Of the dozen of PAXs I’ve attended in my life, this most recent PAX East was the most interesting by far. There were great AAA games to test, virtual reality systems were everywhere, and a tabletop area that stretched over the distant horizon. But every PAX has such treasures. What made PAX East 2017 unique was that, for the first time, I took a child to it. My thirteen year old nephew, equipped with wide-eyed wonder and a binder clip of birthday money, made the trip to Boston to hang out with Uncle John and experience the firehose of color and noise that is the Penny Arcade Expo.
Over the years, wandering the convention floor unencumbered by any and all responsibilities, I would see parents with children in tow and wondered if they were having any fun. Could people get a weekend of enjoyment from PAX while at the same time making sure that their children didn’t vanish, bankrupt them or latch on to a cosplaying Tracer’s leg with their pointy little kid teeth? The answer, as I now know, can be a resounding yes, so long as the parent/guardian/best uncle ever goes into PAX with realistic expectations and a solid plan. In the spirit of helping folks come up with such expectations and plans, I’m going to discuss the various elements of PAX through the lens of a first time PAX Parent.
There Is A Lot of Standing Around
“PAX is lines” is perhaps the most oft-repeated phrase of the whole weekend, and is certainly the truest. To demo a popular soon-to-be-released game, you (and whoever’s with you) can be waiting in a line that might be three hours long. Popular panels, particularly ones featuring gaming celebrities or boasting free giveaways, similarly involve a lot of waiting to make sure you get a seat. There are ways to mitigate the boredom (portable gaming and plenty of snacks), but if the child you’re taking to PAX is not comfortable with that much downtime, then you need to think about whether or not buying a badge for the young gamer would be worth it.
Light, Sound, and People – The Trifecta of Distraction
It is much easier for a child to get separated from an adult at PAX than it is at a park or, frankly, anywhere else. Particularly in the expo hall, there are enough distracting elements (tournament announcers, dense crowds of people, lots of folks showing off homemade Pip-Boys) that one moment of lapsed concentration could result in you not seeing your ward sprint off towards something shiny. Designating an emergency meetup location and letting your kid know that he or she could get help from PAX Enforcers or event security staff are crucial last lines of defense should your attention wander.
Let The PAX Guide Be Your Life Guide
Now that you’ve all been scared by the lines and the crowds, it’s time to focus on all the great reasons to take your child to PAX. There is just so much amazing stuff that both you and your young gamer could love. To make the most of PAX, look at the guide before you go. Identify which panels are worth seeing, looks at what exhibitors will be there, and see what time the tournaments either you or your kid would like to enter. This information is available a couple weeks in advance of PAX, so you’ll have plenty of time to make the weekend as entertainment-dense as you can.
No-Wait Activities Are Crucial
While you’ll be doing plenty of waiting to demo the big, new releases (PAX is lines, after all), there’s an easy way to rapidly increase your gaming-to-waiting ratio. Each PAX has a console freeplay, tabletop freeplay, and PC freeplay area that are jam-packed with games to play with little to no wait time. Think of each as a lending library – you “take out” a game from the circulation desk, you’re directed to a console, station, or table to play that game, and you can just go to town. Want to tuck into an hour of Smash Brothers with your daughter? Want to teach your nephew how to play Settlers of Catan? This is the way to do that, and make their days feel full and productive. Also, there are at least a few activities you can make a reservation for at the start of a PAX day. At PAX East 2017, for example, the D&D Adventurers League were running Dungeons and Dragons sessions every few hours and you could use an app to lock in demo time for Playstation VR titles. Pepper these things throughout your time there.
The Surrounding Area Is A Treasure Trove
PAX East is held in the Seaport District of Boston, PAX West is held in downtown Seattle, and PAX South is held in scenic San Antonio. All three of those cities (to say nothing of PAX Unplugged’s Philadelphia and PAX Aus’s Melbourne) are incredibly interesting, walkable, historic, foodie-friendly cities. If you’re traveling for a PAX, use PAX as an excuse to let your child see a new and interesting place. Try to research one or two non-PAX events to round out your weekend.
Planning on taking a child to PAX starts months in advance when the badges go on sale, so think about all of the aspects of PAX before you decide to commit. Rest assured that if you go, the child you take with you is very capable of having one of the best weekends of their life if you put in the prep work. Happy PAXing.