PAX East Day 3

This was my third year at PAX East, but it was the first time I’d been able to stay for all three days.  The first year I had a three day pass, but commuted and was exhausted by Sunday.  Last year we only had Friday and Saturday passes, and Sunday was Easter anyway.  This year we had a nearby hotel and three day passes and believe me, we took full advantage of it!

MLHawke’s husband drove down to meet us, and brought along Bard’s sister.  I didn’t do a cosplay, but after two full days in costume it felt nice to wear jeans and a t-shirt (and my snazzy new N7 jacket) and just my normal hair and makeup!

Bard and I met up with his sister; MLHawke was in line for the Elder Scrolls Online demo, but from the point she was at, it was a 3 hour wait.  She wound up getting out of line, and she and her husband went to wait for the Education Gamification panel (since he’s a teacher, and her job involves a lot of classroom/curriculum work).  I wandered around with Bard and his sister for a bit, then joined MLHawke for the panel.  I’d gone to the games and education panel on Friday, and this one was also awesome.  It gave me some incredible ideas and links for resources.  I left inspired to roll out an experimental learning model to my classes.  More on that later though.

Sunday’s panels were a little sparse for me; I didn’t really have much I wanted to do.  Bard and I knew we wanted to paint miniatures again, so we put our names on the 2-hour waitlist, then headed to a panel done by OC Remix.  He and his sister are really into them, so it was nice to see them really enjoy the panel.  I found it interesting for certain; I love when things are mixed up and done in different genres and such.  We got back and did our mini painting.  Bard, myself, and his sister all painted minis of our current D&D characters.  My bard, Indiana Jenn, is a human and an archer who occasionally pulls out a rapier, so I picked the archer figurine (even though it looked a touch elven).  Bard’s a fighter and his sister is a sorceress.  MLHawke, her husband, and one of our friends came over, but the wait was another two hours and by then it was nearly four o’clock.

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Most of the last couple hours was spent in classic console, chilling with our friend Ted and charging my phone.  The day wasn’t quite over, but I was already starting to feel withdrawal symptoms.  I kept trying to think about my new ideas to roll out at school the next day, rather than the drive home, or the amount of laundry I was going to have to do.  The last day was relaxing, but at the same time it was a slight downer because there was none of the crazy excitement of the first two days.  No, that won’t be my incentive to make three separate cosplays for next year, however.  I think it was the knowing it was ending; we’d had two days full days of complete awesomeness.  This day was also awesome, but there was the knowledge that we would have to be leaving.

However, when we did go to leave, we found that though we were done with PAX, it wasn’t done with us!  My car battery was dead!  We ended up being delayed about 45 minutes while we waited for AAA and let my engine run and recharge the battery.  By the time we finally got back home it was about 9 and we were exhausted.  Neither of us (nor our companions for the weekend) took Monday off, so collapsing into bed was met with the knowledge that the alarm was going off in mere hours, marking our return to the real world.

Of course, the return to the “real world” means the onset of post-PAX withdrawal.  Withdrawal is pretty common after any con, from what I’ve heard (and felt after things like PAX and ICON).  You go nearly nonstop for a whole weekend, set apart in a world of people who mostly think like you and have the same interests as you.  You see amazing things and make new friends.  You learn new information.  You want to burst with excitement from it all… and then it’s back to jobs and classes and people who don’t always feel the same way about these things.  Oh, and the con-cold.  I’ve kind of been fighting something off since the Sunday of PAX, but thanks to vitamin C, rest, and fluids, it’s not really turning into much.  Still, it’s a reminder that I had such an awesome weekend my body wants to punish me.  Hehe.

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While Day 3 was a lot more relaxed and low-key, and there was much more sitting around, it was still a good day.  I got that one last day to wander aimlessly and see the show floor and experience it with Bard’s sister at her first ever PAX.  She really had a good time, which is awesome.  Our PAX contingent is growing!  And the nice thing is I left not only with some great merchandise and awesome swag, but also with knowledge of a new model for my classroom.

The event may have ended on Sunday, but the lessons from this year’s PAX East will carry through for far longer.  Now it’s onto thinking about next year’s PAX East.  And of course, the costumes!

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PAX East 2013, Part 1

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This was my third time at PAX East.  Each year it’s different for me: in 2011 I drove down each day, I was singlemost , and went alone because hey, PAX East, why not!  I loved it and it was amazing, and I was excited to go the following year.  In 2012 it fell on Easter weekend, so I only went Friday and Saturday; I had a boyfriend, we had a hotel, and it was across Boston from the convention center so we had to pay double in parking because we had to drive.  It was also my first year cosplaying, and I learned a lot about the process of costume making and the aftermath of it all.

This year I have a fiance, we went for three days, and we scored a hotel across the street from the convention center, making things extremely convenient.  I had people I met last year and got to meet up with and share our love of gaming.  And I did two costumes for myself.  All in all this year’s PAX may have been the best yet, as this and the next couple posts will likely show.

I came to the decision that I need PAX East.  I look forward to it like most people look forward to a Disney vacation.  There is something exhilarating about being surrounded by 20,000 other gamers; not to mention the bright colors, bright lights, swag, costumes, demos… the list goes on.  And this year I was able to, unlike in past years, truly experience the joy of being a fan.  But more on that later.

So first off: Friday.  Bard and I left the house a little after 7:30am, in costume and me in costume and full makeup for my first cosplay of the weekend, Serana from the Dawnguard DLC for Skyrim:

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(Funny enough, I got a Facebook message later that day from a friend whose wife was pretty sure she’d seen me stopping for coffee, but the black wig confused her!)

We were making good time in light traffic until about Winchester, which is only a few miles outside Boston, when we hit the crawling traffic.  From Winchester to the top of the exit 23 ramp, it took us a full hour of stop and go, inching along traffic.  Good thing we weren’t planning on attending much of anything at 10am!  I’d thought of trying out the Con Cosplay Survival panel, but I’d read a lot on good preparation and such for costuming, and felt fine missing it.  Bard and I found the parking garage for our hotel, and a friend who was,  staying with us met up to stow his gear in my car.  I finished up putting on my costume, we clipped on our badges, and we were off to the BCEC!

When we got inside we met up with MLHawke, checked our mutual schedules (MLHawke, Bard and myself all used the Guidebook App–VERY handy for scheduling, mapping, and figuring things out!) and decided to meet back up later in the afternoon to check out the Elder Scrolls Online food truck.  Hey, free lunch provided by #ESO?  Yes please!

My first panel was about education and gaming.  The speaker, Steve Swink, is a gamer, game designer, and educator who really knew his stuff, and was very passionate about where we have things wrong as far as education in this country goes.  We treat our students like flashdrives.  They sit down (plug in), we load them with knowledge that sometimes seems randomized and is often impersonal, then expect we can just get that info back later on in the form of a test.  The issue is that they’re not flashdrives.  Flashdrives process information the same way whether they’re 4GB or 64GB; students are people who process differently.  Swink’s presentation dealt with how we can use games to reach students, and now they don’t have to just be supplementary to the curriculum, but could even be the curriculum itself!  It’s a great idea, though I’m not sure that the district I work in will ever embrace it (or at least get the technology for it) during my time there.  We’ll see.  At least it gave me some ideas to go off of.

Then we all met up and hit the #ESOFoodtruck for lunch.  It was located on Congress Street.  We started walking, all happily discussing our mornings.  It was a bit farther away than I’d thought or expected, and MLHawke and Bard were FREEZING by the time we arrived!  Luckily Serana is a multi-part costume with a lot of layers, so I didn’t do too badly in that regard.  Lunch was good, and they had a photo station with a green screen, where I got the greatest picture of my cosplay:

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We headed back to the hotel after that, and Bard changed out of his costume because he was super cold in it.  Silly wind.  I fixed my makeup and my wig, then it was back to the BCEC.  I went to a panel on parents as characters in video games, on which Mike Laidlaw of Dragon Age sat.  It was interesting, and it has made me more aware of the changing role of parents in games, and given me stuff to work with in class with the books we read.  Bard and I met up again and I saw our friend Ted, a Tetris Attack beast, and caught up on life since last year.  My final panel of the night was on curing chemicals and special effects cosplay, which was interesting.  While I know that some of that will improve my cosplays immensely in the future, it’s a little daunting.  There’s a lot of prep work and measuring involved, but anything worth doing comes with some difficulties, so who knows.  Maybe I will attempt it at some point, just out of curiosity!

Then it was back to the hotel for the evening to make myself human again (sort of literally, since Serana is a vampire after all!).  The night was spent debriefing about our day’s experiences, and plans for the next.

Tomorrow’s recap will cover Saturday, with cosplay number two, and the awesomeness that is BioWare!

Using My Scroll of “Raise Dead”

I’m not dead yet.  Honestly.  I realized it’s been months since I blogged, and I keep thinking I should start again but am not sure how.  Ideas come to mind and I wonder if it’s worth starting again.  Then I have to tell myself that it is, and it’s for the best and the best way to start up again is to just do it.

Since the summer, when I last blogged, a lot has happened.  At that time I was dating Bard, a wonderful man who is into gaming and a talented Irish harper.  In July he proposed, and that has set off a whirlwind of activity!  Now I’m planning a wedding, which is busy in and of itself.  I’m pretty organized anyway: I’ve planned events on a large scale before, so I have my ducks in a row and I’m doing fine with the planning.  My future mother in law says I’m the calmest bride she’s ever seen, even!  But that also means many other things: in the fall I moved.  Bard lives an hour away from my current job, and we had some things to work out, so I didn’t move in with him for this school year.  But my family lives close to my old apartment, and my lease was up at the end of October, so I wound up moving in with them until the wedding.  I HATE moving, but Bard and his family and our friends and my family were very helpful, so in the last few months I’ve been living at home with my parents and my cats.

It’s not bad at all.  I have my own space in the house, which has been good for costuming, since PAX East season is upon me!

Work’s been quite crazy, as I’m co-advising the senior class this year in addition to my regular teaching responsibilities.  Things have improved substantially at my place of employment over last year, so it’s looking like I’ll commute next year.  Next year’s my tenth year teaching in that district, so it’s pretty vital that I put in that final year.

So there’s been a lot going on: major life changes and the like, and it’s crazy, but it’s all good.

PAX East is this upcoming weekend, and I’m costuming again this year.  I’ll blog more about this, but let’s say that a year, improved skills and materials, and a sewing machine make a big difference in my costume outcomes!  This year’s PAX East schedule looks interesting as well, and I’ve compiled a good schedule of events and panels to go to.

I’m hoping to start blogging more, now that I’m over this major hurdle of just starting up again… and I promise not to spam too many wedding details.  This is about gaming and writing and overall being a cynic, after all!

30 Days of Video Games: Day 3, Underrated Game

I’ve gone to PAX East for the last two years, and am always amazed at what companies put into their advertising. Last year, the main entry boasted a huge display from BioShock Infinite. This year the exhibition floor touted larger-than-life sized sculptures for Borderlands 2, and companies doling out swag in the hopes of peaking gamers’ interests. Through all that, it’s easy to find the games that become overrated: games whose advertising schemes outweigh the real appeal. But what about those games whose developers don’t spend a lot in advertising, don’t get announced or flaunted at things like E3 and the PAX conventions, and mostly slide quietly by, generally unnoticed in the chaos?

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in the NES generation. There were gaming magazines, like Nintendo Power, but not the same kind of hubbub that exists today. Games were advertised on TV, sometimes stores had posters up, but generally the advertising was low-key. The big franchises certainly got their share of exposure, but the smaller games, not so much. It was during this time that I, as a 12-year-old gamer girl, saw a single commercial for the game Battle of Olympus. At the time I was obsessed with Greco-Roman mythology (still am), and that one ad, showcasing the potential to play through mythological settings with mythological creatures, excited me. Luckily my brother’s birthday was coming up, so I asked my parents if we could get that for me. I mean him. Right.

Battle of Olympus is a side-scroller in the same style of Zelda II, Link’s Adventure. It was released in North America in 1990 for the NES by Broderbund. It played nearly the exact same as Zelda II, down to the animations. It didn’t get much publicity, and didn’t get a lot of hype, and even now when I bring it up, most people don’t know anything about it. Imagine my glee when I mentioned it to Bard and he not only knew of it, but also has a copy!

The game had several settings from ancient Greek myths, and dealt with such mythological creatures as Gaea (mother earth), the Hydra, the Centaur, and the Minotaur. One section had you, as Orpheus, traversing the labyrinth of Crete in a quest to find your beloved, kidnapped by Hades. You could call on Poseidon’s dolphins, or play the lyre at the shrine of Apollo and call Pegasus. The worlds were bright and colorful, the game play fun, the mythological references awesome (if a bit skewed, as I now know from my experience teaching it), and most of all, it had the best music.

If I search Youtube for Battle of Olympus now, I can come up with many videos of the music and the gameplay. It brings back many memories, all of them fond. It reminds me of a time before God of War, before xbox, before all this financially-based advertising craze. While that’s all necessary now, remembering Battle of Olympus reminds me of what it was like to be excited for a game’s release for the very first time ever.

I never saw another ad for Battle of Olympus, and it seems to have been lost to the annals of gaming lore and legend. There are some who know of it, and understand how great it really is. But the vast majority haven’t ever heard of it. It’s for that reason that I think Battle of Olympus rates as a truly underrated game.

Tomorrow: Day 4, Your Guilty Pleasure Game

The Nerdom Hierarchy

As with most things I’m writing about lately, this is something that’s been on my mind but only recently have I decided I should write about it.  Today’s musings come courtesy of an experience I had yesterday that made me start rethinking the ideas of the Nerd Hierarchy.

We nerds/geeks/dorks pride ourselves on our individuality.  It’s our hallmark.  We are different and darn it, we own it.  No nerves or self-consciousness here, baby.  But it gets complicated when we go walk among others like us.  We’d think that because we place so much emphasis on our individuality that we’d be accepting of all who are individuals.  And yet we’re not.  Put a bunch of nerds together, and we’re as petty and clique-y as anyone else.  It’s disappointing, because I’d love to think that nerds would happily embrace other nerds as kindred spirits, and yet like any other person or group of people that acceptance is conditional.

To start off, I don’t really, personally, differentiate between nerds, geeks, and dorks.  However, I might be alone there.  A google search for Nerd vs. Geek turns up a veritable feast of images.  The general consensus is that geeks like technology, t-shirts, gaming, and movies.  Nerds are more academic, and into sci-fi and role-playing.  Further examination shows that geeks can assimilate into society better than nerds, but neither really cares if they do or don’t.  So what happens if you fit both profiles?  What do you then call yourself?  For a person who prides herself on not sticking into on category, when society tries to categorize me, it’s frustrating.  It’s even more frustrating when geek/nerd/dork society tries to do it.

Thus is born a hierarchy in our world.  My first experience with the hierarcy was going to ICON on Long Island, a large convention at Stonybrook University catering to fans of fantasy, sci-fi, anime, gaming, costuming, and the like.  I was fortunate that my best friend and her now-husband were part of the staff, so I got to be, as well.  I learned a lot of backstage information and con shop-talk.  But it was also my first exposure to the concept of the hierarchy that exists in our subculture.  ICON has an Anthropomorphic track, colloquially referred to as “Furries”.  And I learned that in general at these sorts of things, people who like large animals that act like humans are generally at the bottom of the barrel.  Most other con-goers would avoid them and though the con provided programming for them, it was limited and there was no desire to expand it.

As I reestablished my love of gaming, I became aware of more prejudice within the community.  One could not simply be a gamer.  How one gamed had to be taken into consideration.  PC vs. console gaming was a big factor.  Generally because you can do more on a PC, it’s considered superior.  But console gaming definitely has its place.  Why does it matter if I’m shooting my way through zombies in Left 4 Dead with a controlleror a keyboard?  And then there’s other gaming: card, tabletop, and the like.  I was just learning to play Magic, when I picked up the subtle cues that Magic is sometimes considered a “lesser” game, and those who play it may be subjected to head shakes, face palms, and general pity.

The big question with both scenarios is why.  If people like big humanoid animals (or like being big humanoid animals), why does that automatically grant them the short end of the stick in terms of programming at a con?  If people prefer consoles over PCs, why should that make them any less of a gamer?  And why should people who play card games face scrutiny based on the type of card game they’re playing?  Isn’t the entire point of being unabashed nerds/geeks/dorks to embrace our individuality and appreciate it for what it is?

Sadly, that’s the ideal, and we know full well in our world that the ideal is one achievement we’ll never add to our gamer score.  The reality is that we’re human, and as humans we look at things that are different and that we don’t understand, and we automatically categorize them and assign a value of good or bad based on either our preferences or our understanding of those things.  If I prefer PC gaming, consoles must be bad.  If I don’t understand Furries, they must be bad.  I think Magic is silly, so it’s bad.  Nevermind that the people who are engaging in those things are people like us, and more importantly, are peole who have decided to embrace their individuality and own it.  Just like us.

I saw this in action yesterday when I went to Birka.  It’s a large-scale market put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism.  It is an “Organisation dedicated to researching and recreating pre-17th century European history”.  Yesterday I saw a lot of peasants, nobles, and knights.  There were people in full armor walking around like it was completely normal (because there, it was).  I watched fencing and melee battles.  The hotel where it was held even had a roasted pig as part of the luncheon you could purchase.  Birka is primarily a market, but the SCA does all sorts of things where you can camp out and engage in non-modern activity for a day or even a week or two.

Now, I’m used to going to cons where your garb is a costume, but there are SCA members whose attendance at these things is an entirely different persona that exists in pre-17th century Europe.  It’s awesome, and I’d probably get in trouble from the hierarchy by calling it another form of roleplaying, but that’s how I look at it.  Now me, I have ‘garb’.  I love wearing it, but when I do, I’m still 21st century JayRain in a Medieval/Renaissance dress.  So naturally I brought my camera.  I’d read the rules on the Birka website and the only one I’d seen was that we had to be dressed appropriately, which I was.  There was a lot to take in, and I’d seen something interesting in the lobby and decided to take a picture of it.  In doing so I committed a major SCA faux-pas.

The woman at the table (who wasn’t in the picture) said, “Ma’am you need to ask before taking pictures.”  I was incredibly chagrined, because in my mind it was a compliment to her that I thought her display was cool enough to warrant a photo.  So I asked if she’d like me to delete it.  She said “Yes.”  And that was it.  No please, no thank you.  When I brought it up to two of my friends who do these events on a regular basis, one said she probably should have told me in advance that it’s proper form to ask before photographing anything or anyone (and her husband helpfully added in that yes, some people here can be real jerks about stuff).  And the reasoning wasn’t artistic license or anything like that, but the fact that even though we were in a hotel, watching the news while waiting for our burgers and fries to arrive, some members look down upon technology being present at events.  Capturing the memories of the events photographically is a no-no, and cell phones are bad.  Some people take these things so seriously that they become ‘garb nazis’, who are attentive to every detail: if your gown is 13th century but your cloak design is 15th century, and your knickers are briefs made of cotton and elastic (aka 21st century), you don’t belong.

I totally understand the desire to recreate something and be a part of a large-scale event surrounded by others who share that same love.  But when the hierarchy kicks in and it comes down to who’s “serious” about it versus who’s merely “having fun with it” it’s… well…not fun to be a part of it for some people.  I know that the purpose of the SCA is to research and recreate that era of European history, and I don’t fault them for their mission or those who strictly adhere to it.  But I know myself, and know that while I’ll go to Birka again to see all the awesome stuff, I’ll go with different expectations, and I won’t be joining the SCA anytime soon.  Or ever.  And because I constantly feel the need to clarify myself and apologize, I know I was in the wrong, and I know now that the SCA operates completely differently from a con; I know that my expectations were wrong.  I think what they do is wonderful, and it’s very important when it comes to keeping history alive.  And I also know that it’s just not for me.

What is for me, however, is PAX East.  I went for the first time last year, and I saw what is, in my mind, what nerd culture is meant to be.  For one weekend thousands of gamers of all sorts descended upon Boston and just loved gaming.  Our swag bags had mini playable decks of Magic cards so we could play Magic with strangers while waiting in line.  One huge room had consoles from the past that could be played, while another was a Call of Duty and Halo Reach tournament room.  The Classic Arcade Museum brought their retro arcade machines and let us play for free as long as we wanted.  For one weekend PC, console, card, and tabletop gamers came together and just loved gaming and one another.

Yes, there were people in epic full costumes, but they didn’t look down on those without costumes.  We could talk about shooters and RPGs without worrying if one was better than the other.  We platform to our hearts’ content, go get lunch, listen to a talk about how games are assisting the disabled, and then go down on the floor and try the demos that various developers were showing.  There wasn’t any of the segregation or snobbery I’d seen at other cons, where the anime loves stick together and the gamers go somewhere else… no PC gamers avoiding console or card gamers here!  For 48 hours I experienced the ideal in nerd culture.  And interestingly enough, PAX is the Latin word for peace.

Now I’m sure people who’ve been to PAX East or PAX Prime will tell me that it does exist, and I will accept that as truth.  Just because one experience contradicts my own doesn’t make it false, after all.  But what would the nerd world be like if instead of our differences we just accepted our similarities, even if our only similarity is the fact that we are proud do be individuals that don’t conform to the norm?  Even if we can’t forget the labels of geek or nerd or dork, could we stop trying to force one another into those categories, and just be?