Tag Archives: Conventions

Pax Part 3 Education Through Play

You must choose carefully the panels that you want to see at Penny Arcade Expo. You’re not going to to find a quiet indie games Q & A to chill out and learn something interesting. Every panel lines up at least half an hour before the doors open. Sara knew which panel she wanted to go to as soon as we got into Seattle. It was called Education Through Play. Since she is a teacher, this was right up her alley. We didn’t know what would be discussed here, but we joked that if we played our cards right, maybe her professional development money could help pay for our hotel.

As PAX Panels went, this one was especially packed. The room must have been filled with at least 400 people. Late-comers were being turned away from the door. The panel had started late because several of the panelists from the east coast had been grounded by Hurricane Irene.

The first speaker was James Portnow, CEO of Rainmaker games and writer of the web series “Extra Credits”. He started talking about how the American Education, which was based on the 19th century Prussian model, could no longer cope with the challenges of today. We all know the educational potential of games. No one has ever had to sit a 10-year-old down to memorize all 150 pokemon. If we could somehow harness this emotional power that games have, we could have a world where the United States is first in Math, Science, and Literacy.

The speech was a barn burner. The audience was on their feet. The question and comments line snaked all the way back to the door. You could feel the energy crackling in the room.

It was then that I realized why so many people had come to Penny Arcade Expo. It wasn’t to see the latest games, It wasn’t to play in the tournaments, it was for validation. Outside of that convention hall, the work-a-day world believes without hesitation that games are frivolous and decadent, and by extension so are the people that play them. Here, everyone was a gamer. Games bring joy and meaning at PAX. Why wouldn’t you want to change the world with that kind of passion?

I hope everyone in attendance at the Education Through Play panel realized just how important they are. The change we’re seeking through video games isn’t going to come from administration or school board approval. It’s not even going to come from passion or good ideas. This change is going to come from the hard work at every level of the education system. It’s going to be the teachers who incorporate the games into their lessons, the IT staff that help them set everything up, the parents who recognize how the games have awakened a passion for learning in their child and demand that kind of instruction as they progress from K-12.

We just don’t know how games will work in the classroom…yet. Next year, I hope to see a panel or even a series of panels focused more on the practical applications of games in education. We can have all the validations we want, but at the end of the day, it’s the individual that brings the bright ideas to the table and creates a new reality. Because as Ken Robinson said, “when kids walk in the classroom and you close the door, you are the education system.”

Pax Part 2: Tanto Cuore

The most fascinating game at PAX was not to be found underneath the life-sized statues of dragons, wizards, or space marines. No plasma screens depicting high octane gameplay were found at this bright pink little booth. Instead there was a picture of a young chamber maid with long blond hair and frilly white apron. This was my first encounter with deck-building card game, Tanto Cuore.

In Tanto Cuore (Tawn-tow Kwo-ray) you are placed in the role of a Lord of a large mansion. The object of the game is to hire maids until you have the most capable staff in the land. All of the maids have their own unique abilities that affect the flow of play. You build your staff with resources like “Love” and “Actions”. You can also hinder your opponents by causing their maids to get sick or pick up bad habits.

As I played the demo, I could just hear the gnashing of teeth over the nature of the game.

What’s this? You’re “buying” young girls with “love” so they can “serve” you in your mansion. It’s sick! It’s perverted! It’s negative gender stereotyping!

Even so, it was mostly women who were checking out the booth. The promo bag – which you could only get by buying the game at PAX – was mostly being carried by women, and my female friends were talking about the game, saying how cute it was.

When people decry games, movies and other things that feature pink, lace, and good manners, I wonder what kind of society they think they are building. Are we really better off when Barbie, Hello Kitty, and the Disney princesses are only mention in the hushed tones of heretics? Do we want everybody to just wear business suits and boss each other around?

Tanto Cuore is a welcome departure from more traditional card games. Instead of summoning monsters to do battle with each other, you are assembling a group of young ladies that can put together a household filled with love and prestige. It feels a lot like Settlers of Catan in the building aspect, but because there are so many cards in play, you feel like you have more leeway in your strategy. It’s not a collectible card game, so everything you need to play is contained in one box. I can see how it would be controversial, but the art is beautiful, the gameplay is solid, and my wife has found her gateway drug to complex tabletop games. Today Tanto Cuore, tomorrow Magic the Gathering! (Yeah, right!)

Tanto Cuore can be purchased online at Cardhaus Games and other fine games retailers.


James Strocel After PAX Prime 2011

PAX Part 1: 5 Easy Ways to Survive Pax Prime

James Strocel After PAX Prime 2011


If I was going to attend only one convention this year, I decided it would be Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington. PAX did not disappoint. It is truly a nerd prom of epic proportions. There were giant displays from all the big publishers, video game tournaments, table-top games, and above all, thousands of fellow gamers to enjoy it all with. That being said, it’s a big convention. If you’re not careful, you could be swept a way in a tide of bodies smelling of old sweat and despair. Here are a few ways to make your PAX experience less zombie apocalypse and more geek apocalypse…whatever the hell that is.

1. Forget Trying To Play Triple-A Titles

Unless you’re a fan of standing in line for 5 hours or more, steer clear of the larger publisher booths. Sure, you get to play Skyrim, but you’re giving up at least a quarter of all your available expo hall time to do it. My friends were only able to play Mass Effect 3 through some drunken blackmail. Just enjoy all the new gameplay videos on the big plasma screens and check out the stuff at the indie booths, which are frankly a lot more interesting.

2. Bring Your Own Food

When dinner time rolls around at PAX, there will not be a restaurant, cafe, convenience store or hot dog cart without a line winding around the block. Make a stop at Costco on the way down to pick up some non-perishables and guard that stockpile like Mad Max. However if you’re like me and you didn’t pack enough, you can hit up the bakery desk at the Cheesecake Factory. The lineup for their restaurant hides a tasty salvation from the lunch rush mobs

3. Do Not Look For Swag, The Swag Will Find You.

It’s easy to get antsy about swag when you arrive in the afternoon and the only program schedule you could find was sticking out of the trash. Fear not. PAX turns Seattle into Tokyo for the weekend. The companies attending are desperate to get your attention and get you telling everyone else about them. You can get swag for playtesting, standing in line, or really pathetic puppy-dog looks. Swag is everywhere.

4. Trust The Enforcers

With over 85,000 attendees, there was no part of the convention center that wasn’t absolutely choked with people. If it weren’t for the professional management and the bravery of their volunteer enforcers, the attendees would have resorted to cannibalism within hours. As a veteran con-goer, I’m more used to a more “populist” form of crowd control. This generally means volunteer management, which means the inmates are running the asylum. Lines are hours long, and they are separated and mooshed together haphazardly in a futile attempt to make them go faster. PAX has none of that crap. They cap their attendance, and their staff is well versed in the art of mob-mancy. So, relax. They will get you to your panel…eventually.

5. Able-Bodied Attendees Seen Taking The Elevator To The 2nd Floor Of The Sheraton Hotel Will Be Punished Through Summary Execution.

The Sheraton was kind enough to give their upper floors to PAX attendees, which sounds nice. There’s also an elevator that skips floors 3-20. Also nice. What’s not nice is when you’re trying to make it back to your hotel room while drunk, hung-over, or sleep deprived and you think you’re going all the way up but SCREEEECH!! Not so fast, Sunshine. Someone was too lazy to take the escalator that was literally 10 FEET OVER from where I just became 10% more nauseous. If you are disabled and can’t take the escalator, I understand, but for the rest of you, show some consideration, okay?




Just One Word: Plastics

Recently there have been a couple of tweets about plastic use that got my attention

@PlasticLess Now look at me – I’m the man that your man could smell like if he didn’t use plastic bottles of bodywash

@ PlasticLess WRT Comic-Con – Take home memories, NOT memorabilia. Reduce demand for crap like this http://bit.ly/9Xjndd

The sheer smugness of these posts make me want to cram an PET bottle down flipper’s blow hole out of spite. Is @Plasticless really concerned about plastic use, or is he just trying stroke the egos of his converts? So the Comic-con exclusive toys are all going to end up in a landfill. Really? Not the thousands upon thousands of single-use plastic water bottles consumed at every convention in the country? The tweets employ a technique I’ve seen used before by far right Christian organizations and animal rights groups. They start by taking something that’s popular and well-liked and dumping all over it and anyone who likes said something. Then, like magic, those smelly unenlightened plebes will see the error of their ways and embrace Jesus/fruitarianism/the use of the word person-hole. This never happens.

The book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath talks a lot about this. Attacking elements of a group identity like the rare toys found at Comic-con is the last thing you want to do when you are trying to affect change. However, if you use group identity to your advantage, it can be a powerful ally.

Instead of decrying the plastic found in the toys, how about we encourage cosplayers to incorporate canteens or hip flasks into their costumes? Like any other fans, cosplayers are perfectionists who will do anything to make their ensemble look more authentic. It wouldn’t just work for characters who drink either. A metal water bottle that’s been worked into a prop or carefully hidden in a racy costume is the kind of makeshift construction challenge that all cosplayers crave. Thousands of  Pictures would hit the internet featuring people’s favorite characters eschewing a bottle of evian for their own snazzy container, ensuring the spread of the idea.

Reducing plastic use is not just a matter of nagging people until they stop. It’s a serious and complex problem that will require a refactoring of thousands of industrial and commercial processes. The change will need ingenuity way beyond the ability to snark. If we work with people and focus on ideas, we will be up to the challenge.

The Gauntlet of Sakuracon

By all accounts I should be too old for Anime conventions. They are crowded, smelly, and noisy. Not a year goes by without some epic account of organizational ineptitude on the part of the managing staff. My total wait time at registration this year was three and a half hours. The hazards of cosplay are many. You can kill yourself trying to meet a con deadline through accidents with sharp objects,  hotglue and paint fumes, not to mention sleep deprivation. Don’t ever forget the sleep deprivation! That bustling photo you see in this post was taken at 10:30pm! Yet still, year after year, my friends and I manage to show up. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I don’t think the answer has anything to do with meeting friends or a slavish devotion to Japanese cartoons. Sometimes you just need an ordeal. No matter where you are in life, no matter what problems you have, there is nothing like a good shunt of self-inflicted stress to make it all go away. When you’re working on a costume, a music video or a drawing, you aren’t thinking about car payments or where your career is going. You just know that when Saturday rolls around, that labor of love needs to be out the door, no matter what state it’s in. When you see the looks of amazement on the faces of passersby, you know you’ve just spun a little bit of fiction into fact.

These conventions retain a kind of purity because of the fact that only the anime creators are allowed to really make money there. You’re not grasping after abstract concepts like meaning or marketability, you’re just having fun taking something that was in your head and making it a reality. That feeling of knowing “hey, I made that” feeds the soul. Once you’ve tasted it, you’ll go through hell and back to experience it again.