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Boston requests bomb checks, bathroom tweaks for PAX East

This weekend's Penny Arcade Expo East had two unusual problems to deal with this year: bathrooms and bombs.

For the first time in the show's history, those attending PAX East had to have their bags searched for potentially dangerous items.

The bag search stations set up in front of every entrance to the Boston Convention and Expo center was at the request of the city, said Robert Khoo, president of Penny Arcade.

"I'm fully in support of it," he said. "I consider it to be a minor inconvenience."

Friday morning, the bag searches didn't seem to be slowing things down too much.

The city's bag search requirement was prompted in part by the massive size of the audience attending the annual show and the approaching one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing.

The 2014 Boston Marathon is on April 21. On April 15, last year, two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 250 people. One person was killed and another arrested in connection with the bombing. A November date has been set for the trial.

"This is a city that was the victim of a really horrific incident," Khoo said. "They take security very seriously here and I don't blame them."

Khoo declined to detail what other additional security measures are in place, but as with last year, there is a big police presence at the show. That presence includes bomb sniffing dogs and handlers roaming the vast halls and hallways of the show.

Another change to the show this year, which came at the last minute as a request from the city, was to the bathrooms at the convention center.

"The city came to us last week and said that just because of the number of people in the building and the slight skew to male, it's like 65 to 35 percent, for safety reasons we need to change some of the restrooms," Khoo said.

The city required the show to change some of the 40 bathrooms from women's restrooms to men's restrooms.

"We tried to say, ‘Why is that an issue? Did we see a problem last year?," Khoo said. "But they really didn't give a shit about what we said."

Khoo then asked if instead of changing six women's rest rooms to men's rooms, he could make them gender-neutral restrooms that could be used by either gender. The city said no.

The city had already, months earlier, approved a single gender neutral bathroom near the Diversity Lounge at the show, but Khoo said the city refused to do that with the other six.

Khoo said that next year he hopes he can win the argument.

"My goal is not to undo the change but more to convince them that gender neutral bathrooms are viable," he said. "We have a very inclusive group. Gamers, in a lot of ways, are this group that is brought together by a common love of gaming and to exclude someone for reasons that aren't gaming is an unnatural thing to do."

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