You’ve just scored tickets to your first PAX East. Congrats! So, now what? You’re going to find over 500,000 square feet of the Disney World of gaming cons. A lot of first-time PAX goers want a little advice as to what to see and how to see it. Below is an aggregation of my own experience and advice left on the PAX East forums from the last several years.
Pick your pleasure
One of the many reasons why PAX East is often compared to Disney World is you can’t see it all in one day. If you have a single day pass (especially a Saturday pass), you’re going to want to prioritize what you want to see.
Download the guidebook app from the Apple App Store or Google Play, and get a sense of what is out there. See what exhibitors have releases that you want to see, or what independent game companies you want to have a little time to talk to. The guidebooks are out plenty ahead of time, so you can make decisions on what is most important to you. Take a look at the events schedule and see if there are any time-sensitive areas of interest. Bioware is going to have their booth open all day, but the author signing you have your heart set on will only be there a limited time. Make a plan from there.
Bring cash for the coat check
Take it from a local, Boston is cold. PAX East can be anywhere from early March to early April. In Boston, mid-March is usually when winter reminds you that though the end is near, it’s willing to give you a good thrashing to remember it by. So, check the weather, and be prepared, If you decide to pass on my next bit of advice, you can expect a long line outside while security checks your bag.
PAX East provides a coat check, and they only accept cash. Usually it’s only a few dollars, so you won’t break the bank. You can also fill your pockets and sleeves with your hat, gloves, scarf, etc. and hand it over to the coat check. They’ll give you a ticket, and it will be a real hassle if it gets lost. So, take a picture of your ticket number, and that works just fine for the attendants.
Get there early… especially for Saturday
Though the expo hall doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m., the doors open at 8:00, and the masses are already gathering by 8:30. Showing up early lets you settle in, use the restroom, fill your water bottle, check your coat, and make your way to the queue hall. The queue hall packs out early, and spills into the corridors. And if you love that energy of tens of thousands of other geeks crackling with excitement, you’ll want to be in the queue hall. On Saturday, participants bring inflatable balls, inner tubes, small animals, and periodically large animal-shaped rafts to bounce around while they wait. For me, that’s part of the experience, even if it’s an hour and a half just standing there.
Also, if you only have a Saturday pass, and there’s something you have your heart set on, you’re going to want to be up front when the exhibition hall opens. Lines form fast, and the big-name exhibitors stay busy all day. The VR exhibitors especially have long lines. So, if there’s something you want to see, know where it is on the map and make a beeline for it.
Food and water
You’re going to be walking or standing most of the day. You burn a surprising number of calories, and your body has needs. I always bring a large Nalgene, and refill it at least twice during the day. Also, bring snacks that can support your activity. It’s a good idea to bring granola bars with some protein or a good trail mix in addition to your meals.
Speaking of meals, pack them if you can. Being local, I have the advantage of being able to prepare a lunch and dinner before I leave. Convention hall food is expensive, and it’s super easy to have a $9 hotdog for dinner and regret for dessert. If you can plan easy-to-carry non-perishable food to have a good lunch and a good dinner straight from your pack, you’ll save yourself money (and time standing in line) at the food court.
With so much activity and excitement, you also need to to find an ebb and flow in your day. So, sit down and take breaks. Occasionally just get on the escalator to “come up for air” and take the footbridge over expo hall floor. It’s a great way to get a good view of the below and chat with fellow con goers without having to compete with the din on the floor.
And if too many people is too much, there is always the AFK lounge, where you can take a break. The AFK lounge has a quiet hall of bean bag chairs for you to step back and center yourself. There are even mental health counselors on hand if that’s what you need.
If you are into the panels, plan on no more than three per day. Panels tend to fill up, and you may have to get there as much as 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time to snag a place in the queue. Following @PAX_Lines on Twitter can help with making it to your panel line on time.
Hang out and make friends
One of the best thing about PAX is camaraderie. It has an amazing positive energy of a multitude coming together for a shared passion. Take the time to chat with people in line, and get to know others who share your interest.
There’s also plenty to do off the Expo hall grounds. You can find meetups and parties all week before and during the con. Check out the PAX East forums or the Unofficial @PaxParties Twitter feed to find out where your niche is getting together.
Lastly, there’s an army of volunteers who make PAX East what it is. Enforcers are red-clad guides, roaming help desks, and all around good people. They are the volunteer staff that keeps the whole operation running smoothly. Veteran PAX goers love and appreciate the people who make this happen.
Need your bearings? Ask an Enforcer. Is there a con-goer making the environment unsafe and unfun for others? Tell an Enforcer. Is an Enforcer asking you to please do something, or stand aside somewhere? Listen to the Enforcer.
Be flexible and have fun
Sometimes the best plan is to set your plan aside. If you have a schedule and you see something else that really catches your eye, have fun and roll with your weekend. And if there’s anything else that this guide didn’t cover, head over to the PAX East forums. There are plenty of PAX-loving people happy to answer your questions.