I’m writing this on a plane from Seattle to Atlanta, whither I am traveling in order to read, sign and blather at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead on Monday night at 7:00.
The reason I was in Seattle was PAX, the Penny Arcade convention, where I ran a couple of panels. If you’ve never been, PAX is kind of a special thing. It’s a convention for gamers, but it’s more than that too — there’s a real feeling of community at PAX, which you wouldn’t think would be possible with 40,000 strangers in airless corporate convention center, but there it is. It all flows from Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the two guys who make Penny Arcade. They are very smart and very not-into-bullshit, and you can be pretty sure that whoever you meet at PAX is going to be like that too. Mike and Jerry are real culture heroes, and you look around at PAX think, yeah, we’re all in Mike and Jerry’s culture.
One of the panels I did was on being a gamer and a parent – when I was a kid I used games to get away from my parents, but now that I’m a parent video games are part of the culture that I want to pass on to my kids, which is an interesting shift. About 150 people showed up, and I was initially unnerved when no other panelists did, but my friend Evan Narcisse fearlessly joined me on stage, and there was a lot of audience participation, and the whole thing came off very well.
Then on Saturday night I moderated a panel on books and games – what do gamers read, what do books do that games can’t and vice versa, what makes great writing in a game, and why so few novels do games well (Snow Crash and Ender’s Game were at the top of the list, but it wasn’t a long list). Basically I think the emotions that games stir up are a lot more complex than most novelists realize, and it turns out they’re really tough to describe, which is why so few writers get it right. The transmedia theory rapidly became very thorny indeed; I did my best to keep up. I didn’t want to do the panel at all unless Marc Laidlaw – a novelist who also wrote Half-Life 2, one of the most wildly atmospheric games I’ve ever played – could come out for it. He did. It was one of those panels where the audience jumped in, and the staff basically had to kick us out of the room to get us to stop talking.
I will close with a partial list of things people have given me since I’ve been on tour. You’re kind of like the tiny prince in Katamari Damacy on tours like this – by the end you’re rolling along a ball of stuff bigger than you are.
1. A fox costume. [Well, fox ears, and a surprisingly substantial fox tail. If they were white – i.e. belonging to an arctic fox – this would have been a mildly tasteless allusion to the infamous fox-sex scene in The Magicians. As it is they are reddish in color, which makes them a hugely tasteless allusion to the total-fox-horror scene in The Magician King. But I'm not saying I didn't put them on. (There was a bear suit too. I didn't put that on.)]
2. Four books. [One of them was not only by Terry Brooks, Terry Brooks himself handed it to me. With his own hand.]
3. Two novel manuscripts. [These were from close friends—I can’t take manuscripts from people I don’t know, because they're such a big commitment.]
4. One dwagon [yellow]
5. One magnificent 10-foot knitted scarf in Brakebills colors
6. Three home-confected Brakebills (and one Brakebills South) t-shirts
7. A magic-button Neitherlands keychain
8. One tiara with ominous, reliquary-like tiara box