I wonder if it’s human nature to sit and try to compare things and rank them, or if it is the byproduct of so much of our media being given awards in a hierarchical context. Every year there has to be a best film, game, novel, website, belly button cleaner, etc. It even reached the point that several gaming websites started tallying best games thus far back in June. Slow news day, mayhaps?
In any event, as the Escapist Expo drew to a close this weekend I found myself pondering if I liked it better than the much larger scale PAX East. Fact of the matter is Escapist Expo is a lot more fresh in my mind, so naturally I’m inclined to be more fond of it at the moment. Yet the truth of the matter is they are very different shows with very different natures, and as such they have different advantages.
PAX East (and likely PAX Prime) are like big giant cities. There’s a Hell of a lot to do, and you’ll meet a lot of interesting people, but the odds of you running into anyone you know are rather unlikely. Escapist Expo, on the other hand, is like a small town. There are fewer sites to see, but everywhere you go there’s a chance of running into someone you’ve met before.
I still remember visiting the final year of VGXPO and the only year of GameX, a convention that The Escapist had actually helped to sponsor, and hearing a lot of unhappy grumbling amongst the crowd. People were angry that they wanted something more like E3. Folks were running out of things to do at the end of the year. Players were casually walking by all the Indie booths in search of something “more interesting”. I had stepped into the hotel hoping that this wouldn’t happen again.
It didn’t, and I think a lot of that has to do with the wonderful staff of The Escapist, much of which is bottled up in the allegedly human vessel that is Susan Arendt. I’ve only had brief interactions with this woman across two PAX Easts and the Escapist Expo, but it is clear this woman is the embodiment of the entire website. Happy, sociable and prepared at all times to have fun and enjoy the company of her fellow geeks, nerds, gamers, what have you.
See, in PAX East, while it is certainly likely to see an Internet Celebrity, be they a game developer, a web comic artist, an author, a journalist, so on and so forth, it’s a lot like meeting a celebrity in New York City or Los Angeles (which I should note I haven’t actually done, but I imagine it’s the same). This person is on a schedule, they could in fact be exhausted from the constant energy expenditure of the previous day(s), and there’s a ton of people all clamoring for their attention. Yet it is still completely possible in the big, vast world of the Expo center to never meet anyone without standing in a long line at the end of the panel, only to be rushed on out so the next crew can move in.
Not so with Escapist Expo. As it is small enough, these people are passing through the same halls and rooms as you are each day. They are resting where you rest. They are sitting in at the same late night events you are, eating at the same locations you are, and probably interested in playing the same games or discussing the same things as you are.
Of course, it doesn’t always have to do with the staff or celebrities. What really makes Escapist Expo like a small town is how often you’ll see all the other attendees, how frequently you’ll pass on by them. Miss a chance to strike up a conversation with that Jill Valentine or to dance with those guys doing the Gangnam style? Don’t worry, you’ll get another chance. Have a drink with that guy yesterday? Well he’ll be in the hall tomorrow, and you’ll be able to continue that conversation later.
The Escapist also did a fantastic job at encouraging social interaction beyond the confines of a small convention hall. The Chest High Walls laser tag was a fantastic opportunity to get complete strangers teamed up and working together, left with stories to tell each other of the battle. Yet more so was the constant game of Humans vs. Zombies. I saw groups of complete strangers sitting near each other, taking a break, united over a simple game of nerf darts and socks-to-the-face.
I am left with nothing more than the shame of not doing enough to really meet more people and make new friends, but that’s only because I’m constantly haunted by my own insecurities. I’ve made more new friends (unaffiliated with Gamers With Jobs) at this expo than I managed at any other, and it already has me sad to be so far from Durham.
I’m so glad I have gone to the Escapist Expo, and I do hope to see another one next year. It started as an effort to encourage more events like this on the East Coast, but now it’s because I can’t wait to see all these people again.
A wise old ring-addicted midget once said “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”