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Convention Postmortem: PAX and Dragon*Con 2011

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The start of the Dragon*Con 2011 parade. Click to see the rest of the gallery.

It’s official — I survived attending both PAX and Dragon*Con. I didn’t throw my health and fitness plan out the window, and I didn’t become Patient Zero for some kind of crud carried from the former to the latter. I’m also safely out of the incubation window for rhinovirus, so if I get sick now, it’s either not a cold, or it’s a cold I didn’t pick up at either convention.  So that’s all good … and it’s a first for me. Until this year, I’ve never not gotten sick immediately after Dragon*Con, and I give my focus on general health and wellness (and enough sleep) part of the credit.

Presumably, PAX will go back to being on Labor Day weekend next year, which means people will have to decide between the two. Having now been to both, here are the big points to keep in mind (apart from the simple matter of geography, since PAX is in Seattle, Wash., and Dragon*Con is in Atlanta, Ga.) if you’re choosing between them.

  • PAX celebrates games and gamers; Dragon*Con more broadly celebrates fans and fandom. There are gaming tracks (and plenty of gaming space) at Dragon*Con, but PAX is almost entirely game-focused.
  • PAX is bigger in terms of attendees — but Dragon*Con feels more crowded, for two big reasons. One, the PAX venue is a convention center that’s better arranged for crowd control than Dragon*Con’s collection of hotels (and their connecting sky bridges) is. Two, costumes are a huge part of the culture at Dragon*Con, and costumes attract spectators, even among the people who have convention badges. So while the crowd at PAX is bigger, it’s more focused on getting to where it’s going. The smaller Dragon*Con crowd is more easily distracted by the many, many shiny objects.
  • Dragon*Con is a giant, 24-hour party that takes place in the hotels where the con is happening, and the raucous after-dark atmosphere seems to have gotten more pronounced in the last few years. You’re not required to stay in a host hotel, but if you do, the party is going to be going on in the lobby and restaurant levels at pretty much all hours. Bars sprout up like mushrooms from late afternoon until city or state law requires they shut down. Since PAX is at a convention center, everyone clears out when the official programming for the day is done. There’s plenty of partying to be had offsite, but it’s not contained within the walls of the convention proper. In other words, Dragon*Con has a big, rowdy, drinky party atmosphere at night, while PAX feels more like game night with friends. Lots and lots and lots of friends.
  • The celebrity quotient is higher at Dragon*Con. PAX has plenty of entertainers, musicians and game industry pros in attendance, but Dragon*Con has a bigger share of TV and film personalities, writers, artists, and the like.

Put simply, it all depends on what you’re after. If it were physically, financially and temporally possible to do both conventions every year, I probably would. But that would require magic.

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