Published on October 11th, 2023 | by Daniel
10 Years of PAX Aus! @PAXAUS
Ten years of PAX Aus, who can believe it. Thinking back like that, it really does a number on the mind to realise just how old I am now. That I’m only getting older and seeing newer generations of gamers rising up, I’m barely in my thirties but young gamers would call that old. I’ve been privileged to sit through five generations of PlayStation, four Xbox’s, six Nintendo’s and even a Sega (Megadrive). Games have come so far in this time, even longer when I look at what my parents grew up with. And yet It feels like only yesterday that I walked through those doors for the first time ever as media back in 2015, my first ever year at PAX and what a wild time it was. The only PAX I’ve missed attending since then was the following year in 2016 and to this day I’m kicking myself I was never able to make it. Every year PAX only grew bigger and better, as gaming as a whole became more widely accepted medium for fun and business both. Tournaments became E-Sports, LAN parties became live service games and the rise of streamers and content creators gave way to new ways for young talent to make a career out of gaming. PAX not only outlasted E3, it has since become the largest gaming convention around the world and become the home where all gamers congregate each and every year, (barring the covid lockdowns), to experience the fun of being part of a massive community that only grows larger and larger each year.
PAX is a place for gamers of all ages, genders and backgrounds to call home. We’re all one big community coming together to celebrate the joy of video games.
It’s hard to believe that this is only our second year back from COVID, because the minute I walked through those doors at 9 am in the morning on an otherwise unsuspecting Friday morning, I felt right at home. Who wouldn’t when they’re greeted by a giant screen mounted from the ceiling that reads the very same: “Welcome Home”. Reading that sign as I joined the hundreds of people walking through those doors, literally gave me goosebumps. Even with only ten years under itself, PAX is so rich in history, going so far as to have a giant wall lining the hallway dividing the main and convention halls depicting that very history. With a montage of photos from over the years, complete with each years logo design. PAX regulars have collected many things over the years and the veterans are instantly recognisable. Adorned with badges and pins all over their lanyards and on their backpacks. While some collected pins, I kept hold of every media pass I ever secured, from 2015, right to 2023. Had Covid not stopped 2020 and 2021 I would have 9 passes, not including the year I missed in 2016, that I only missed out on because I was in between media publications at the time.
PAX Australia began back in 2013, at the Melbourne Showgrounds. In 2014 it moved to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, where is has remained ever since. Barring the two years in 2020 and 2021 where it was hosted online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the largest convention of its kind in the southern hemisphere and attracts gamers, players and pop-culture enthusiasts from all over Australia and New Zealand. Even a few die-hard fans from other PAX locales wouldn’t miss the chance to see the event in every location it visits. An event that once saw attendance levels of 9000 in its first ever year back in 2004 in the US, now sees over 80 thousand people in Australia alone. And the numbers are only growing every year. At the heart of the operation, are the PAX enforcers, volunteers who sign up to help set up and run the event, managing thousands of people and making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. The event would literally not be possible without these guys, so I wanted to start off early by thanking each and every one of them for the hard work, long hours and tiresome work they do. So many of them are bright and happy for longer hours that I’d even consider possible and I seriously don’t know how they do it, I know I struggle smiling at customers in my day job for more than 5 minutes, let alone 12+ hour shifts. So thanks to all of you wonderful people, some of whom are even friends that I know personally.
I wanted to make this piece a little different from how I do my usual PAX writing. So here are some of my personal highlights from the weekend as a whole, taken from each of my daily summaries, with some greater detail provided.
It was Friday morning, I’d just finished my rounds in the early access media hour. My partner and I lined up in the entrance to the main hall, it was packed, the smell of sweat already beginning to fill the air as we were packed in like sardines in a tin can. Just waiting for the time to hit 10am, as the clock slowly approached the time, a countdown appeared. Every time it counted down a minute, a tune would play and the crowd would cheer. The tune became louder as the crowd got wilder each minute that drew closer. Then the final minute came and the seconds counted down on screen, 59, 58, 57, inflatable beach balls started bouncing around the crowd, 39, 38, 37. The crowd was beginning to chant, 10, 9, 8. The atmosphere was electric and it was impossible not to chant along with them, 3, 2, 1, ZERO and the crowd went nuts as Welcome to the Jungle, by Guns N’ Roses ripped through the speakers. The gates were open and a sea of gamers flooded the main hall, making a bee-line for merch, games and more.
Lines quickly filled up on all sides, friends, families all converging on their chosen activity, chatting between themselves about where they were going and what they wanted to do first. With many choosing to wander around the hall first, to get an idea of where everything was before heading to a booth of their choosing. For my partner, it was only her second time at PAX and it would be her first time attending all three days. In her, I saw eyes sparkling, that almost childlike sparkle that I over the years had begun to lose touch with as I got older with less and less people to share the experience with each year as some friends outgrew gaming as they had families of their own and their priorities changed. Needless to say, that over the course of the weekend, my partner rekindled that spark in my heart and I’m already thinking ahead and planning for next year.
I won’t go and pick a favourite panel like I have done in the past and I won’t rattle on about each and every panel I attended. Though I attended less panels than I have in previous years, I spent more time enjoying the ones I did go to. Rather than trying to fit as many as I could in as short a time we had available to us in PAX. My method this year was to pre-list all the panels I was interested in, focusing mostly on the main ones my partner and I took mutual interest in and marking them as the definite go to panels. Whilst also noting any that she or I wanted to check out personally as “optional”, this sometimes included panels that ran parallel to our primary choices. This gave us the opportunity to then leave the primary and visit the secondary if we weren’t enjoying the former. This also gave us options of either checking out the “optional” panels in between our main attractions, or using that time to either take a rest, grab a bite to eat, visit the mail hall for games and merch, or simply grab a few cosplayers for photos.
A few notable panels would have to be, Storytime with Erika Ishii, Fireside with Mick Gordon, Zelda Universe Ultrapanel, Acquisitions Inc play Call of Cthulhu and D&D, but we do every roll for real. These panels were the absolute highlights of our weekend, some gave us messages of encouragement, whilst others gave us stitches as we laughed like never before. All the panels we attended, were simply amazing and not enough credit is given to the people who come up with their material. Not every panel is for everyone, but every panel is for someone. Of course, no matter how perfectly you try to run everything, sometimes there are hiccups, an some panels either started too late because of run times or there were a few that got cancelled for one reason or another. But what event can say they’ve ever ran 100% perfectly without even the smallest of hitches, it would of course be remiss of me to not acknowledge where improvements could still be made however. And this is one of them, to their credit though, the organisers are always acutely aware of this and always strive to cause as little interruptions as possible.
As always, cosplay is a major attraction to these conventions and with each and every year that comes and goes. The skills and creativity of the cosplayers just keeps getting better and better. I’m going to show a little, okay a lot of my bias here when I say I’m really happy to see a massive increase in Final Fantasy XIV cosplay in recent years. As someone who spends most of their free time when I’m not writing reviews for other games and events, playing FFXIV. It’s really amazing to see more people choosing to cosplay characters from the game that changed my life and introduced me to so many friends and even my current partner. What’s even more amazing than that, players are now opting to cosplay their own Warriors of Light, their custom characters. This has inspired me to want to get back into cosplaying myself, even further inspiring me to try and make as much of it as I can, by myself! Going so far as to research the materials I’ll need and watching videos on methods to achieve the best cosplay I can make. Of course, there are so many other cosplay on offer to see and all are so happy to have their photos taken and strike up chats with people who appreciate their work. Cosplay from anime, games, comics, pop-culture and more! It’s also really cool to see people who would be otherwise complete strangers, form groups to share in similar interests and take part in group photoshoots.
What is PAX without a little merch, or some cool swag. With stores tailored to provide exactly the kinds of gear a gamer needs to equip themselves for whatever type of game they’re playing. Whether it’s PC gear to build yourself an awesome setup to stream or just to play games comfortably. Or maybe you’re a tabletop player and want to grab some new tabletop games, board games, dice or peripherals like a sweet leather dice bag or tray? What if you’re a fan of anime or comics? They got you, with figures, collectables, action figures, manga and comics from your favourite series’, you can’t go wrong. Perhaps you just want to adorn yourself with pins or sweet, sweet swag from PAX itself, to show everyone that you love PAX and that you were there. Whatever it is, they’ve got you covered, from head to toe apparently.
And lastly, but most importantly. The very reason why the event exists in the first place, is games. From mainstream new releases and games as yet unreleased, to indie games from small dev teams around the globe. Some from even right on our doorstep. PAX is full of fun and interesting games, of all different genres, that anyone should be able to find something to enjoy playing. From Nintendo and Sega showing off their upcoming or newly released games and merch. To indie games from Australia, New Zealand and all over the world, keen to show of that you don’t need a big studio with hundreds of employees to make a cool game. Sometimes, all you need is a bit of talent, hard work and a dream. I went over some of the game I played in the indie games showcase in my Day Three summary, so if you want a larger breakdown of the games I played, please go and check that out here.
I’d also just like to give a big shoutout to Rick Salter, who I met on Sunday after attending his panel at the GCAP just prior to PAX. He and his team Hojo Studio’s work is amazing and if you didn’t get the chance to check out the The Godfeather : A Mafia Pigeon Saga. It’s out now on Steam, so please do check it out. I’ve already picked up the game myself and have had a ball playing it at home. And one more shout out to Vivink Studios for their work on the cutest looking game we tried out at PAX, Ailuri! The art is gorgeous and it has a demo out now on Steam with a view to release on Switch in 2024! Probably the other game I’m most excited to get my hands on the full release. And my partner also adores the adorable art she got from the devs! She now refuses to use the stickers so that she can keep that art intact!
Of course, that’s not all PAX has to offer for games, there was also the handheld arena. Where people could BYO handheld consoles, let’s be real, everyone mostly brought their Switch consoles. No one plays on PS Vita or PSP anymore, sadly. It was a really cool spot to just, grab a bean bag, grab a few friends, take a break and play some games together in a chill environment and maybe chat to a few of the other players too. There was also the Jackbox Party Pack 10 on full display in the Convention Hall, for people to join and play at their leisure. It was running non-stop all weekend, players coming and going and it always had an audience too. Yet another good place to stop and join the fun if you needed a break from the back to back panels, games and constant walking in between. Right beside that was the latest Just Dance, another yearly tradition at this point. Giving yet another outlet for players to let off some steam by getting their groove on with some of the hottest tunes and dances. There really was something for everyone.
And now we make our way onto the not so great stuff. Thankfully, this will be relatively short but not so sweet. With any big event, there is always good and bad things to take away from the weekend. The purpose of making the bad things known, is not to downplay a great event, but to educate it. To give it something to learn from and improve upon. Because if they’re not striving to make the event better every year, which they genuinely seem to manage every year, then what are they doing with themselves?
Anyway, it mostly boils down to queues. Queues, queue times and the suffering one has to go through standing for so long. It’s frankly unavoidable, and to try and eliminate them would be an impossible task, not worth the stress of trying. However, there are always ways to improve upon them. A lot of the times, the queues are simply too long so they get capped. With a sign to tell you roughly when they expect it to re-open, that is a great method to easing the strain. But queues are still very difficult to manage, they even just get in the way of other people, simply by existing. Enforcers do their best to set up grids for queues to snake around their respective attraction, but it can always be better. Another thing I took a little bit of an issue with are the queues themselves, long are the wait times, to the point you’re standing on your feet for far longer than one should have to expect. We put up with it sure, because the hype and adrenaline usually overpower the pain of standing for such a long time. But by the Sunday, after achieving a whopping 50 thousand steps over the course of the weekend, I was in a world of hurt. And from what I heard from other attendees in the waiting lines for panels and games alike, is that they too were incredibly exhausted. Now I don’t expect to come next year and see chairs laid out for all the waiting lines. But surely something could be done to make it a little easier on people. Perhaps a carpet laid out for the weekend, something soft under our feet to assist, maybe even let the queue sit down on said carpet, standing only when we’re being ushered in to our respective activity.
As I said in the opening statement, the only major issue I have really just boils just to queues and everything associated with them. And when I compare our pain to that of the enforcers who stand on their feet all weekend long (with breaks I assume, I hope so at least), for more hours than we simple attendees. The pain we experience suddenly feels insignificant and whiney. You could also call it a test of endurance or a bonding exercise, as sometimes, attendees might interact based on a shared level of exhaustion, maybe even crack a joke or two about it to bolster each other through the rest of the day.
PAX is all about games, the communities they make and the inclusion of gamers from all walks of life. Nothing said this in greater volume to me, then having spaces laid out all over the entire MCEC, for people to stop. Take a moment to rest, recharge and keep going. Places like the AFK lounge, where people can literally come to get away from all the action and simply rest, or do something that doesn’t use any energy. The handheld arena, the Tabletop zones, Jackbox area, even the mental health puppers walking around the venue and bringing a moment of calm to everyone in their moment of need. The idea that mental health is as much a part of gaming as anything else, is such a heartwarming thing to see. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of gamers, are what they are because life threw them a curveball and games were there in their time of need. Perhaps they’re socially awkward, perhaps they’re dealing with mental health issues and games are their vice. Their escape from madness or reality. To see and be treated like family in this community where others might shun or turn away from us. Allows all of us to feel like, yes, there is a place for us in the world and it’s with others who share in our vision. To experience all of this with my partner, who is still fresh to the experience herself, has reinvigorated the passion I used to feel attending PAX. And now I want to be much more involved in it. I’m already keenly awaiting the moment the release the date for 2024 so that I may book hotels and begin my planning for next year.
I want to take another moment, just as I bring this article to a close. To thank all the organisers, sponsors, traders and enforcers for running, sponsoring, funding and taking part in an event that has become home to gamers of all ages, genders, shapes and sizes. It’s an honour that I get to attend as media as often as I do and it gives me great pleasure and excitement to continue attending and hopefully writing about it every year. Cheers for ten awesome years and we hope for another ten glorious years!