PAX '07: Wheaton keynote celebrates social gaming

Former <i>Star Trek</i> star delivers opening remarks to receptive ears on the first day of the Penny Arcade Expo.


SEATTLE--If anything can be said about the Penny Arcade Expo, it's that event hosts Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik know how to do that whole nerd thing right. In addition to the extensive exhibition of recently released and upcoming games from more than 45 different contributors, PAX plays home to scads of tabletop role-playing game and collectible card game enthusiasts, the soon-to-be world-record-setting largest massively multiplayer offline role-playing, and "nerdcore" hip-hop in spades. To commence PAX 2007, event organizers secured none other than self-proclaimed supernerd extraordinaire Wil Wheaton to deliver the keynote address.

Launched to sci-fi superstardom as Ensign Wesley Crusher aboard the USS Enterprise-D, Wheaton has become a champion of the underground nerd-rising movement by proxy of his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In addition to appearing in numerous films such as Stand By Me and Toy Soldiers, Wheaton has garnered a devout following through his blog and books.

Taking the stage to the triumphant chorus of chanted tunes from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, Wheaton quickly set the tone of his speech with a few disparaging remarks aimed at Florida lawyer and game activist Jack Thompson.

Wheaton then regaled the audience with humorous tales of his childhood, focusing primarily on his love for seedy arcades. Growing up in the '80s, arcades were his generation's Xbox Live or World of Warcraft, Wheaton notes. It was in these mostly suspect dives that he was able to experience the social aspects of gaming, and what helped teach him good sportsmanship. After all, Wheaton said, if people taunted one another in an arcade in the same fashion taunting occurs in online worlds today, the incensed party would have most likely reduced him to a bloody pulp. Moral of the story: "When you're playing online, don't be a dick."

Arriving at the underlying message of his speech, Wheaton launched into a diatribe against what he calls opportunistic politicians and activist moralizers. Gaming, he argued, is anything but the antisocial, destructive behavior that it has come to be portrayed as by the mass media. Wheaton cites in his own life how arcades, and then later the Nintendo Entertainment System and just recently the Nintendo Wii, have brought him, his friends, and his family closer together. Games are works of art, he said, and they should be treated that way, not demonized as they are now.

Closing his speech out, Wheaton noted that beyond all the societal implications, games are fun, and their primary purpose should be to bring joy to our lives.

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