I just returned from my very first experience at PAX Prime in Seattle. I’m not truly passionate about video games the way that most other PAX attendees are, but a friend had an extra set of passes so I jumped at the rare opportunity (the passes sold out in less than two hours this year).

And indeed, between the swarms of people, the flashy booths and displays, the gargantuan size of some props, and the mindnumbing number of games on display, PAX is an extremely impressive sight to behold.

The most distinctive feature of PAX has nothing to do with gaming. Any first-hand observer could tell you that the core value of PAX is its lineups. From the second you enter the convention center all the way until its doors close on day four, you’ll be lining up. Your first obstacle will be lineup to get up the escalator; a lineup to get to other lineups. Things continue along the same theme from there: every game you want to try, every panel or session that you want to see, and every piece of merchandise you want to buy, you’ll be lining up. These aren’t small lineups either; many (if not most) are hours long. As an SXSW participant for the last few years, I thought I knew what a lineup looked like. Oh to be so naive.

The lineups don’t end at the convention center’s doors either. The very worst of them are to be found at PAX afterparties where they need not be constrained by mere buildings. I walked by one venue that was hosting an event for the The Evil Within, and the lineup was three quarters of the way around a full city block. I doubt most of them made it in, but at the rate it was moving, its length would more accurately be measured in days than hours. First-hand reports of the party (published the next day) were lackluster.

To support this brave new world, PAX organizers have made sure to stay on the forefront of innovation in lineup science. It’s the first place I’ve ever observed a queueing room, where rooms adjacent to a session’s venue are fully dedicated to enclose lineups, complete with a labyrinth taped to the floor to optimize their use of square footage. Line capping is also a regularly employed technique to help ensure that lineups occupy slightly less than 100% of the convention’s total floor. Some sessions even employ a no line system which has the effect of creating an informal “floating lineup” amongst PAX’s lineup-compliant attendees. There’s a lineup brainstorming thread on Reddit to improve lineup techniques for 2015.

I stood in one lineup that led me into Penny Arcade creators’ Mike and Jerry (Gabe and Tycho) annual Make a Strip! event, in which Mike draws a comic live in the main theater. The skill involved here absolutely floored my non-artist self, and it was an enjoyable experience. It also served to highlight the degree to which these two are worshipped by PA fans, who hang on their every syllable and laugh at every joke.

My favorite aspect of PAX was one that its organizers had nothing to do with: the fanmade costumes were amazing. I’m at the point in my life where I don’t play enough games to recognize many of the characters anymore, but it seems like the quality of these amateur costumes improves every year.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, but I was grateful for the opportunity to see PAX for myself.

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