Wednesday, September 26, 2012

PAX and Kids: One mom and daughter's journey to a big game convention

In the past month and a half I've had the good fortune to be able to attend both GenCon and PAX Prime in order to promote our upcoming game on Kickstarter, Story Realms.  Having never attended a big game convention before, I really didn't know what to expect from either. Being an Oregonian, GenCon in Indianapolis, Indiana was a long trip and I wasn't able to bring my family with me. As awesome as travelling across the country to go play games for "The Best 4 Days in Gaming" was, I sure missed my kiddos! I ended up being gone for 6 days, and it was the longest I'd ever spent away form the little ones. About halfway through the trip I started thinking "I bet I could have brought Katie, she's such a little gamer she would just LOVE this". When I got home, the first thing Katie said was "Next time, take me with you!". The gamer geek in me was super excited to share the biggest events for my favorite hobby with my daughter, but the mom in me was thinking about the crowds and the noise and the lines and all the walking. Most of all I was wondering if my fellow gamers would be as accepting and patient with my little geek as our friends and family she is used to playing with are. 

This story is my experience exploring a convention with an eager 6 year old as a game-industry working mom and awe-struck gamer geek.

Since both Randy and I were signed up to demo Story Realms and other Game Salute games throughout the entire show of PAX, we took a friend with us to Seattle to watch the kids.This gave us the opportunity to have Katie come explore PAX with us for a little while, with a bailout plan ready in case things didn't go smoothly or she got tired of watching us work. On Friday we went sans kiddos, and you can see exploits from our adventures in another blog post. On Saturday, little Miss Katie was up bright and early asking about PAX and eager to go along. So here we were, off to the first game convention with my very young kiddo. While I was a little nervous, she was all in! Here's a picture of us in front of the convention center before we went in:

Now I have not yet had the pleasure of taking my kids to somewhere huge and packed like Disneyland, and I am a bit of a nervous nelly when it comes to little kids, especially around crowds. They're just such small people, easily trampled over, distracted, and prone to wandering off! As a Girl Scout leader I was a constant counter. ok go... wait... you get the idea. I was almost neurotic in my crusade to treat other people's precious children as responsibly as I would want my future children treated. Fast forward to this street corner. No buddy system. No whistle. Not wearing Neon shirts. No count offs. Just me and this precious excited sweet little girl who has NO IDEA what we're in for. If you look at this photo you can see I've got a good grip on her shoulders. I was smiling in the picture, but secretly I'm thinking about the crowd of maybe 5 million people (ok, more like something in the tens of thousands) but they are all much bigger than little Katie and I was wondering what do I do if she gets separated from me.

As we walked inside, a "safety plan" of sorts formed in my brain. All the way up the 6 floors of escalators I pointed out the Enforcers and the people with walkie-talkies doing crowd control. I told Katie our publishers booth number and said "If something happens where you get separated, ask one of these enforcers to take you to booth 6108. Then I introduced her to all the Game Salute folks working there and made sure everyone knew she was my daughter. Katie said "6108, I got this mom"  Any similarly nervous mommies out there reading this will be glad to hear that she did NOT get separated from me even one time for any number of minutes. [Achievement Unlocked: No Panic Attack, No Lost Child!]

So our first big journey was down to the queue hall to pick up "swag bags" because the lines weren't as crazy long as the day before and Katie thought it would be fun. The lines I had seen the day before that were 2-3 hours long were gone, and we walked right up and got some neat Return to Ravnica bags, that double as a backpack. These made me and Katie both really happy because we're big Magic fangirls and are always excited about the next big sets! We also picked up some Magic coloring books and crayon packs that actually had cool MTG card names on the crayons, like Violet Ultimatum and Ivory Tower. We then trucked up to our demo area and Katie sat herself down and began coloring in her MTG book.

A short time later, some folks showed up for a Story Realms demo, and right as they were getting started, Katie looked up from her coloring, tugged at my arm, and asked "There's only 3 people, can I play too?". This was one of those moments I wasn't sure about... as I stood there hesitating Katie just turned to the people at the table and said "Hey guys, can I play this game with you?" and they all smiled and nodded and invited her to join.

Katie has played Story Realms a great number of times, but she seems to be ready to play again... even the same adventure that we always demo. I was impressed at her boldness, happy to see her excited about the game we created, and super thankful these folks didn't say no to an eager little gamer! [Achievement Unlocked: Playing a Game With Grownups!]

As you can see in the above pic, I sat down with Katie for the first few minutes, but very shortly into the game she was off and running and I was talking to folks around the shop while she held her own as a capable contributing player. The adventure went AWESOME, and if interested you can actually read about it all here, because as it turns out one of the players was a games reviewer for The Games Shopper. These guys were really great to welcome my little gamer to the table and I think it was a very rewarding experience all around.

After a few demos (and a snack!) in Uncle's Games, we were off to the expo halls to see the sights. The day before I was swamped all day, so this was our first chance to take a look around. The first thing we found was SUPERHEROES!

Amidst the massive room full of video games and throngs of people, Katie got a chance to meet a few of her favorite super-powered characters, both in booths and just walking around. It was like we were walking through the "Netflix for Kids" superhero channel, meeting these legendary characters left and right [Achievement Unlocked: Power-up with the Power Rangers!]

Next up was a chance to actually play some video games. There were long lines for the most popular titles, but we had plenty of opportunities to pick up and play some games. Katie was zig-zagging through the crowds, eagerly playing all sorts of games as I hovered around nearby trying NOT to get too into any of the games so I could keep a good eye on her :)

One of the joys of the expo hall for us was the opportunity to talk to passionate game designers and indie publishers about their latest projects, and we got to play everything from console to PC titles. One of our favorites was playing Dungeons of Dredmor together. I can't wait until this game comes out on the iPad, it look hilarious and hard and the kind of game Katie and I can snuggle up and explore together.

Katie stayed with us all the way until dinner, when we took the exhausted girl back to the hotel and headed back without little miss for some late night gaming. Katie had SO MUCH fun she was begging to go back with us on Sunday, and passed up another day of Seattle sightseeing, parks, and shopping to go back to the game convention with mom.

Partway through the day, I got a text from my friend who was out seeing the sights in Seattle that she and my son, Jack, had just met Mario and the Princess in a shopping center across town. As you can see in the picture above, Jack was SO excited to "meet" his favorite video game character. I showed Katie the texted picture and she said "Lets find Mario and the Princess ourselves and send a picture back!" Skeptical we'd find the same Mario/Princess pair, I agreed we'd try to find a Mario somewhere, and our scavenger hunt began. Lo and behold...3 hours later look who we stumbled upon!!!!

Yep, it's the same folks, who kindly posed for a picture and smiled and laughed at our scavenger hunt EPIC WIN! [Achievement unlocked: Super Mario Seek-and-Find!]

The absolute highlight of Sunday for me was the GeekDad & GeekMom panel on Raising the Next Generation of Geeks. This panel of geeky experts talked about all sorts of topics from setting media limits, to teaching kids programming, to the value of story and story-driven games (an especially relevant topic for us!). There was then a question and answer segment where lots of folks asked questions and talked with the panelists. It was a great panel, with lots of really awesome ideas tossed around, and ended with giving away a mountain of swag! All the kids attending got to pick out a prize, and all the audience participants as well. Randy walked out with a copy of Lords of Waterdeep, and Katie got a cool flashing-game-toy thingie that is both entrancing to play and supremely annoying on a 5-hr car trip home :)

Speaking of freebies... it seems like everywhere we turned someone was giving out some kind of energy drink. At one point Katie got her hands on a giant can of caffeine-loaded sugar water which I absolutely did NOT let her drink, but it made for a cute picture...

Yeah right kiddo... maybe next year. :) Other things she was handed included t-shirts, a button that says "I <3 Video Games", and my personal favorite "Self-Rescuing Princess" which depicted a girl with a sword. The woman who handed it to Katie said "Sweetie, just remember you don't ever need to sit around waiting for a guy to rescue you, you're a star". Awww. The people at the convention in general were so incredibly great to us, and it was such a relief and a welcome to see my daughter being invited into this weird world of games, geekery, and awesomeness with open arms.

Overall, our convention experience was an amazingly positive, super-fun, action packed adventure. We are both very excited to go again, and Katie has decided PAX is an event "we should go to EVERY year together. forever". [Achievement Unlocked: Uber Bonding]


  1. This is the most awesome story I've read all week!
    Sounds like you all had a blast :)
    Love ya! Auntie J

  2. I'm glad to see you brought your kids to PAX. My 8 year old has been to every PAX Prime since 2007 and it is the highlight of our year. My 3 year old has been 2x mostly in the baby backpack... she didn't go this year because cosplayers sort of freak her out. These events are so fun and they show kids that there are LOTS of gamers and geeks in the world. I laughed when you talked about pointing out enforcers because I do the same thing. :)

  3. That is awesome !! My son (son of a gaming geek but not cosplay) went to his first cosplay this year, comic con london - dressed up the lot - he has never had such a great time with people that are just like him he said lol :) Uber bonded with new friends! He always loved gaming but not just playing but working out how and why they are made - he is at university now studying what he's always wanted yearned to know.