PAX Boston Thoughts & Observations

I’m on the train heading home with a few hours to consider my passage from my first PAX to my third. Here are three short takes from the first PAX, early Destiny, and gaming. Here, Here, and Here.

My First PAX: A Short Reflection was just that, a short reflection. As I reread it my premiss remains the same. The gaming community is embracing, supportive, and clearly engaged with each other through the art and science of gaming. I was stuck again by those same thoughts this time with three years and three PAX events. There is a diminishing of my eyes wide open shucks OMG response. I find myself being more focused on my engagement with specifics of the event and less on the magnitude of it all.

You can’t help but be struck by the size and energy of PAX. Estimates this year are 70,000 plus attendees. What strikes you when riding the escalator down to the show floor are the acres of booths large and small standing in neat rows with lanes between them. Vast areas are set up for table top games with over 100 tables and PC stations of 100s of computers for game play. Some of the booths are large Samsung, Blizzard, Nintendo, Twitch, etc. Most are small which is a testament to the independent community bringing forward games of all kinds. Big gaming is not trying to crush the little companies. Looking closer from this aerial vantage point you see movement of people along the corridors. Currents of water in rivers churning and flowing. Tall heads like white caps bobbing. Eddies of people caught at booths slowly moving in a rhythmic dance to see and touch. And ever so slowly breaking away to flow to a new river bank to stop. On the floor in the middle of it you are carried by flow of people and the structures blinking brightly along the banks.

At PAX there are these volunteers called Enforcers. They wear red T-shirts identifying them. Their role is to help attendees from things as simple as find the bathrooms to helping organize the crowds lining up for a lecture.

PAX Enforcer
The enforcer stands tall

The magnitude of PAX is apparent when there is major session as with Mass Effect and its new series Andromeda. Enforcers are stationed every 100’ guiding those coming to queuing up. The main room where this event was being held holds about 1,000 people. Attendees were lined up hours earlier to attend this session and there were two to three times that many waiting to get in. No one cut the line no one got angry being turned away, community, community, community.

Walking the venue and the floor I noticed continuum of participants. Mom’s and Dad’s with small children, toddlers, babies, and teens. They are all engaged with the PAX surrounding them. It was not a parent taking a child to Six Flags it was mom dad gamers sharing the child’s wide eyed enthusiasm. The family that games together stays together. The babies and toddlers had ear protectors on. That did not minimize the saucer sized eyes and giggles as they absorbed this world. A child pulling at a hand steering dad to this or that. Watching a mom and dad at a gaming table having lunch with a toddler while setting up a table top game defined this as less about uniqueness and more about the simplicity of a family moment.

At the other end of the spectrum were the older folks like me in walking in groups laughing and talking as they went from session to session sharing impressions of what was learned. I wonder, have they been gaming forever or like me are they the new old gamers expanding the time till they expire with this activity. It sure as fuck beats Florida. What was their game of choice?

Between these life bookends are the teens and adults. Decked out in gaming logos. Carrying bags of swag, chattering. and laughing. There is no single uniform for this army and that is the uniform, the independence of statement wrapped around in the flag of your identified hero. There were the ones standing in long lines waiting to play a new game or use a VR headset. And doing so with no impatience talking to each other sharing their thrill being here. And the thrill of heading home or to school to brag about the new game or headset. They would stand five deep at small independent gamers booths to check out a game, buy swag, or look at board games. They are the raw energy that encircles PAX and creates a gravity pulling us all in. They believe in magic, hope, and fantasy. In the end they are the infectious nature of this community. They are looking for new, different, fun, fast, and more. And here is an oasis of unlimited of possibilities and challenges.

The cosplayers were a world to themselves. The costumes went from elaborate to subtle. Not one said no to a photo.

Dressed to Thrill Us All
Great costume

Walking with my major gamer bro Shaun and Diana I marveled at how they would identify character the cosplayer was, in a heartbeat. I think Shaun did not know one of the dozens we saw. Watching Shaun and Diana rate and respond was a lesson in their world and how they see gaming and comics. It is similar to those into cars rating a muscle car vs. a sports car. Different in that Shaun and Diana had played that game read that comic where the car lusters were wanting to drive the car that they may never afford. Some of these costumes were so intricate and detailed as was the makeup. All I could think this was a labor of love and being photographed.

Real Gamers
Playing with Nintendo’s Switch
Hand made dragon canon

There were individuals or groups of Power Rangers or Guardians from Destiny. There were comic and retro game characters. What spoke to me about this was toward the end of the day the cosplayers would be seen sitting on the floor playing a board game, talking, and sharing their day being who they want to be. Shaun pointed out a boy of about 14 years who had a prosthetic arm had his costume build around that arm. That is the magic of gaming and families.

Cosplayer from Destiny

Finally I noticed those with disabilities confined to wheelchairs were as engaged and thrilled about being there. Though I wondered the degree of challenges they had to overcome just to get there. To PAX’s credit they ensured that group had special access and the attendees made them welcomed. Fuck I was bitching to myself about carrying my messenger bag with my computer. Have passion will travel fits here.

I was lucky enough to be a plus one with Miguel for a Bungie community event. Three years ago in Seattle I went to a similar event which was close on the heels of Destiny’s launch. I pretty much stuttered effusively at that one. This one was less so but pretty much in awe of the world. Again I felt blessed and thrilled to be here. This made my weekend and PAX more memorable. I wrote a piece on the eight stages of gaming basically making fun of learning to use a controller. Sitting with friends and others talking about now I was feeling more controller control they pointed out what I kind of knew, they too had to learn and play repeatedly. The difference was they’ve been doing this for years and years.

At this Bungie event was a YouTuber I’ve been following BYF. I asked one of the Destiny people which one he was since I never met him. I went and introduced myself told my old new gamer story and how his videos have helped me fill in blanks. What a fucking gracious kind smart and embracing human he is. He was as real and genuine as I could have hoped for. This brings to life the reality of this community and how embracing it is for all who are entering new or not.

There is a take away from this PAX event. I’m glad I left the house to do this. Again my world opened a little and I found a bit more of me in me and the world. Six years in now I find myself being more confident at living in this world. Dare I say living at all. I am ready to consider some new games to learn. And more outside gaming. In a way this community and Destiny is moving me forward to learn and do more.

There is no closure on my personal grief. There may always be a slow dance with grief as a partner for self discover through the memories of everything, even something as simple as PAX. Though I wonder how much Donna would tease me about being a geriatric gamer with less than stellar skills.

Affective Filters On. Affective Filters Off. Loss and Grief

Have you had a conversation with someone and there is a random idea in the middle of the discussion and BANG a blinding cosmic insight? Me neither but, I am attuned to thoughts and ideas that offers perspective and insight on my grief. Those ideas become my directional road map. Much less cosmic but deeply telling and evocative. Filters off and finding ‘your better self being born from grief’.

I was having a chat with Nico a composer at Red vs. Blue, Composer at Rooster Teeth and Founder at Trocadero. I met him through my gaming Sherpa Mig while at PAX. I had written Nico about how I am discovering not just gaming but the rich vein of textured music within games, similar to movie sound tracks  where music accelerates the emotional content of film and dialogue. The same happens in gaming. Music drives tactile feedback, motor cortex, memory from previous gaming moments and more. In Destiny when the creepy shit is coming and I am going to be swarmed the Hive the music makes me shudder. A deep discussion about music is beyond my pay grade or IQ. It is enough to note, I discovered gaming music, it exists, and it can stand alone. Music in gaming does all that music is suppose to do to our brains. Case in point, Nico shared a YouTube Video Halo-Openng Suite. He said it sounded similar to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I knew neither and listened. Barber’s Adagio is amazing. It was played at Albert Einstein’s funeral. And the Halo Opening Suite was perfect.

We were chatting back and forth. Me Mr. Tin Ear with a talented brilliant composer. My default with luminaries such as Nico, they are humoring me. I mentioned something I heard, music discovery occurs when we are young. For most of us once we hit 35 we are locked into what we know and don’t actively seek to discover new. We may find new music within what we know. Experiencing something truly new and outside our base of music is not in the mix. Discovery is lost as we age. If we consider the fact that adults will learn when they are seeking solutions to problems then we must accept that our music or our lives being problem free means we are not driven to discover (aka learn) when we are in a comfortable place. Barber’s Adagio Strings is playing now, totally new to me and just so powerful. New and outside what I would ever find. There was no problem to solve or was there?

Nico said this:

I think the reason why people do things like meditation / running / walking / adrenaline activities / drugs / booze is to erode the filters

Loss seems to melt them away as well, unfortunately

Because extreme joy doesn’t seem to do that, at least not for me.

Filters. Filters. FILTERS! Were my filters turned off when Donna died, when she was diagnosed, during my caregiving, and beyond. Is that why I can hear my avatar of grief speak to me when I read or hear a random idea from Nico and others? Was my loss, not a loss? Or am I looking for solutions to the emotional and psychic problems? 

If you’ve reading these posts and podcasts I have tested and examined the depth of my life before, during, and after Donna’s illness and death. Prior to her diagnosis my unexamined life was limited to the day to day. There was work, there was home, there were the dog(s), there was each day with the components of living. I accepted and surrendered to the day. It was what life was, daily chores. Not to be harsh on myself I did want to learn and understand but, it was about my work and how we (Donna and I) could find a balance when facing those daily ‘things’ life threw at you. My filters were in place to aid me in or living life as I/we knew it. Filters are what we have to view the world when all is good. It was good, not perfect there was no need to discover/learn. I surrendered to comfort and ease. No heavy lifting. 

When Donna was told in January of 2009 she had Stage IV cancer and only six months to live I threw myself into getting situated so I could be a caretaker. So I could do what I could. I never considered her death or life after her. But during that time till her death in August of 2011 my filters were there, to a point. Or better said they changed. They filtered the boring day to day into a textured street fight of survival and support. No longer was the day filled with the usual. The filters were in place, different but still there. I think this points to a change that was occurring, the erosion of my filters. And the journey to find understanding, meaning, purpose, and learning.

When Donna died the most important advice I received was not to deny my grief or my loss but dive into it in order to understand and embrace it. It was that exercise in loss and grief that eroded more of my filters. Or continued too. The day to day life prior to diagnosis and during caregiving was fading. Though I will add I was grieving from January 2009 because I knew this would not have a happy ending. After her death and the search for understanding I had to look at myself and my days. Looking back the filters were still in place. I did not actively remove them. They faded over time with what I wrote and considered about this life altering event. I could not find the understanding and insight through filters because I would be placing what I was learning behind a scrim. I would be repeating on a loop what we did while it was no longer we but me. The harder you examine and the more you hurt the less the filters interfere or obscure and keep you to the past. The past and what was becomes what is. Of course this may just be observers effect here. I think I am doing the hard work when in reality I am just glossing over my life. I guess that is part and parcel of no filters, a harsh self view.

Where am I today? The loss of these filters has driven me to a more textured and nuanced view of what was, what is, what I had, and didn’t have. I think that sans filters l’ve come to do, to realize, to discover new things. That did not happen over night. It has been a process of building a new understanding and reflecting on my life past. Part of learning and changing our consciousness is to discover something new and to decide if you want to add it to historical experiences and create new or improve current knowledge. I still struggle to find right side up each day and to get back to some place and space where I feel self-worth. Loss is loss. It is about what is gone and will never to return. My sadness has dissipated and the grief has animated my life through it’s wisdom. 

Would I want to go back? To have a life with my filters in place? Yes I’d go back in a heart beat. All that I have and am trying to do now is seems vapid in comparison, my life is only me and do I really deserve any of it? Seriously do I? There are no regrets in this post filter world of mine. Regrets are for chumps and regrets perpetuate the sadness. Would I want to change what happened? Yes. What would be amazing is to take this new knowledge and understanding and go back in time (sounds like a cheap ass movie) and apply it. The harder play is to build new. To find meaning and purpose and self-worth while the filters are gone and actively examining everything. Missing filters are an opportunity. Donna would say “There is a reason they call it history, it happen then.”

What I can say is that my sadness is lifting. The grief is continuing but my grief is opening the world. I am fighting to find a place. I am seeking to discover new. The visit to PAX and gaming, especially Destiny, has exposed me to new and in a way hides me from the work of finding meaning and purpose. These are small steps in rebuilding a life without Donna. Her death threw me into a world of hurt. Her death opened my eyes. Her death was tragic. Her death maintains me in life. Her death is my death. 

The future does not reside in the past. We carry the past to imbibe today. 

Death, Grief, Gaming, and Oliver Sacks

My grief avatar is on the move again. Then again this just may just be observer effect. I’ve noted here here here and here that the grief is changing and morphing into new forms. Or better said I am seeing it differently. My avatar is always speaking to me through what I’ve read and infrequently what I’ve done. Another way to look at the grief, it’s a floater in my eye. Always there darting about reminding me, yet moving just out of reach or repair. This week I returned from PAX Prime where I never thought I would ever have gone. My first impression of PAX is here. At PAX, I was sherpa’d around by a friend who is/was my IT guy for my business help me for over 18 years. I knew he was a gamer but, I never realized how well respected and connected he is. I’ve worked in healthcare with physician, luminaries. They never took me under their wing and showed me around or introduced me. There is something about an honorarium. My gaming sherpa is a luminary who give his time and friendship. And in doing that gave me a different view into myself. 

That same week as PAX Oliver Sacks passed away and my grief avatar spoke up. I was reading through the NY Times obit and stories and I stumbled on the “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding).” The title and quick scan spoke to me because the premiss is pretty clear. Sacks turned 80 and he wants to do more to learn experience, and grow. Sounds like a plan. 

Allow me to share a bit about me and PAX. I am gobsmacked wide eyed and giddy feeling like I was twelve again on Christmas Day. And that is in no way a reference to the booths, the cosplay, or videos. It includes the people in the Destiny Community I am met through my sherpa and people at Bungie who made Bungie. The 80,000 attendees. My half a brain is spinning at the magic of it all. The Sacks Ode to Old Age seemed well timed. Perhaps my avatar of grief was changing again and taking me with her.

How did I get to PAX? By plane. No, there is a bit of a back story. About four/five years ago I got a PS3 to watch Netflix and BluRay. My IT aka sherpa told me that it’s a great gaming platform. Well I was at Stage 1 of the Eight Stages of Gaming ‘I have no time for gaming I have a business to run and wife to care for. Games are for teens’. Well after Donna’s passing I took a look at the games. Listening to John Siacusa @Siracusa who besides writing the detailed long and amazing reviews of Apple’s Mac OS he is a gamer. He kept speaking about the game Journey and Zelda. My IT sherpa said I should get demos from the Sony Store to try and see if I like it. Now I was at Stage 3 Curious. Doing it alone without coaching was frustrating and I would fade in and out for months. No sense of success or control or fun. When you think about it, I could not go to the school cafeteria and talk about games and controller moves nor have friends over to play with after school. Part of that is my isolation following Donna’s death. The other part is that everyone had jobs, family, and activities. Finally, there is a sense of embarrassment at my ineptitude. June of 2014 Baby Mozart came over with his copy of Borderlands for the PS3. Baby Mozart is a recent 20 something friend who consults on social media, SEO, web traffic, gaming, etc. And he is genius. He loaded Borderlands handed me the controller and told me to play while texting, saying X or O, left bumper etc. And then went home. Well for a month I played both Borderlands and Journey. I finished Journey and was still stumbling around Borderlands. At that time the sherpa was posting about this new game Destiny from a company called Bungie. He was raving about the game. I watched some videos. When it launched I downloaded and played or tried to play. Here is my initial reflection of PAX et. al. 

While at PAX I thought about The Joy of Old Age I thought about how learning to play games becoming involved with the gaming community, specifically Destiny, was something that would help me find my balance to motivate my avatar of grief and myself. I’ve been back for less than a week and began to think about this post and reread the Sacks article. How things change.

Sacks opens by saying that that life feels like it is going to begin at 80. He ends the piece with “I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”

A pretty positive and hopeful position to take and one that I thought would be of value to me. Between the beginning and the end Sacks speaks about all that he’s accomplished and that he still regrets the time that he wasted. He wants to complete his life. He hopes to “be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life”. And at 80 he has the long view on life not only his own but others. 

I am at sixes and sevens over the Sacks article. On the one side it speaks to my desire to find meaning and purpose again. To continue to love and work. Gaming, PAX, and the amazing community I witnessed in Seattle was hope and focus. On the other side is this only a surrogate marker for my life. I am not a brilliant neurologist and writer. I have experience some wonderful moments in life. There is no great body of work to carry me forward. When I had my business the phone rang and emails arrived in direct correlation to checks I wrote. I cannot consider that that history can carry me today. 

I am a bit of an idiot savant drinking my own kool-aid with a blind drive to do new and try. The harsh light of the sunrise (aka grief) illuminates www.medshopmarketing.com is going nowhere fast. As much as I want to make it work I have to face the reality, I no longer have that ability to motivate and achieve. Perhaps I always lacked that and never noticed. Add to that meeting the principles and employees at Bungie who radiate the love of their product and the building of something they believe with full on passion. Or the wild abandon of gamers who cherished their living avatars and games. This witnessed passion ignited me for a moment but, exposed the dark corners of life. I saw what was once, is gone. That is what grief and loss does, dilates your self image and awareness. 

Donna is gone. She is not coming back. I miss her. Simple. That does not mean I pine to have her back or I anguish to return to that life with her. My grief animates me to do more, to try. I know enough to accept what can’t be and understand that what I seek is the same meaning and purpose from the past, sans Donna. I fear I have not sunk the pilings of life deep enough. The construction of a dock on those pilings wobbles. I will move forward with this vapid writing. I will engage in the gaming world clumsy as ever. Gaming does create new neural pathways. I will continue to look for meaning and purpose. As Sacks notes ‘bind the thoughts and feeling of a lifetime together’. Create new. That is the purpose of leaning to create new and when we learn we change our conscious. I hold the option that one day I get to say meh. Donna will never come back but I can join her. It is my free will and choice. For now I will be the loyal Guardian, The Hunter in Destiny leveling up. I will continue recording the musings and movement of my grief avatar. That is as much meaning and purpose as I can muster. 

Bird On A Wire Leonard Cohen

Like a bird on a wire

Like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free

The Eight Stages of Gaming

Stealing from Kubler-Ross and her model for the stages of death there are stages of gaming, at least for the old new gamer. If it wasn’t for PAX, Destiny The Game, the Community, my gaming sherpa Mig, and Bungie I would not have seen this world. 

No Time: You deny you have the time. You consider gaming something for teens and violent felon prone men. It is hiding behind self-doubt.

Fear: How does the controller work? What do I do with the game? How do I play? What if I am not any good? These questions flood your mind but tease you to go for it.

Curious: Games seem fun and passing the time on my phone. I wonder what it’s like on the computer or console? I can do this. I want to try.

The Push: A friend, a daughter, son, or neighbor talks about gaming. Talks about the fun and the community. They bring you a game and walk you through it and leave you to explore. It is the first step. 

Oafish: Why did I ever think this was going to be fun. I can’t do this. What an idiot I am. But you continue to play and try. Frustration reigns supreme. Yet the rough edges are smoothed over with practice. You give up twice a day and return three times a day.

Believing your own PR: Suddenly you think you are good at this. You level up. You’re more confident and think ‘I am a gamer’. Oh how fragile we humans are. 

Surrendering: Watching videos of game play, competition, and friends playing trims your sails of self congratulations. Suddenly in a moment of blinding insight you see that the real gamers are in a zone when they play. They are calm, controlled, and are having fun. There is no frustration on their faces or in their play. You know you have so much more to learn and do. 

Egoless Play: It is a game. It is a place to surrender the moment and find peace. It is less about victory or leveling up. It is about playing alone or with others. Community with yourself, the game, and others. You and the game are one. (You get to kick ass and take names. After all we are competitive.)