As I round the corner to the Prudential Center food court I can hear them. It’s the nervous laughs first: either tentative stutters or loud caws at inside jokes. The lines for burgers, chicken teriyaki and pizza are twenty deep like the VIP room. Every body type we’re told to avoid can be found in here: fat, scrawny, acne-pitted, pony-tailed, neck-bearded and Coke-bottom-lensed. Many of them have T-shirts with dense paragraphs of text. Some of them are in costume. And they’ve all got that red plastic on a swinging lanyard.
It’s day one of PAX East, Penny Arcade’s first gaming convention held on the Atlantic coast. I’m not the best dressed person in here by a long shot but I’m more conservatively dressed than 80% of the crowd. And it is a crowd. Lines to see webcomic panelists or hear video game music snake down the halls of the Hynes Convention Center an hour before start time. Convention goers knot up like plaque around Magic: The Gathering displays, autograph tables and previews for next season’s console games (Red Dead Revolver is a big one). When they get tired, they sprawl without affect on beanbags strewn against the windows. There’s always something.
Tolerance is the virtue I struggle with the most. A mature person – and a mature society – transcends the primal alpha-male need to put down harmless people just because they Look Different. The mouth-breather with the gut spilling over his jeans and the “There are 10 kinds of people in this world …” T-shirt isn’t hurting me just by existing. I should be cool with that. And yet I can’t be. It’s the reason I always hesitate to identify myself as a gamer (tabletop or console): because he’s the stereotype. I can put the gamer hat on for a weekend and take it off for the working-day world. He can’t, or won’t; that guy could be at a funeral and you’d know he had a prot-specced pally waiting on a WoW server. He lacks the social awareness to see how little he blends in, and he doesn’t care. Which means there’s either something wrong with him or wrong with me. Whichever it is, gaming cons remind me of it from the time I walk in to the moment I leave.
I got to play Gears of War 2 and Left 4 Dead, though, which was awesome.