PAX with Children

I’ve gotten several emails and a comment here from people who want to attend PAX but have very small children. The advice I’d recently posted is aimed for the non-gamer parent who had been dragged through the doors by their teen/tween and didn’t know what to do.

My gang is way past the age of having to worry about, and my solution when they were that age was to stay home. That said, they were that age back in 1990 or so and things have changed a bit since then. I have some very general advice but I put out a call to some experts, the Penny Arcade Enforcers, and got a few pointers.

General Notes:

  • Bringing snacks is recommended. There’s a Subway and several other restaurants in the building and around it but most of them are not really geared towards children.
  • The main methodology for getting from floor to floor is escalators. Please help the little walkers to be careful. That goes for all of the kids and the grownups too, actually.
  • The facility itself isn’t really geared towards kids. There are art installations on many walls and free-standing emplacements. There are also water features inside the building that are a beacon to an adventuresome four-year-old. There’s a huge, deep fountain on the top floor by the registration area, and another smaller one at the bottom of the main escalators.
  • Some areas of the WSCTC are publicly accessible. The con isn’t off by itself or in any way closed off, and there is a park with road access directly outside the top floor. It isn’t a good idea to leave children unattended.
  • This is an adult event, and others may not be as careful with their use of the language as you are. I don’t think anyone’s out to be a jerk, but you might want to have a good strategy in place to deal with your little one picking up a new magic word that he just loves to use at the top of his lungs because it makes Mommy go semi-ballistic.
  • The events run well past a little person’s bedtime. You’ll need to have plans for how to cope with that and naptimes.
  • On a slightly happy note, there are fold-down changing tables in most of the restrooms I was in.
  • All the volunteers wear long-sleeved black t-shirts with the word “Enforcer” written on the back in big white letters. If something does go wrong, that’s who to talk to.

Age Recommendations:
I’m breaking it into three age groups:

Newborn-Kindergarden: This is a tough age. It’s really not geared for them. The convention is loud, and there are crowds everywhere. Little babies might not like the noise and the bustle. I thought about it, and I imagined it would be a lot like taking a kid that age to a movie for three days and trying to watch it yourself. You’re going to have to decide for yourself, but here’s some helpful points to consider.

They need to be in a backpack or sling. There are no real places/clearances for strollers in the events, and for fire code and safety reasons they’re not allowed at all in the Expo Hall. There is no coat/bag check area to leave stuff in. That means you’re hauling them and all their stuff on your back Keep that in mind as you pack.

If you are dealing with the older end of this age group, some method like a leash to keep you two together is important. You will need to keep them with you at all times.

Something for them to do while you are attending events is also key. As fascinating as you or I will find that panel on podcasting, all they’re going to hear is Charlie Brown’s parents yattering on. Bring plenty of books and quiet toys and games; whatever you would use to help them get through a long car ride.

I think a lot here depends on the kid. My gang would sleep through a bomb going off and loved being with people. I would probably have taken them for short stints with multiple adults to help take care of them if they needed to be taken out of an event or something. If your little one is shy, or sensitive to crowds, I’d keep the sessions very short or find a sitter.

1st Grade through Sixth: This group can at least get around on their own, but keeping them occupied while you’re trying to go to events becomes even more important.

There are some activities on the schedule they would find fun, but you’re going to have to supervise. The Console and PC Free-play areas would be great for you and them to spend a half an hour gaming together. (A little birdie tells me the PC Free-play computers are going to have the newest Nancy Drew game on them.) The boardgames over in the Tabletop Gaming area are a treasure trove for this age – just be certain to check the suggested age for the game before choosing one. Short stints in the Expo Hall to see all the new stuff and get swag is fun, but be aware of the long lines to get into the really interesting stuff.

If they have a DS or PSP, have them bring it along and they can play along in the Handheld Lounges. But be wary of your child using the Pictochat function of their DS. There are a lot of grown ups and older teenagers around and they can be exposed to some very adult language and drawings. Events I would recommend avoiding would be the concerts (due to the noise), and the M-rated game demonstrations.

If I was in this position, I would go, but I’d have multiple adults to help and we’d setup a schedule to allow the grownups to trade off kid-activies and event attendence. Be certain to bring plenty of their favorite quiet activity toys and games, too. Their attention span is just not going to last as long as yours. And don’t forget when it’s your turn to take the kids through the Expo Hall to scout out the lay of the land and plan your attack for when it’s your turn to go it alone.

7th grade through Graduation: This is a lot easier, but not trouble-free. I would recommend that at least one adult is on site with this age group regardless of how many assurances of “We’ll be fiiiine, Moooom!” you hear. This is doubly true if you’ve got your kids and a couple of their friends running around. It is ok with this age group to allow them to go off for a bit on their own, but I would advise check in times and the Buddy System.

Penny Arcade Expo has a website with a huge schedule on it. Print that sucker out the night before and make sure everyone has a copy. Having people mark their preferred activities and agreed upon check-in times is also going to be helpful during the rush when everyone is running around. Get a hold of an event map and make copies of it too. Make sure you scope out the Information Booth, the places to get food/drink, and the big events. It’s also a good idea to mark rendevous points for check-ins and for going home, and making plans for parking.

Having some way of getting in contact in case of an emergency or plan change is important. Have your cell phone, and make sure they have theirs charged up and ready to go.

Taking kids to any convention is a lot of work, but if you’re prepared it can be an awesome experience for you and for your family.

No Responses to “PAX with Children”

  1. “I think a lot here depends on the kid. My gang would sleep through a bomb going off and loved being with people.”

    I am *so* jealous. I read your comment about “going to a movie for three days” and realized that’s spot-on — and with my dear daughter, the thought is horrifying =-)

    Well, maybe in a couple more years.

  2. Don’t worry – she’ll be kicking your backside in Soul Calliber like my daughter is before you know it. 😉

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