First Time to PAX? A Guide to PAX and Other Large Gaming Conventions

Pax guide

Four years ago I embarked on my first trip as a video game journalist and fansite administrator to Penny Arcade Expo 09, or PAX Prime as it is better known.  It was my first solo trip to any convention.  Scratch that.  It was my first trip to any convention at all and I was woefully unprepared for what I saw and my expectations of what I could accomplish as a reporter.

Four PAX Primes, two PAX Easts, a Comicon and a couple other events later, I’m still learning, but I’ve also learned some valuable tips that other newbie convention goers might be interested in knowing before they pack for PAX.

This article is for general convention attendees and speakers who have never been to an event like PAX before.  A separate article for journalists (and boy there are some fun things you learn as a journalist) will be forthcoming a few days after this article.

Pax guide
The beginning of the convention center for PAX Prime on Pike Street in Seattle.

Before I go into the nitty gritty, let me do a TLDR version of the talking points below.  These tips will have details if you keep reading, but if you want the quick and dirty tips, here you go:

  1. Keep hydrated – drink lots of water.  Not soda.  Water.
  2. Bring an extra pair of shoes, or two, and extra socks.
  3. Plan out a schedule ahead of time.
  4. Be in line for panels/events early.
  5. Expect long lines for everything.
  6. Eat at locations a couple of blocks away from the convention center.
  7. Care about your personal hygiene.  Shower.  Use Deodorant.  Etc.
  8. Staff are there to help.
  9. Wash your hands.  Alternatively, use hand sanitizer.
  10. Don’t buy badges from scalpers.
  11. Respect others.
  12. Have fun!

Now, for the explanations and a little added info for those that want more than just the TLDR version.

1.  Keep hydrated – drink lots of water.  Not soda.  Water.

Pax guide

This seems like something we should all know and follow, but trust me, even I didn’t realize how much bottled water and soda was going to cost at the convention center. That being said, buy a case or two of water from Bartel’s or Walgreens and put some in a bag or backpack and carry them with you.  This will help you save money.  But more importantly, after you drink them, refill them.  That way you always have water with you.

Dehydration is one of the problems at events like these because people get thirsty, then grab what is easiest – overpriced sodas or a quick drink at the water fountain.  You are supposed to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day.  At events like these, that often slips past.  Follow it with after parties (if you are old enough) and dehydration can become a medical issue.

Most people don’t realize that dehydration can lead to exhaustion and grumpiness.  So keep yourself healthy and drink water in addition to soda, coffee and any energy drinks you consume each day.

2.  Bring an extra pair of shoes, or two, and extra socks.

Pax guide

This is going to be kinda personal and kind of gross, but having learned the lesson two years in a row of not bringing extra shoes, trust me on this one.

Your feet sweat.  A lot.  Changing your socks midday and not wearing the same pairs of shoes two days in a row will save a lot of wear, tear and blisters from appearing on your feet.  Blisters make walking not-so-fun at all, especially when you’re on your feet a majority of the day.  Trust me. If you have blisters on your feet the second day, the next two days will be miserable.

If you can, and have room for it, bring a third pair of shoes that you can wear for the night time parties.  Comfort is key.  If your feet are comfortable, you will be a much happier person at the end of each day.

Remember, you will be standing in lines – a lot.  Comfortable shoes will make those lines a bit more bearable instead of “OMGMYFEETHURTTHISFLOORISHARD” feeling you get with sandals and flip flops.  You will also be walking around a lot.  Not just to get back to your hotel at night, but to get to panels on opposite ends of the convention center (or at a hotel outside of the convention center).  Just more reasons to have comfort in mind when you’re at a convention.

3.  Plan out your schedule ahead of time.

Pax guide

There are panels you want to go to.  After parties you -have- to be at.  Not to mention game tournaments you want to participate in, people you’re meeting up with, give-aways at booths that are at specific times, etc.

This is when setting a schedule comes in handy – more so if you’re a reporter.  Panels are great to attend – but you have to plan to be at them not only the time they’re at, but an hour or so earlier to be in line for that panel.  For really popular panels, you may need to be in line earlier than that.  I recall one year I had wanted to get into the Tell Tale Games panel.  I found out that people had been in line for four hours.  FOUR.  HOURS.  My mind was blown.

Then there are game demos that may take hours in line.  Star Wars: The Old Republic, before it was released, had a six hour wait line at PAX East and PAX Prime.  Needless to say I didn’t bother with those lines.

4.  Be in line for panels/events early.

Pax guide
At PAX East, you could see the lines for booths easily from the platforms and skybridges over the show floor.

The first two PAX events I attended, I hadn’t even considered attending panels.  I’m not sure why, I think it was more because I was there for the gaming aspect of it.  Then I realized some of the panels were just as important as the games on the show floor.

It was then that the stark reality slapped me in the face.  There were queues (lines marked in color tape) where people would line up immediately once a panel filled up for the next panel.  If the panel was in the main Theater, the line was down below in a huge line waiting area.  People sit down in these queue areas once they’re in line -an hour, two, sometimes even four hours early – play Magic the Gathering, play DS games with each other, talk, write, draw, take pictures – whatever they could to pass the time.

It was mind blowing for a person who had never really been to conventions before to think about people being in lines way ahead of time to see something they wanted to see.  But when I thought about it, I realized why.  Every fanboy/girl wants to see something, they will be in line.  And for some games, some panels, there are a lot of fanfolks wanting to see the panel.  And they don’t want to miss it, so they they try to be one of the first folks in line since there is limited seating for each panel.

A great example for lines for this year – I expect people to be in line for the Assassin’s Creed panel hours before it opens as it will be an exclusive sneak peek at the game.  And let’s be honest, every Assassin’s Creed fan at PAX will want to see it – so it’s logical there will be a line.

5.  Expect long lines for everything.

Pax guide
Sometimes there’s even lines for going up the escalators to get into the exhibition hall.

It doesn’t really matter what event you are going to, when a convention draws 60,000 plus attendees each year, there will be lines.  About the only place I didn’t find a line was the restroom because they had plenty of those around the convention centers.

This tip is the reason why tips 3 and 4 exist.  There were lines to demo games.  Lines to get into the exhibit hall.  Lines to get food.  Lines everywhere the eye could see.  Those lines add some order to the chaos, but not a lot.

The key thing here is patience.  If you lack patience, the exhibit hall, heck even the whole convention, might not be a good place for you.  You will be waiting awhile for anything you want to do, unless you are extremely lucky.

So sit back, munch on snacks, drink some water, chat with other convention goers – maybe make some new friends – while waiting in line.   What else can you do?

6.  Eat at locations a couple of blocks away from the convention center.

Pax guide

If you want to get food fast and cheap, and escape the lines for a little while, take the time to walk a few blocks down to where the train to the Seattle Center/Space Needle is and grab food from the food court there.  You’ll have bigger selection than at the convention center and smaller lines.  Alternatively, there are all sorts of restaurants and little hole in the wall places to grab decent food at an okay price along the way.

There are also a number of sit down restaurants a few blocks away from the Convention Center.  Note: The Daily Grill attached to the Sheraton a block away from the Convention Center has great food, but it is always packed during these events.  Same with Gameworks and the Cheesecake Factory because they are so close.

Now, if you don’t mind standing in line, there are a number of really good places in the Convention Center, such as Subway, a Pizza joint and a Mexican burrito place as well as a smoothie shop.  There is also the Convention Center food service, which has good, but overpriced pizza, hamburgers, salads, sandwiches etc.

So if lines and price aren’t an issue to you, grab food at the center, but if you’re wanting something different, check out the places nearby – you will be pleasantly surprised what a short walk and a nice meal will do for you.

7.  Care about your personal hygiene.  Shower.  Use Deodorant.  Etc

Pax guide

There is absolutely nothing worse than being around a gamer who wears the same clothes day after day without taking a shower – or even with taking a shower – or who doesn’t use deodorant and maintain proper personal hygiene.

To put it in simple terms: It’s gross.

No one wants to stand in line next to someone who doesn’t take care of their hygiene, yet are forced to do so unless they want to lose their spot in line.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, ladies and gentlemen, you do not need to bathe in perfume or cologne.  There are a lot of people in the world who are sensitive to strong smells or allergic to things found in perfume and cologne.  I, for one, get massive headaches and migraines from certain colognes.  Be respectful.  If you’re going to use some, use it minimally.  Don’t spray your clothes down and your body down in it.  Dab it or spray it in a couple locations.  That’s all you need.  Otherwise, we might think you’re just covering up the fact you didn’t bathe so you’re covering yourself in pheromones to make up for it.

8.  Staff are there to help.

Pax guide
Picture is blurry, but the guy in the blue shirt with the word “Enforcer” is event staff.

Don’t know where an event is?  Did you get lost?  Did you lose your friends?  Or perhaps you don’t know where the first aid station is?  Or where does the line start for this panel?  Whatever it is, you will find (for PAX) people in blue shirts that say ENFORCER on them in big letters.  Enforcers are PAX Staffers who are there to help you and to enforce the rules.  There are also nicely dressed Convention Center staff members who are just as nice and helpful.  So if you need help with something, don’t hesitate to ask.

9.  Wash your hands.  Alternatively, use hand sanitizer.

pax guide

I attended my first PAX ever in 2009, and while I washed my hands a lot, it didn’t stop me from catching the swine flu.  Worst. Bug.  Ever.  After that event, hand sanitizer stations appeared all over the convention floor and by the bathrooms.  Wash your hands any time you can.  Play a game, use hand sanitizer afterward.  Play a bunch of games in the arcade, freeplay or other areas, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

Do what you can to help prevent the spread of germs.  We can’t stop it completely and a lot of people come back from conventions with some form of conflu (those that don’t are grateful), but keeping your hands clean is a great way to prevent yourself from getting sick.  On that same note, get plenty of rest to help prevent yourself from getting sick

10.  Don’t buy badges from scalpers.

Pax guide

So you, or your friend, were unfortunate and were only able to get a couple of badges for the event, but you want to be there longer.  And hey, that person there on the street corner – okay a bunch of people along the street and in front of the convention center – are selling passes.  You could just buy another one.

Strong advice – take it for what it’s worth – if they don’t look like a gamer, don’t do it.  Even if they do look like a gamer – don’t do it.

In the past few years, there have been unethical individuals who buy badges then counterfeit them and sell them.  Unfortunately, for you, if you buy a counterfeit badge and are caught by event staff, there are no legal ways to get your money back.  You are stuck with the fake pass, loss of funds, and no access to the event.  It sucks.  I saw it happen a lot the past two years.  Don’t let it happen to you.

That being said, there are some legitimate sellers out there – but it’s hard to tell who to trust and who not to trust.

11.  Respect others.

Pax guide

This should be a given, but it does have to be said.  Be polite to others.  Don’t take things that aren’t yours, don’t invade personal space.  Ask for permission before taking pictures of a cosplayer or posing for a picture with them without them knowing.

Don’t shove folks, don’t be rude.

Which leads to the last tip:

12.  Have fun.

Pax guide

That should be tip number one, but really, all of the above things will help you to have fun.

PAX is in a week.  I hope these tips help you out.  If you have any tips, feel free to leave them on the thread in our forum for this article or in the comments section below.

Reposted From with Permission of Grace Snoke. View the original article here –

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Grace Snoke

I’m a 34-year-old corporate journalist who enjoys gaming, reading, writing and jewelry making. I’m a mother of one, a 15-year-old boy who shares an eerie addiction to gaming as well. I can be found writing for a number of sites, including Video Game Scoreboard at

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