If you’re staying in the Seattle area this Labor Day weekend, I recommend you spend an hour downtown. Specifically, find your way to Pike and 7th and the Washington State Convention Center for some A-plus people-watching. Thousands have arrived from around the world to celebrate one of the gaming industry's biggest events: PAX West.
For those unfamiliar with PAX — as I was before going last year — think of it as an expo devoted to anything game-related. That means any game of the video, board or card variety as well as panels, pin trading and cosplay.
Before you write it off as just as another “gamer” event, consider PAX’s focus on mental health (nonprofit Take This has a huge presence at the event this year with an entire room staffed with mental health clinicians), gender inclusivity (the exhibit map makes sure to denote gendered and all-gender restrooms) and indie gaming.
This last one is what I loved most about this year’s PAX West. If you were lucky enough to snag a ticket — passes sold out months ago — head to the Indie MEGABOOTH on Floor 6. There, more than 80 games from 17 countries rub elbows with gaming behemoths like Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo.
The MEGABOOTH concept has been around since 2012 when PAX East (the East Coast variant of PAX) decided to provide a space where indie developers could “create a unified presence, out-buy the big guys and look good doing it.” And boy, do they.
“Interfectorem” from Girls Make Games caught my eye if only because of that killer company name. The game’s pretty cool, too. A murder mystery, “Interfectorem” may not be right for younger gamers but there’s a lot to admire in the badassery of lead character Alis, a young female sheriff-in-training.
Nearby, “Hot Lava” from Vancouver, B.C-based developer Klei plays off of that age-old childhood game of pretending the floor is hot lava. In this case, it actually is. And it’s awesome.
There’s also “Super Slime Arena,” which gets the whole family involved. Unlike most multi-player party fighting games, this one lets you play as every character rather than having to pick one at the start of the battle. It’s chaotic, colorful and creative. Bonus: Sharing characters may help squash sibling fights over who gets dibs on who.
There are plenty more games to view plus all the ones at the MINIBOOTH. This section offers space for developers with limited resources (a.k.a. no spare treasure to fund a booth). A set of games shows the first two days of PAX (Sept. 1 and 2) and another set shows the last two days (Sept. 3 and 4). On our radar: Tiny Bubbles from Seattle’s Pine Street Codeworks, Putty Pals from Harmonious Games in Australia and Russian Subway Dogs of the Kickstarter of the same name.
Many of these games already have a strong presence online, which means, ticket or no ticket, you can find a way to make PAX happen for your family. But don’t forget that downtown people-watching. Amid the Zeldas, Marios and other cosplay staples I saw my favorite PAX costume to date: a knee-high Wonder Woman complete with cape, tiara and kick-butt attitude.