"When you're here, you just have that feeling that you're just among friends," Mike "Gabe" Krahulik said.
They've counted between them and decided that it's the fourteenth PAX they've put on. The Penny Arcade Expo began in Washington, expanded to Boston and will hop continents this summer for PAX Australia.
It all began because Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike Krahulik saw something that was missing. They started at San Diego Comicon and traveled to other shows across the country, including a Kansas show that was held in a high school gym.
"We were doing all these little shows all over the country," Krahulik said. "And we started to realize, 'I like comic books, but I'm not a comic book nerd.' And it didn't seem necessarily like the right fit for us. But there were no video game shows besides E3 — which we went to, but that was just for press.
"So the idea sort of became, like most of our stuff, we see something that doesn't exist that we think should exist, and then we make it."
Well, they don't make it, exactly, they're quick to point out. They're the idea men who then turn their ideas over to the duo's business manager Robert Khoo.
"Our job is basically to rail against reality," Holkins said. "We have assembled a command crew that can try to wrestle reality into compliance with our desires.
"We know how something should feel and we know what it should be like, but the planning stuff — we're not just bad."
"Horrible," Krahulik finished.
PAX may be their brainchild — the show, the musical acts, the tabletop sections are all of their design — but PAX exists because they've found people who can make it happen.
"The key to our success — if it's one thing — is to have surrounded ourselves with people who are extremely smart," Krahulik said.
"And just to recognize that we aren't good at it," Holkins said.
"Yeah, recognizing our own limitations," Krahulik added.
Their time at any PAX is split between Q&A sessions, sneaking off for food and meeting attendees. The latter took the form of a packed Q&A panel on Friday morning, where over 40 people lined up to talk about everything from Dungeon Master tips to a questioner who solicited donations for her sick cat.
As she stood in line explaining her story, people stood up and started handing her cash.
"What we do — at least what we try to do — is be honest," Krahulik said. "I went into a store the other day, and one of the salesmen came up to me because he had recognized me from Penny Arcade. And he's like, 'Oh, I read this story you wrote on the site. And after talking to you I kind of feel a little weird, because I know too much about you — too much personal information.' And I was like 'Putting out personal information is what we do. It's our job. So, yeah, you feel that way because I put it out there for you.'"
"If you're sort of forthright with someone, it makes a relationship," Holkins said.
"Yeah," Krahulik said. "I mean, we are honest to a fault on the site. We tell you everything we're doing even when it makes us look stupid. If we feel dumb, if it's embarrassing..."
"Yeah," Holkins continues. "We don't mind feeling stupid or being embarrassed as long as it's true and someone can benefit by it. Even if it just to laugh at us."
Was it tough, I wonder, making the decision to publicly embarrass themselves?
"No," Holkins said.
"We've just always been that way," Krahulik said.
"It's not even a decision," Holkins said.
Creating a safe, welcoming community where people can follow their passions, whether that be video games, dressing up as their favorite characters, playing tabletop games or staging a Rock Band performance for everyone who walks by — that's what PAX is about to its founders.
"We're all nerds, we were all abused, I'm sure, right?" Krahulik asked. "My way of coping was to want to be laughed at. If you're going to laugh at me, then I'm going to do stuff that's funny."
"Yeah," Holkins said. "It's gonna be because of something I did... "
"Because of something I did, not because of something you did," Krahulik finished.
"It's a way of taking ownership of your own victimization, virtually speaking," Holkins finished with a laugh.
"So, you know, if you come at me and make fun of me, I'm going to make fun of myself way better than you did," Krahulik said. "And everyone's going to laugh, but I'm going to..."
"You're at the helm," Holkins said.
"Yeah, that was my coping mechanism," Krahulik said. "That never changed."
"It's not a decision, you know?" Holkins asked.
Based on the atmosphere that pervades PAX, it's safe to believe a lot of people do know.
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