Interview with a PAX Ten-Timer

Interview with a PAX Ten-Timer, Tristan Stanley

Interview by: Terra Clarke Olsen 

I interviewed my co-worker, Tristan Stanley, for a Seattle Weekly PAX article (out today, so be sure to get your copy). I found the interview so touching that I wanted to post it here.

How long have you been a gamer?

TS: All my life. First games I ever played were on the Apple II when I was 3. Wizardry was a text dungeon crawler game I played with my father while I was learning to read.

How did you first learn about PAX?

TS: I always wanted to attend E3 but it always seemed out of reach for me. The cost of entry was so high ($500) and I was just a high school student with no means to travel.

I’ve been a fan of the Penny Arcade comics since 1998. I found an archive of their comics while trading files at a LAN party. This was before broadband internet, so LAN parties were the place to get media content. After reading the first year of their comics I was a fan. I would read the new comics and news posts every monday, wednesday, and friday.

In 2004, Tycho announced the Penny Arcade eXpo.

PennyArcade

What made you decide to go? 

TS: It was perfect. I already wanted to visit the Digipen campus which was just a few miles from the expo. This made the decision easy.

How did you make the trip happen (e.g. save money? Drove out? Flew out? Came with friends?)

TS: I flew out from Iowa with a college classmate who shared my interest in Penny Arcade. We shared a hotel room at a greatly reduced rate just for the expo.

After attending the first PAX, what were your feelings regarding the whole experience? 

TS: When I first arrived at SeaTac I took a hotel courtesy van to get to Bellevue. I was shoulder to shoulder with 12 other guys. It was a quiet ride until someone answered a phone call and mentioned they were in town for PAX. All of a sudden, the entire group lit up as we simultaneously realized we were all there for the expo. We were talking about where we were from, parties to attend and things to see at the show. For the first time I was able to easily engage strangers with a shared interest I knew a great deal about.

After I got to the hotel, the entire lobby was full of my kind and it was just as easy to approach and speak to these people as it was in the van. This turned out to be true of the whole expo. Standing in line was never dull as there was always someone to talk to and plenty to talk about.

It was the day before the expo started, so I grouped up with the guys from the PAX Super Trip (a cross country Penny-Arcadedrive to seattle). We went to the movie theater in Bellevue and took it over. With the entire auditorium filled with PAX attendees, the movie quickly turned into an MST3K show of nerd commentary over the film with easy laughter for each comment made. I don’t even remember what movie it was.

The Friday morning we all lined up outside the Meydenbauer Center for the first day of the expo. It was two hours before they opened the doors so many DS games were played on the street.

During the first Q&A with Gabe and Tycho they were really shocked how many people came out for PAX. They had no idea how well it would be received. They just went with it. They still attribute most of PAX’s success to Robert Khoo, PA’s business manager.

I spent most of the day going from panel to showroom to game freeplay. I repeated this cycle until I got hungry then left to explore Bellevue.

Another high point was during the first concert. The Minibosses played the theme from Metroid and the entire audience lifted their DSs and cell phones into the air. It was this perfect combination of nerd, hearing the theme song of one of my favorite games turned into a rock anthem while the room was filled with a swaying LCD glow.

After the concert I went back to the Hotel. I was standing outside waiting for a friend when an exhausted looking Tycho approaches the front entrance with his wife in tow. I was star struck but worked through it to say, “Thank you Jerry, I had a lot of fun today. I’m very glad that you put this expo on.” He nodded shook my hand, asked my name and where I was from and that he hoped to see me next year.

The first PAX was a 72 hour event that didn’t stop. The Saturday morning afterwards several people who had stayed up all night were now sleeping under tables in the console freeplay rooms. It reminded me of the two day LAN parties where people would sleep under their computers.

Halo 2 was announced at the 2004 PAX which also legitimized it as a serious gaming expo. People stood in line for hours for a chance at 15 minutes gameplay with the new game. Now several games are announced and debuted at the current PAX showrooms.

The final Omegathon game was revealed as the original Atari Pong. A audience of thousands was cheering as two players competed over a grand prize of a alienware computer plus every nintendo product ever made.

When I left I was still in a form of culture shock. So many people investing themselves into what I was always told was a waste of time. I felt accepted to a place that I belonged. Back home I told everyone about how much grand it all was, but I think some of it was lost.

Did you go back? 

TS: I’ve been every year. It became much easier to go when I moved to Seattle in 2007 to attend Digipen.

How has PAX impacted your life?

TS: In 2007 I was selected to be an Omeganaut, their expo wide competition for a large grand prize. I received from call Gabe of penny-arcade while at work. I knew what the call was about even before he brought it up. I agreed OmegaDemiseto be in the competition and then ran around my office telling my boss and coworkers just how lucky I was.  I went a little overboard.

I was eliminated in the first round by Jenga. I was disappointed at the time, but now look back on it as the most epic game of Jenga I’ve ever played. Immediately after losing, both Gabe and Tycho came up to shake my hand. I was too shaken from losing to be much for conversation, but I’m glad they said hello.

You also get some perks as an Omeganaut. You’re also treated like a VIP, can cut lines to play game, get swag bags from the game booths, and your picture up on the big banner of the twenty contestants.

Both PAX and I have changed over the years. PAX is now much larger and some of the sense of community has been replaced with the large commercial presence. Still, you can feel that acceptance and community in any of the of PAX game rooms. The table top gaming area always welcoming new players. Console freeplay available to all. The BYOC LAN room ways giving away prizes.

I also have different values now. My hobby has become my job and now must support my family. I see games as both entertainment and business and how they have to co-exists. PAX is so full now it’s hard to attend the whole weekend. I go for a little while when I have tickets, but PAX will always hold a special place for me. It gave me the feeling of belonging and the confidence to pursue my dream of working in the games industry.

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Thank you to Tristan for such thoughtful answers! What about you? Have you been to PAX? What has your experience been?

terra@haveyounerd.com 

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