"It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it."
So, I'll start on a high note: this year, like every year, PAX delivered some pretty transcendent moments, stuff that I'll never forget for the rest of my life. I'll be uploading video at some point, but there's something crazy beautiful about 2500 people in a concert hall all singing a song in unison. No loud instruments interfering, just human voices. It was, as the song goes, a triumph.
Also, the karaoke scene in Seattle is stellar, and while I laid down the old classics, I actually discovered a great new song to add to my repertoire. I'm really happy about that.
Okay, now for the ugly part: most of the people at PAX are giant losers, seemingly incapable of using either social skills or deodorant. There is a reason the words nerd and geek have negative connotations, and it's because we have some serious fucking shortcomings as a tribe. As much as there's been a move towards geek empowerment, as much as we're telling people it's okay to be crazy passionate about WoW and D&D and Wil Wheaton, geeks everywhere are taking that as validation that they're doing everything right and don't need to change.
And most of us do need to change. Holy shit do we ever. The problems we face have nothing to do with the things we're interested in, but with how we express that interest. While I had some wonderful interactions with smart and interesting people while at PAX, and I thoroughly enjoyed the content of the panels, concerts, and the Expo Hall, those great moments were diminished a great deal by a large percentage of the attendees being inconsiderate, unpleasant, and borderline antisocial. A few examples I witnessed first-hand this weekend:
Fanboyism. Most people can't buy every console every generation, so we make the choices we have to make, in a way that feels right for us. Being a dedicated Xbox 360 owner doesn't mean the PS3 has to fail for me to feel I made the right decision. Success isn't a zero sum game, and the idea that popularity means something must be good is clearly horseshit given that Justin Bieber and Twilight make so much money. Talking shit about the decisions others make? To their faces? When said decisions have no bearing on your ability to enjoy the things you have? You're being a dick.
People wanting to be a hero at the Rock Band stage: So some people who wanted to play a song have asked you to drum or play guitar. Great! Know your limits. If you remember that gaming is about HAVING FUN, you can take an easier difficulty and focus on rocking out and engaging the crowd. But you're at a gaming convention, so you've got to demonstrate that you're a big man by playing on Expert, racking up a massive score that no one will pay attention to, much less remember, except you can't even do that, and in doing so, you fuck over the people who invited you up on stage. You're being a dick.
For the record, this happened to me and my friend six (SIX!) times over the course of the show. After the first two, we made a point of asking anyone who came up if they were any good, encouraged them to lower the difficulty and crank up the performance... yeah, it still happened 4 more times.
People who are apathetic about everything: I'm playing Battlestar Galactica with you, and I'm doing something that completely fucks over your entire team. If you protest (as you should, given what I'm doing), you can raise enough doubt about my intentions that I might not pull it off. But you just say "whatever", and effectively throw the game for your team. You're being a dick.
Ironically, mention Wheaton's Law to any of these guys and they know it by heart - "Don't Be A Dick!"
Paul Graham wrote a great post on this a long time ago - the idea that, at least in high school, most nerds decide that they'd rather throw their energy into being smart than being popular, if forced to choose. And let's not kid around, in the long term that's the right choice. However, you can't make it through life without some basic social skills - humility, humor, hygiene, being supportive of others, not taking yourself too seriously. I fear that the geek empowerment movement has given geeks the idea that they're perfect the way they are. If they have social skills, they are: they're being themselves, enjoying life, and doing so in a way that doesn't hurt others. But if they don't, they're likely harboring inferiority complexes from high school and now feel that they have free license to do whatever they want because geeks are awesome!
None of these things ruined the show for me, but we have to acknowledge as a tribe that the human id doesn't subscribe to Wheaton's Law. If you let it get out of control, it'll turn you into a raging asshole. And the social development our peers had in high school... we didn't, in most cases. But it's vital that we have it, and that we learn how to play nicely with others, because we don't exist in a vacuum. To suggest otherwise is just foolish.
This is getting long, so I'll end by saying I've got at least one more post that'll tie into this central theme. It'll touch on my personal insecurities regarding my career, and why I feel that my current job is beyond perfect for me.