Describing what PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) is to someone who has never been to a PAX can be a bit of a challenge. It’s a convention, sure, but it’s also a whole lot more than that. PAX has become a
bi tri-yearly pilgrimage for gamers and creatives, a utopia where they can go and be surrounded by other people similar to themselves… oh, and also play some video games.
By Sunday, the convention center had grown sleepy. Clumps of people wandered the lobby in a daze or splayed themselves on the lobby steps (much to security’s consternation.) The line for the center’s small coffee shop was at least 15 people deep, and upstairs it seemed like every beanbag chair in the handheld lounge held a snoring Eleventh Doctor, the StreetPass lights on their 3Dses a solid green. Today was my indie games day, and I spent the morning and afternoon on the sixth floor of the convention center and among the maze of tables in the Indie Megabooth, hunting for my new favorite thing.
The Megabooth was packed with people, their eyes brights and gestures animated. Where had they found all of this energy? I shimmied between clumps of kids attached like lichen to the StarCrawlers booth, and slid around a group animately discussing Miegakure, a four-dimensional puzzler. While nothing in particular grabbed my eye, it heartened me to see so many people express such a strong interest in indie games. Though the days of indie obscurity are long past, it still surprised me to have to squeeze through the Megabooth while triple-A titles and the promise of swag loomed just a few feet away. I hope the Indie Megabooth is even larger next year. Someday, I hope it has its own con twice the size of PAX.
After hanging around the BioWare base for a few hours, I bid farewell to my few friends still on the floor and made my last, final journey back to King Street Station. As I walked to my car to pay for my final night of parking, I paused. The sun was close to setting and the neighborhood had yet to wake. The multi-storey neon lights on neighboring buildings had only just begun to pop on. I put my money away and settled into my car. It still felt unreal to be here, back in Seattle, with new people and a new life. I rolled down my window. My time in Seattle was nearly over, and then it would back to my real life, back to mornings packed on sweltering train cars and long hours staring at spreadsheets. I turn the engine on. It wasn’t time to go just yet, I decided, and headed toward Mercer Island.
I met an interesting woman when I visited the greenhouse in Volunteer Park. At first she pegged me for a student, but quickly changed her mind. “You visiting family?” She asked me. “Sort of,” I said, and in a sense I was. In a sense, I was visiting ghosts, making a kind of truce with a period in my life I had never quite been able to put to rest. As I pulled off the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge, I thought briefly of my dad and the long, agonizing mornings we spent bicycling from our home on the island into the city. I had hated the rides then and complained in long spills of invective (such as I could muster at 9 years old.) I was too young, of course, to realize how lucky I was, how special these moments would become to me as an adult, and how guilty I would feel now for spoiling them then.
“Where are you from?” The greenhouse woman had asked. “Mercer Island,” I said, and tightened my shoulders. She grimaced and manually turned her nose up in reference to its reputation for unparalleled snootiness. As a kid, I hadn’t been aware of this reputation, was insulated from it by my own privilege (not that I knew what that was at the time.) It was only when I moved away and I became an adult that I realized what the island actually was—a walled garden—and how different my experience of Seattle was from most of the people who lived there. It had been difficult—has been difficult—to square that adult knowledge with the experiences of a younger me, to come to terms with how our pasts are really stories we tell ourselves over and over again, omitting details each time until they reflect the facsimile of our lives we want people to see. It was strange and false and freeing, too, to be caught out in that way.
I pulled into a gas station on the northern tip of the island and couldn’t stop myself from laughing openly, abundantly, at the Mercedes, BMWs, Lexuses, and Audis surrounding me. I laughed still as I took my change from the old man at the register as he stood beside a refrigerator full of expensive bottled water. The reason I had been a part of the children’s repertory theater was because I lived here. The reason I had access to a laptop and America Online as a third grader was because I lived here. The reason my dad has weekends off and time to spend with me was because I lived here. Seattle, it turned out, was a story I told myself, a place I visited once upon a time. I thanked the gas station attendant and drove to a nearby park, one that had been my favorite. I marveled at the spotless playground, tennis courts, and sparkling public bathrooms, all open and well-lit.
I walked through the park in the dimming light, past the pen for timid and sensitive dogs, past donated park benches, and out toward the water. The sun shone through the city’s fingers as I sat and hugged my knees to my chest. I pulled out my 3DS as the sun set and ran through my last group of StreetPasses. A kid in a Yoshi hat who I had already passed once before gave me a “fantastic” rating. I smiled and closed the device.
When I started my car the next morning, I couldn’t wait to come back.
Kate Dollarhyde is a writer, editor, and ruthless Mario Kart opponent in Oakland, California.