Rediscovering Childhood at PAX West

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The hotel ballroom is dimly lit and filled with row upon row of standardized chairs, the kind that were cheap to make but meant to look expensive with deep blue cushions surrounded by metal frames. I manage to grab a free chair during the ensuing game of musical chairs as all the attendees scramble for the limited resource. Though thankful for having a seat, I am now forcibly pressed against the man next to me. He is middle-aged and heavy set, dressed like in he came straight from a job in an accounting firm to the convention, his tie and dress pants contrasting with the majority of attendees, dressed in video game themed clothing showcased heavily-armed robots and shirtless barbarians.

Despite his formal dress, I am assured that the man pressed against me along with everyone else in this room is a game enthusiast. The room and presentation we are preparing for is part of the Penny Arcade Expo, a massive games convention that takes place in Seattle every August. The presentation in question is for a game called X-Com: Enemy Unknown, an unreleased game the presentation promised to showcase a previews of.

To say X-Com is a misnomer, the original game had come out in 1994. The trouble was that since that game came out, no remake had been developed that matched the critical impact and success the original made. The new game promised to remedy this and hence the crowded ballroom.

Looking to break the awkwardness of our forced contact, I attempted conversation with the man next to me that I was now partially sitting on.

“So…are you excited about X-Com” I asked?

Receiving no response and wishing to fill in the dead space, I answered my own question: “I can’t wait; I have been waiting for this game for a couple of years!”

The man’s head turned slowly towards me at a pace roughly equivalent to the head turning scene in the Exorcist. His face was calm and reserved as he responded with a single sentence.

“I have been waiting seventeen years for this game!”

His response synched with the dimming of the lights and the beginning of the presentation and I was left reflecting on the man’s response as he clasped his hands on his lap and returned to his reserved posture (as reserved as one could be with another man practically on your lap).

As the room went dark and the massive project screen lit up with the beginning of the trailer. As the screen was filled with firefights between human marines and aliens to a soundtrack of deep bass notes, the man next to me sprang from his seat, nearly knocking me from my chair in the process.

The formerly meek accountant now climbed his chair and began jumping up and down on top of it, his fist pumping the air as he let out an unending shouts of “yyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh” at the top of his lungs!

As I stood their stunned and scrambling to avoid his tie as it whipped around him, I surveyed the room and noticed that my neighbor was not alone in his enthusiasm. All around the room, men and women were jumping up and down screaming their support for the game.

One factor was shared by all the vocal enthusiasts however, they were not of my generation. The group that jumped up and down as the youth around them sat stunned was middle-aged. These were the parents, the professionals and the gamers from when the PC market was still on Dos.

After a few minutes of unrestrained fervor, the older members of the crowd quieted their shouting, sat back down on their seats, some fixing their hair while others simply looked around calmly as if the whole incident never happened.

Incidents such as this remind me of how games transcend age and generate such enthusiasm and unbridled joy regardless of age. This is why I and many others play games and why we will continue to do so, regardless of age.