PAX East! One of the few places in life where there is a line to the men’s restroom and not the women’s. This is a gaming convention. With a broken foot, walking and standing around in the main exhibit hall wasn’t in the cards for me (see what I did there… ah-hem). Friday was all about getting to PAX in time for the GeekMom panel. I had some traveling issues, so timing was limited on Saturday; I could sit for one, maybe two RPGs or hit up panels. I decided to panel it. Although I love gaming, I think I chose the right strategy for the win—and by “win,” I mean have a good time. With one of my best friends and fellow gamer Tim in tow, I sat around and was entertained. First, we had lunch and… played a game.
Before I get to the panels, I want to jump back in time to 2012 when I last attended PAX. I wrote a post about each day of my experience (Friday: From Fail to Fun, Saturday: Soooper Dooper, Sunday: Sad to Say Good-bye). It was revealing to re-read them now. So much has changed in the last few years for me, but my love of gaming still rolls a critical hit. On to the panels for this year:
Raising Generation 2.0: Gaming Edition
Yay for the GeekMom panel! I only know fellow GeekMoms and GeekDad writers online and the occasional meet at a convention like this one. Corinna, AJ, Anika, Karen, and I got to sit on stage and chat together about gaming and our kids, answer audience questions, and recommend games for different age levels. To prep for the recommendations I spent over an hour just staring at my board and card game collection, having a ridiculously hard time deciding on only three per age group. So many! So hard to choose! If you want to watch the video of the panel, go here.
Although we discussed ideas and contributed to the slides together ahead of time, we had no idea what each other would say. An eye opener for me was after I mentioned that one of the positive video game experiences for my son is the ability to be any gender avatar. He most often chooses strong female characters (most satisfied when they have appropriate battle armor). Karen then said that in researching for this panel, she came across a study that looked at avatar gender choices in video games, and the most popular characters were androgynous. That is so unexpected and interesting. I wonder if that is a younger generational thing, or across age groups? My clique of GeekMoms had many cool things to share with the audience and the rest of us up there too. You guys rock!
Back in January, my son and I attended Arisia, a small nerdy convention also in Boston. We both did a post about our experience (here’s mine, here is my son’s), and one of our mutual favorites was playing a tabletop RPG with Brian Liberge. So I was thrilled that he was the moderator of the panel Tabletop System Wars. This panel invited audience members to pitch their RPG campaign ideas to a panel of experienced GMs, writers, designers, and all-around RPG geeks who would come up with the perfect system to use.
The rest of the line-up was Jim White (Wombat), Brent P. Newhall, Matt Maranda, Tresi Arvizo, Meg McGinley, and one other who wasn’t sure he was coming and didn’t get his name up on the board, but I recognized him as my enthusiastic GM last time I came to PAX. I was so impressed with the breadth of knowledge these panelists had; they were pulling out systems and games from the last few decades, and most of the other panelists knew enough to comment on the suggestions. Brian had strong opinions,”That’s a terrible idea! Don’t give them homework! How many times are you going to mention GURPS? You get five points for that answer!” They all knew, respected, and enjoyed teasing each other. Brian kept things flowing enough that at least twenty people were able to pitch their campaign ideas and all of them received 1-3 agreed-upon systems to try.
Zach Denoncour, Kari Ziekle, and Andrew Tyler ran a games in education panel, Why Aren’t Classrooms Like Games? Motivating with GamerScore. Although the presenters weren’t dynamic speakers, they were all obviously passionate teachers who are currently using games, and gamer culture and language, to motivate and engage their students in real classrooms. They shared with us the whys and hows of what they were doing, the challenges of satisfying the school district’s mandates and required evaluations, and what they hope can be adopted by other teachers and schools.
I’ve been to many games in education panels, talks, and conferences over the years, so what they were saying was not new to me, but many of the speakers I’ve heard were game designers or researchers. It was refreshing to hear from actual teachers in a daily classroom figuring out what works. I personally used games regularly in my homeschooling years with my own children and in my teaching with larger groups of kids. I’ve never used video games to track scoring, but my nieces’ school district has some online components that they really enjoy. As a private music teacher, I am constantly trying to find engaging ways to keep my students motivated to practice and learn the basics of music theory. Utilizing computer games and apps works!
Clucks and Clicks: Archaeology and Ethics of Chickens in Games
Catchy title, great presentation, engaging speakers, and a wealth of information you didn’t know you wanted to know about chickens in games. Dr. Catherine Flick, a technology ethicist, and Dr. Tyr Fothergilla, an archaeozoologist, discussed their actual, real, funded (seriously) research on chickens in video games and the history of human-chicken relationships throughout history that feature in those games today.
Lots of bad puns and delightful British accents kept the audience engaged as they walked us through chickens and how people have used and abused them both in real life and on the screen. Although chickens are incredibly common around the entire world, they have not been studied much (that actually makes sense to me), so these two had to start from scratch (heh). Then they played lots of lots of games featuring chickens. There were so many instances of chickens in games they had to stop playing and finish their research on time. From negative gender stereotypes to mystical chickens to animal-rights violations, I was informed and entertained.
AppJunkies Live: The Worst Games Ever Made
I never knew so many strange, disgusting, and hilarious games there are out there. The AppJunkies downloaded a few dozen really awful games and then the panelists randomly chose one to play for the first time on a big screen for a packed audience. Here is a slideshow of some screen shots I took while laughing, wincing, and scratching my head. A great way to end my weekend at PAX.