Please welcome friend of PN2 Jess Blacklock to the team. Jess is a keen writer and gamer who can’t wait to share her stories to our readers.

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Greetings all! This is my very first post for PN2 and I am excited! My name is Jess and I’m lucky enough to consider Mark one of my friends. I’ve been watching this website grow and can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to now be a part of the experience. Let’s hope that I can use my voice for good.

I attended PAX Australia (Penny Arcade Expo) in Melbourne the other week on a 3 day pass, from Friday to Sunday. It was my whole world and what a world it was. It wasn’t my first geeky convention experience, I’ve been to my fair share of Supanovas and got to attend GX Australia earlier this year, but it’s definitely one of my favourites. Many of my geek friends have been attending PAX AUS since it started in 2013 so I was keen to go along to check it out for myself.

This year for our birthdays, my mum bought my sister and I 3 day passes so that we could attend together. My sister has attended the previous 2 PAXAUS and was eager to share the experience with me. I’m Sydney based so I had to make the trip down and find accommodation, thankfully my sister currently lives in Melbourne so I had a couch to sleep on.

Sadly Mark was unable to attend this year (sad face – Editor) so he requested that I do a write up on his behalf. Goodness me, where do I even start? There’s so much to see and so much to experience that it’s hard to know what to check out first, even with three days. I’m not always great with crowds so first I looked into strategies for coping with the thousands of people beforehand. I was reassured by my friends that there were places to escape and they would take care of me if needed. Thankfully it all worked out really well; I visited the Diversity Lounge and the Take This AFK Room for much needed chill out time.

The environment is amazingly welcoming and inclusive. The Diversity Lounge is a LGBTI safe space with booths from staffed by wonderful groups: Girls Make Games, Melbourne Gaymers, Minus 18, The CheckPoint and Take This. At one point when I was in the Diversity Lounge with friends, my bag broke and a very kind stranger in an amazing coat helped me fix it. It felt like such a welcoming space. The yellow shirted Enforcers are the army of volunteers who facilitate smooth running of panels and queues, and are able to answer any question you might have about PAX AUS. Every Enforcer I encountered was kind, patient, helpful and caring, plus a lot of fun!

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The main exhibit hall was split up into sections that include the AAA titles and major studios, Indie games, console freeplay, PC area and tabletop. There were also some stalls where you could purchase a wide variety of swag from PAX merchandise to semi-precious dice to the Australian edition of Cards Against Humanity. VR and handheld were also represented, just in other parts of the exhibition centre. The panels were in a variety of theatres, with fantastic names like Dropbear and Wombat, to show PAX was really embracing Australia. I went to as many panels as I could manage and have a lot of great things to say about my panel going experience. One of my favourite events was the Saturday night concert as I’m a big music lover.

The games floor at PAX AUS is beyond overwhelming. The queues got a bit much for me and I didn’t check out many games but a few that stood out to me were A Township Tale by Alta, a sandbox VR game that looks to be a lot of fun with stunning graphics; Mallow Drops by Gritfish, a super cute puzzle game which is out now on Steam and Objects in Space by Flat Earth Games, an exciting space based game which we’ve already written about on this site. I also had a chance to see upcoming PS4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn where you are a warrior who fights robot dinosaurs, definitely one to watch out for if that sounds like your kind of game.

I attended a few panels over the three days and enjoyed every minute. I attended panels with names like Digital Renegade, RL Paragon: Ethical Choices in Video Games; Sex & The Modern Geek: Round 2 and The Medical MythBusters Take On Games. Perhaps if this website is willing to publish my rambles again I will do a write up on the panels I attended (I’m sure we can accommodate that – Editor).

Music has always been an important part of PAX and the Saturday night concert certainly highlighted this fact. Starting off the night were geek comedy veterans Axis of Awesome. They played a very enjoyable and entertaining set, starting off with the Pokemon TV show theme song which had the audience singing along. They were down one member, Lee Naimo, but soldiered on regardless.

Next up was an interactive experience with Tim Shiel. At the front of the auditorium were two controllers which allowed the audience to play a game called Duet. The stages were created based on the music, played by a string quartet, Tim Shiel and a few other musicians on piano and percussion. It wasn’t long before a line of players was waiting for their turn to participate in this unique experience. Duet had the audience clapping and cheering for the players on their side of the room and made it a great atmosphere. I spoke to some of the players after the show and they said it was a challenging but enjoyable game.

Lastly were Brisbane based chiptune group, 7bit Hero. They brought some of their own magic to the stage with a downloadable mobile phone app that allowed people to play games in time with the songs. In addition to this fun, they had accompanying visuals which told a story about an evil villain, known as Space Cat. Due to the limitations of technology, only a limited amount of people were able to play in each game. I was lucky enough to get in on my favourite song, Come On, Stand Out where I wildly button mashed my way only for the app to crash and kick all the players out. It made for a good laugh. Band frontman, Hans van Vliet, put on a great performance thrashing excitedly around stage, while technical wizard, Jaymis Loveday made everything proceed with only a few hitches.

jess01Being a total fangirl, I went up and met the members of 7bit Hero and Jordan Raskopoulos of Axis of Awesome after the gigs were over. I’m the one with the stupidly big grin. They were all lovely and I’m glad I got the opportunity to thank them for their amazing musical talents and excellent shows.

PAX AUS could go for a week and it still wouldn’t be long enough to experience everything there is on offer. There is something for every flavour of geek, whether or not you consider yourself a gamer is irrelevant. I can only imagine that PAXAUS will grow and improve as the years go on. My only criticism of the event is the time of year, as it takes place the same week as the Melbourne Cup, which is the busiest event on the Melbourne calendar. I’m not sure why the organisers chose this time, sure the weather is pretty nice but the city is packed and I heard more than one story of cosplayers being harassed by race goers dressed up in their finery.

I hope to be at PAX AUS in 2017, with even more snacks and change for drinks, as it is a vital celebration of geek culture which our country is desperate for. Hopefully Mark will be there next time too! (You can count on it – Editor).

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Jess Blacklock is a gamer and creative writer out of Sydney. Go say hi @Amerasuu

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