PAX East is here, and you’ve decided to go for the very first time. Hold up, Skippy! Going to gaming conventions is serious business. If you jump in without preparing, you could end up sick, tired, hungry, and broke. Luckily, the Cheat Code Central staff includes some old veterans of the con-going scene. So stick with us, kid, and you might just get through your first gaming convention in one piece.
3,2,1 – The Golden Rule
Three hours of sleep every night, two meals, one shower. Seems simple, right? Well, it’s actually not. You will be so busy at the convention you’ll be tempted to run off nothing but your own adrenaline. Don’t do that! For the best experience, you will probably want to eat three meals and get eight hours of sleep, but nobody is perfect. Take some time to make sure you are nourished and filled with energy. And for God’s sake, shower so we don’t have to smell you when you’re out on the con floor.
Bring Vitamins and OD on Them
Bring a multivitamin and a whole bunch of vitamin C along to the convention with you. Make sure to take the multivitamin every day, and whenever you get a chance, take a vitamin C. Vitamin C gummies are incredibly good for this. There are unwashed gamers everywhere, meaning there is tons of disease wandering around the convention center. If you don’t want to come down with the dreaded con-plague, you’ll keep your body filled with all the vitamins it needs.
Drink Lots of Water
Lots of convention-goers end up getting sick because they get dehydrated. This can easily be avoided by carrying around a water bottle and filling it at every single water fountain you see. Gatorade also works. If you find yourself getting a headache, you are probably dehydrated.
Don’t Take All of Your Money to the Convention
Dealer’s rooms are horrible traps that will quickly clean out your wallet. “An original Japanese copy of Valkyrie Profile? I need that! A working Famicom? Need that too! A life-size replica of Cloud’s Buster Sword? You’d better believe I need that!”
To keep yourself from spending all of your money at once, keep a budget. Take only as much money as you are willing to spend, and then divide it up by three for all three days. Then, take one third of the cash to the convention every day. If you have money left over, you can add it to the next day’s funds, but at the very least this will give you enough money to pick up some swag on all three days of the con.
Oh, and try to spend your money after you have eaten for the day. Nothing sucks more than coming home with three bags of awesome gamer gear and an empty stomach that leaves you too weak to carry them.
Add an Hour to All Wait Times
So a panel is at 3:30 and you figure you’ll beat the line if you get there at 3:00 sharp, right? Wrong! Lines at conventions are always longer than you assume. However early you think you need to show up to get into the panel you want to see, show up an hour earlier. If that long wait time isn’t worth it for you, then find another panel, because there is no way to guarantee getting into a panel room without waiting in line. Oh, and if you are waiting on line for game demos, plan to spend even more time on line than you would with panels. Just about everyone is going to want to try the newest Assassin’s Creed.
Socialize in Lines
Just because you have to wait in long lines doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Talk to the gamers around you. Challenge someone to a game on the Vita or 3DS. Play a board game if you have enough time. You are at a gaming convention, so you know the people around you have that in common, and you obviously share some interests with everyone who’s going to the same panel as you. So don’t wait in line alone. Make some friends!
Don’t Wait in Lines Too Much
If you only want to see the big blockbusters at the convention, you will have a very short convention experience. You’ll spend most of your time waiting in lines and you’ll play maybe three or four games. Consider limiting yourself to just one or two long wait times. In the time you spend waiting for one shot at Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll be able to play almost every indie game on the con floor. In that same amount of time, you can go to a concert, or enter a tournament, or get some food. Try to make the best use of your time, even if it means you have to skip on some of the big attractions.
Enter a Tournament
So there are 100,000 people going to your convention, but only one of them can win any tournament. Chances are, you are going to lose, but that’s not a reason to avoid giving it a shot. Tournaments are a great way to make friends and get critiques for your playstyle. Whether you are into shooters, fighting games, sports games, or even puzzle games, you should try to enter at least one tournament before the convention ends. Oh, and stick around when your tournament is going on. You don’t want to be disqualified just because you wandered off.
Leave the Convention Sometime
Obviously, you pay for a convention to go there, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking minute there. There are lots of awesome things to do outside of the convention grounds. Food, in particular, is much cheaper and much higher quality outside the convention center, so unless you are cool with paying nine bucks for a hotdog, do some city roaming. This is especially fun if your convention is in one of the major cities of the U.S., like Boston, New York, L.A., or Washington D.C.
Try New Things
One of the coolest parts of a gaming convention is the ability to have new gaming experienced. Even if you are the best Street Fighter player in the world, you should still take some time to play an awesome new indie shooter or two. Who knows? You might stumble upon the next awesome indie craze.
Book Your Pass, Transportation, and Hotel Early
Conventions like PAX sell out within a couple weeks, so don’t dilly-dally. Pull the trigger and get your pass, transportation, and hotel as early as possible. You can always cancel your hotel if something comes up, and you can generally get refunds on every form of transportation short of flights.
Don’t Take Expensive Stuff to the Con
Unless you are performing or using it to play in a tournament, there is no reason to, say, bring your laptop to the convention. You will just end up lugging it around everywhere and it will make you sad. You’ll be doing a lot of standing, and standing with a laptop bag is uncomfortable.
Get Involved with the Convention
Doing things for the convention can be fun and can save you for a lot of money. If you have something to talk about, run a panel. You’ll at least get your pass compensated, and sometimes you’ll get food or hotel on the convention as well. Consider being a staffer. You’ll have to do extra work, but you’ll definitely have your hotel covered. I have been going to conventions for over ten years now, and I have never been to one I wasn’t running a panel at.
Finally, Have Fun!
This seems like such a simple rule, but all too often people forget it. Conventions are about having fun. If whatever you are doing isn’t fun anymore, stop doing it. Don’t wait for an autograph for a whole day if what you really want to be doing is going to the dance. Don’t camp out to play the next Call of Duty if you’ll just get a chance to play it in the next month or so. Do whatever makes you happy, and you’ll have an awesome time.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: March 22, 2013