Fiction was brought to life at the Convention Center on Saturday, when tens of thousands of people filled the mazelike PAX South video game convention, one of the most popular events of its kind in the U.S.
Screens whirred throughout the convention’s floor, a seemingly fantastic labyrinth of game developers, vendors and costumed fans who sought to get a look at a long list of popular games, new releases and soon-to-debut titles.
PAX South, started in 2015, is one of several large PAX video game conventions held throughout the nation and even in Australia. It was originally called the Penny Arcade Expo.
Away from the main floor, the event featured live music, separate areas for tabletop, computer and handheld gaming, and a seemingly endless stream of elaborately costumed cosplayers dressing as their favorite characters.
“We picked San Antonio because it’s got a lot of things we look for. It’s somewhere we can get ingrained into. It has the infrastructure, it has an amazing convention center,” said Kyle Marsden-Kish, a PAX portfolio event director. “It’s just welcoming, it’s warm, it’s fun. It’s a PAX kind of crowd — it’s laid back, everyone is very accepting.”
A primary theme of PAX South this year was diversity and inclusion. In past years, the event has featured diversity rooms, but this year organizers created areas to celebrate inclusion and even featured a “Latinx room” for game developers to gain exposure and fans to connect with other Latino gaming enthusiasts.
“Our main initial push was ‘Hey, how can get (Latinx people) exposure in the industry, and get them the information they need, in their language sometimes, to understand how to expand?” said Joe Tirado, a game developer and co-founder of Latinx in Gaming.
The Latinx room featured panel discussions and presentations from South American game developers and even a salsa dancing event Friday night.
“We’re just trying to expand people’s cultural awareness,” Tirado said.
Video game culture in the last decade has been marred in part by the so-called GamerGate controversy surrounding extreme online harassment and violent death threats directed toward women game developers and journalists. White supremacist groups also have been found to use online gaming to recruit members to their organizations and spread racist messaging.
PAX South seeks to dispel that culture with the emphasis on a welcoming environment.
“(PAX) is a safe place where no one is above anybody,” Marsden-Kish said. “This is the kind of spot where people play online all year round, and this is the one time of year they come and see each other in person. You get to meet new people and create better relationships.”
One group, Stack Up, is a suicide prevention organization for military veterans that works to reduce stress for deployed soldiers, as well as veterans back from deployment, said Sean Kelly, an influencer relations coordinator with the organization.
The group also ships crates with donated video game consoles and equipment to troops stationed overseas, recovering in military hospitals or dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Those are meant to be maybe a combat distraction — you come off the wire from getting shot at for 12 hours a day, you’re like, ‘Hey let’s go ahead and play (a video game),’” said Kelly, who served in Afghanistan.
Cosplayers throughout the event wore costumes varying in complexity, though many said their outfits required over 100 hours to make. One notable cosplayer, who goes only by Akaiatana, came from Ottawa, Canada, for PAX South and wore an elaborate outfit of the video game character Bant Golos that took over 500 hours to make.
“I had to put this in two small trunks; so I had to make it all fit and then repair the damage when I got here,” the man said about his costume.
PAX South began Friday and will run through the weekend. Organizers said event programming Sunday is geared particularly toward families and runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Visit south.paxsite.com to learn more about attending the event. A one-day pass costs $50 for adults and $15 for children ages 7 to 12.