone looking to make a name for themselves in gaming. Twitch, the primary streaming platform, was purchased by Amazon in 2014 and now boasts more than 100 million users. According to a survey at one panel, more audience members had watched others play the wildly popular game Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds than had played themselves. What was once the humiliating fate of little brothers everywhere—being forced to watch others play—has become a national pastime.

The line separating creator and consumer has become perilously slim.
Games are increasingly made by a company, but live or die based on their capacity to support this secondary market of streamers who rely on the game to build their online following. The public meets the game on the terms of streamers, who use a given game as a platform to promote themselves, becoming both consumer and content creator at once. At PAX panels, accomplished speakers mentioned their academic credentials and their Twitch handles in the same breath, as if to suggest they hold equal responsibility for their success.

The desire for gatherings serving the nerd/geek culture is strong and growing.
The first PAX, held at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, attracted approximately 3,300 attendees. Attendance numbers for this year’s PAX West are not publicly available, but the PAX East event held in Boston earlier this year had more than 80,000 guests. As gaming becomes increasingly social and community-driven—a major component to the popularity of streaming—the desire to connect with other fans and online friends is crossing into the real world. As long as they keep providing business to the Convention Center, the surrounding hotels like the Sheraton and Hyatt, and venues like Benaroya Hall, Seattle will surely continue to be glad to be their mecca.

Games still want to grow up.
Despite gaming’s growth and increased cultural prominence, the industry still craves elusive artistic legitimacy. Academics and certain industry leaders are determined to treat video games as a proper art form and to subject it to the kind of critical scrutiny normally reserved for those whose greatest works don’t revolve around an Italian stereotype saving his girlfriend from a giant turtle.

But the public at large and even many in the gaming community continue to see it as nothing other than pure entertainment. This is one video game puzzle that remains yet unsolved, though many have faith that the solution is now in sight.

VR is the future.
One way many believe video games will be elevated to the status of art is through the technology of virtual reality or VR for short. With several headsets like the Oculus and Vive now on the market—all of which essentially are a screen you wear on your face centimeters from your eyes—VR is considered the next frontier of gaming, entertainment and art in general by some.

During a panel on the topic, Maureen Fan, the founder and CEO Baobab studios, stated she had “no doubt VR will revolutionize every industry,” once it is prevalent and sufficiently developed. The panel agreed that VR was more immersive than film (I guess more is assumed to be better?) while the addition of player choice would elevate the experience beyond the realm of the purely linear stories of, say, great works of literature. Mark me down as skeptical.

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