Casting Deep Meteo
A birds-eye view of the PAX East 2024 show floor, featuring a zillion gaming-related booths and even more people milling around them.

PAX East 2024: Family Time

The cover of Unwinnable #174 features a black-and-white double-exposed photo of a ghoulish person holding their hands up to their screaming mouth. "Every time I write, things only get worse," is written across the image in shaky red lettering.

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #174. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Wide but shallow.


Walking around PAX East 2024 with my nephew, a few hours in, he turns to me with the guileless inquisition of an eleven-year-old and says “Uncle Levi, why does everyone here look like you?” Thus was I murdered at the twentieth anniversary of the videogame convention and showcase.

Which isn’t to throw shade on the wide variety of cosplay and t-shirts on display, nor my fellow suffers of male alopecia with compensatory beards. Despite even the past poor decisions of the convention’s co-founders, PAX is generally understood to be a safe and welcoming space, with plenty of room made for videogame players of all stripes, games for players of wide-ranging interests, panels for fans and thinkers, and surprises nestled into every spare corner of carpet or concrete. It also seems to have shrunk over the last few years. Despite taking up the entirety of the Boston Convention Center, more and more space appears to go vacant in the wings that in years past would have served even more vendors and developers. This is an anecdotal observation, but one I can’t help but shake over the “post”-pandemic years. Is it a matter of greater fears of gathering, the internal collapse of the videogame industry, twenty years of a good thing ground down, or just games losing their luster?

Who better to ask than a young nephew and his kickass dad, the former a real Call of Duty: Warzone force to be reckoned with and the latter a Slayer-level shredder who dropped off of games after I probably ruined the original SNES Mario Kart for him. They’re set up on the Best coast and it’s been too long since we got to hang, so thinking my Fortnite teammate might be interested in what PAX has to offer, invited them out. It was this or Christmas, and the flights for PAX East were way more reasonable.

I honestly wasn’t sure how he’d take the show. Though reduced in size from the heyday, PAX East is still enormous. Eleven is about when I got heavy into Final Fantasy II/IV, committing myself to this pixel-counting life, but who can remember that far back. He digs games now, but he’s equally into riding BMX bikes and biting his dad’s ankles while wrasslin’, so there’s still time for him to be saved/doomed/pasttime.

Before that though, we wandered the show floor and the convention center for two days, getting boba, shitty pizza and standing in plenty of lines. All in service of the greater question: What’s the youth take on gaming today?


Closeup on several Pokemon: The Trading Card Game cards, with a cute little surfing Pikachu card featured prominently.

Pokémon: The Trading Card Game

Existing almost as long as the original Game Boy games, the Pokémon card game occupies an interesting spot as both game and trading card phenomenon. These seems obvious, rooted in the name as it is, but one need not play the game to be invested in collecting the cardboard, which doesn’t quite exist on the same level with other trading card games. My nephew has roughly “a thousand cards” by his count, measuring them with a generous space between his two hands, but never had the patience to work through the rulebook to learn how to play the actual game. Like myself at that age, he loves tearing open boosters, pouring over the foils and hologram cards he scored as he organizes and mixes and groups them together endlessly. PAX East had a Pokémon TCG learning booth though, and that was our first stop. My brother hoped he could just watch but I wisely informed him that he may be drafted to play in the coming months/years so he might as well offer his son an informed challenge.

Like Magic: The Gathering and other peers, this game is pretty well honed down, going through decades of rotations in and out of various cards and types and Pokémon. The core system is easy enough to pick up, with stacking abilities and cascading effects and exploiting weaknesses being the name of the long game. But we mostly just learned how to attach energy and evolve our monsters, scooping up free Greninja and Lucario half-decks on the way out. Through the rest of the weekend this was an easy game to plunk out in line or with spare time after lunch and my nephew got particularly ruthless after a little while, with help from his dad. And most concerning to myself at least was a real draw to picking up boosters or boxes or trainer decks. Thankfully I regained my senses a few days after our company returned to their home. And my nephew said he was really excited to go through his cards at home and start putting together decks.


Two sleekly styled cars from a racing sim, roaring down a speedway on a sunny day.

Racing Sims

My brother was an auto mechanic in an earlier life, before abandoning that exploitative career to get busy as an electrician, so it’s no surprise that his love of cars and driving has been passed down to his son at even this early age. Thus was my nephew repeatedly drawn to the siren song of an $800 steering wheel peripheral and triple monitor racing sim setup run by Sceptre. Damned if that wheel didn’t fight him like a lassoed bull at first, causing him to spin all over the track. But we’d leave, try something else, and then find ourselves back, with his dad offering advice and tips on letting off the gas, while pointing out the odd and incorrect strategies of others like using both feet on the gas and the brake which as we all remember didn’t go well for Walt Jr.

My nephew eventually got down to a top ten lap time and was put on the leader board, which was probably his greatest accomplishment of the show. Apologies to his father if my nephew asks for a Forza rig for his birthday.


Dunkin Dew

Both Dunkin and Mountain Dew had large promo booths, where many of the typical studios and publishers were absent. But they had the swag for everyone willing to stand in line. It was so desirable that my brother and my wife went a couple of times to scoop pink fanny packs and pit viper sunglasses. To grab this sweet branded merch you had to play a life-sized Space Invader type game using a dodgeball to tap the donuts and coffees popping up on screen. People loved this shit and the line went real slow.

Mountain Dew had generic Plinko and a wheel to spin and try and win an Xbox. These were two of the most popular booths of the convention.


Three of the titular clowns from Killer Klowns from Outer Space, grinning maniacally and holding Nerf guns (or are they Nerf guns??).

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

I heard you like Dead by Daylight but wanted something crunchier and with a VHS aesthetic. Do you remember this movie? It was an HBO staple that shivered me up, but my brother says this is one of my nephew’s favorite movies so we definitely got in line.

Three klowns are hunting five humans who are meant to work together but you shouldn’t really bunch up because the klowns love to bust in on a crowd. But popping the terrifying aliens with a revolver feels pretty good. The point is to band together to flip switches to escape one way or the other, as the klowns always come back but the people don’t unless someone frees them.

Dying as a human leaves you to play some minigames to give items and bonuses to the surviving players, which is nice. My brother died a lot but he was a big fan of being able to contribute from beyond the grave. My nephew escaped once but had a tougher time on a follow-up round. Still, this was a big draw for him, so maybe the nostalgia circuit still has some juice for the kids.


A screenshot from Deep Rock Galactic shows a group of space miners ready to crack open some space rock.

Deep Rock Galactic

This game mined in space so that Helldivers 2 could take the front line to the bugs. It’s been around for a while and has done well for itself, but it should be Helldivers 2 big at the very least.

My brother and nephew and I made our way to the PC freeplay area a couple of times, a nice spot to sit and play something to take the heat off the dogs for a while. Wreckfest was the main draw, being a game that my nephew and his dad were familiar with where we could crash into each other and laugh and laugh. This is the double-edged sword of PAX, proximity to so many games, but learning new games is hard so often times we default to what we know. So I defaulted to what I knew and dragged them into the mines with me.

Luckily it was as much a hit as I had hoped. Despite each of us having minor keyboard and mouse skills for gaming, we dug down for morkite, fought waves of bugs and hustled back for an evac that trimmed the whiskers of the timer pretty close. My brother said this was his favorite game of the show, which honestly almost made me cry.


A screenshot from Sandland shows a character in a wide-brimmed hat standing on the edge of a rounded, specialized tank in a sweltering desert landscape.


Thursday is the best day to go to PAX East, because the energy is high but it’s one of the lower turnout days. The lines are short and everyone’s in the same bewildered boat for a while. But there was not a giant anime tank and a pink demon statue on Thursday, otherwise I would have waited in line then. These showed up on Friday, and by the time I’d noticed the line had been capped. I waited in an extra-legal line for a little while until sliding in, expecting an hour wait tops.

Folks, the wait for the Sandland demo was two hours and change, the longest of this PAX for me and possibly any other PAX I’d attended. There were only four stations to demo the game within the tank itself, and each demo ran about 15 minutes. By the time I learned this I was pot committed, reading up on articles I’d saved, wondering about the sunk cost fallacy, begging my family to bring me a boba tea, hungry for that lanyard reward. I told myself I was this for Toriyama-san, may he rest in peace, as this was the last project he was working on before he passed.

By the time I was playing the demo I was ready to blast through and move on, feeling bad for having abandoned my brother and nephew and wife for so long. Whether others might have lingered in the open world arena to maximize the return on the time spent waiting, I felt like I got the gist pretty quickly and just wanted to pay it forward to the next person in line.

Who cares you say, how was the game? I feel like they finally nailed Toriyama’s vibe in 3D, or they’re at least 95% of the way there. Dragon Ball 3D games have always felt like playing with action figures, stiff and graceless, but Sandland carried forward with the solid work done with Dragon Quest XI. It’s the closest we’ll come to wandering through his great work as if we were witnessing the shonen-anigans and fisticuffs firsthand.

So, are videogames ok? Probably not, but not for any reason displayed at PAX East. My nephew and brother had a blast, but it’s hard to tell how much of that was time spent as a family after far too long. But hopefully I’ll get some Pokémon decklists in the mail soon, and we can keep the party chat going from coast-to-coast in this medium with yet a few delights to share.


Levi Rubeck is a critic and poet currently living in the Boston area. Check his links at


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