How to Prepare for PAX

This originally appeared on the old 1oS blog, but I’m updating and reposting it here, as I think it might still be useful. 

Someone asked me if I had any advice on what they should expect when attending PAX, or how they should prepare for their first gamer convention. I do! And some of this advice is also good for any gaming or nerd gathering (SDCC, E3, etc) and some is specifically for the PAX culture. But I hope you find it all helpful.

Practice hygiene for great justice.
I joke about this on Twitter from time to time, but I am not really joking. In addition to garden-variety body odor, diseases can and do get passed around at PAX, from common colds to H1N1. Seriously, don’t be a gamer stereotype: Shower and wear deodorant every day. A small bottle of hand sanitizer is also excellent insurance — many PAXers fist bump instead of shaking hands purely to avoid clasping sweaty, diseased palms.

Wear comfortable shoes.
While PAX offers several places for you to flop down whenever you get tired, you will be on your feet for an alarming amount of the time. Do not risk flip-flops in this environment — you want socks and you want arch support. PAX is sometimes an excuse for me to get a new pair of lightweight sneakers.

Bring a handheld, not a laptop.
Your notebook will do nothing but weigh you down on the show floor. But you will find hundreds of people with DS handhelds, Vita units, and plenty of iPhone/iPad gamers as well. Bring the games and load the apps that offer the best multiplayer options (and turn on your 3DS StreetPass — PAX is a goldmine when walking through the halls). In addition to the dedicated handheld gaming lounge, you will want something portable to entertain you because…

There are often long lines for things.
The panels vary in popularity, but the hot ones can have lines fill up a few hours before they take place. It is standard to sit at your place in line and fire up a game to pass the time. For the same reason, some people travel with portable analog games like Zombie Dice or Magic: The Gathering decks. Don’t worry — if they sound interesting, you can get them at the show. Use your time in line to bond with your fellow geeks. (You will also likely wait to play Rock Band on one of the public stages. Please, surprise us with your variety.)

Get there early for concerts.
If you want to attend the very awesome musical concerts on Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll need to plan ahead. Line up early, as there is limited seating. If you can’t get in, don’t worry — the rest of the show, including panels, continues on at the same time, so there will be plenty of other things to do.

PAX Prime: Go to Bartell Drugs.
Gatorade, deodorant, batteries, Doritos, charging cables, socks — whatever you need, Bartell Drugs probably has it. I usually make a Bartell run at the start of the show to get bottled water and Clif bars. There are three in walking distance from the convention center.

Dress to impress.
Nerdy t-shirts are the currency of PAX, but you’ll also see a lot of cosplay. If you are nervous about maybe dressing up or not dressing up…do it. You are among friends.

Love your Enforcers.
The Enforcers have a scary name but they’re actually overwhelmingly nice. Like you, they are big nerds. Unlike you, they have volunteered to help fill in on security, crowd control, A/V duties and other essential roles help make sure PAX runs smoothly. If they ask you not to sit somewhere, don’t sit there. If they need to clear a room before the next panel, please do as they ask. They are just trying to keep things from being a mess, and they are remarkably good at this. If you see one, whatever you spot them doing, thank them for their help.

Tables are for gaming, not lounging.
Tables in the freeplay board game areas are often in demand, particulary in Seattle. Please don’t just hang out at one just to hang out — the tables are provided for people who are actively gaming. And if you really want to enjoy actual back support and a horizontal surface, you might be surprised how easy it is to join a pick-up game with strangers. Seriously, we are all here for the same reasons — making friends at PAX is easy.

Small bills help everybody.
Bring cash, but break the Benjamin at the hotel or something. The vendors really appreciate that you have something resembling correct change for them to deal with, and asking “Can you break $100?” is not always a welcome gesture.

Get the official app.
It’s free and is very handy for scheduling on the go. The app can remind you when you have an upcoming panel, such as can’t-miss-events like Game Show Night.

You can’t see it all.
You might see everything you want to see, but with so many interesting panels, demos, and gameplay sessions, the time will fly and it’s inevitable that you will go “Oh!” after hearing about something you didn’t get to see or do. Just enjoy whatever you get the chance to experience, and don’t be worried about what you don’t.

Anybody else who has attended PAX should feel free to chime in with your advice below. Let’s help the noobs power level!

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