For those of you who were wondering why half the people riding the MBTA this past weekend were dressed up as costumed characters, Boston just hosted the Penny Arcade Expo, aka PAX East, one of the largest gaming conventions in the country (Anime Boston was also in town, which accounts for the other half!). Ever since this popular Seattle-based con established a beachhead here on the East Coast a few years ago PAX East has grown by leaps and bounds every year, such that its attendance actually now rivals its parent event, drawing gamers from all over New England and beyond for three days of video game demos, tabletop action, and general over-the-top geeky mayhem.
Last year I had planned on bringing my daughter to PAX for the Saturday of that expo, but when a kid from her class invited her to a roller-skating birthday party on the same day I naturally lost on the face-off- video games may be fun, but no eight-year old kid turns down an afternoon at the roller rink! This year there were no scheduling conflicts, however, so I was finally able to introduce my little girl to a glimpse of gaming Nirvana... and it was good!
Although I was really nervous as to whether my daughter would enjoy herself or run away screaming, she in fact had a blast, and is already looking forward to next year's PAX East. Just in case any other gamer parents out there are wondering how to bring their children to an event as big and overwhelming as PAX and actually have a positive experience, here are a few things that in retrospect I think I managed to do right:
1. Scout out the con beforehand. If you're planning on bringing the kids, don't take them on the first day that you go. Give yourself a day to get a lay of the land and gather as much intel as you can so you're not wandering around blindly with children in tow. Figure out where the concessions are, which bathrooms are closest/most convenient, and map the easiest ways to get from Point A to Point B so you don't wear out little gamer feet in the process of shlepping back and forth across a cavernous, crowded convention center. This is also your opportunity to do the things that you want to (e.g., play some ultraviolent video games, indulge in a marathon session of Settlers of Catan, get that obligatory picture with Lollipop Chainsaw), because when you come back with your kids you should
2. Do what your children want to do. This should be a no-brainer, but if you want your kids to have a positive con experience let them set the pace and call the shots. Especially if they've never been to something like PAX, expect them to spend a goodly deal of time walking around slack-jawed and in awe of the expo floor. Let them bounce around like pinballs, gathering swag and taking pictures of cosplayers. If they want to play Mario Kart 7 for hours on end, be a good sport and let them do just that. Remember that little gamers will not be nearly as interested as you are in standing in line for yet another exclusive preview demo, nor will they be happy about steep learning curves mastering unfamiliar platforms- look for short lines and familiar (or at least intuitive) games if you want to maximize your fun. That being said, be sure to
3. Keep a list of "kid-friendly" activities on hand. Although PAX doesn't really have kids events per se, there are a lot of things going on that will be just as entertaining to your children as it will be for you. For example, a friend of mine working the con told me about a free mini-painting event that was perfect for my craft-minded daughter. We also spent an inordinate amount of time at the LEGO vendor, who allowed you to assemble your own minifigs at the price of one dollar per part- as my daughter is absolutely obsessed with LEGO, this to me was well worth the price! I also knew that she would enjoy watching the PopCap zombies dance, so I made sure we caught one of their routines in the lobby. This may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but the more you plan in advance, the more serendipitous your kids' convention will seem, and the more rewarding everyone's time will be as a result.
4. Finally, HAVE FUN! This is about showing your kids all that is good about gaming. Play your cards right and you will have a delightfully absurd, geek-positive, and memorable family experience and lay the groundwork for many happy returns.