Could Gaming Soon Overshadow Music in Seattle?

This Labor Day weekend two giant shows took over Seattle: One dedicated to music, the other to video games. But only one of them is growing.

Bumbershoot, Settle's annual international music and arts festival, has been drawing a crowd to the Seattle Center since 1971 when 125,000 visitors showed. This year attendance appears to be down, though final numbers aren't yet available. Last year it was down as well, from 150,000 to 142,000.

But downtown, at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, the annual Penny Arcade Expo, a celebration of all things video games, is having another type of problem: They keep running out of room.

In just three years since moving to the trade center from Bellevue, the expo is already seemingly outgrowing it. While final attendance numbers are not yet available, passes for the show completely sold out days before it kicked off. It was a first in the show's history and that despite expanding this year to fill all 130,000 square feet of the convention center.

More remarkable is the show's growth since its inception in 2004, which brought 3,300 to Bellevue, Washington's convention center. Last year's attendance was nearly 60,000. This year is most certainly much more.

With the show quickly outgrowing its venue, the Penny Arcade Expo organizers announced last year that a second show, PAX East Coast, would be held in Boston in March, 2010. For the Seattle show next year, the organizers hope to take over the four-story annex located across the street from the center.

While Bumbershoot's crowds spent the weekend enjoying back-to-back bands and reveling in traditional culture, Penny Arcade Expo goers thrived on a different sort of culture, one driven by video games.

While on its surface PAX may seem to be a convention built on the popularity of the Penny Arcade web comic and its two creators, the engine that really drives the Penny Arcade Expo is a deep love of not just video games, but gaming pop-culture.

Video games are certainly a large part of the show, but there's also the concerts, the costumes, the board games and more than anything else, the people.

This year's show included performances by an eclectic mix of musicians. Perhaps not as well-known in mainstream circles, bands like Freezepop, Anamanaguchi, Metal Metroid and MC Frontalot have a strong following among gamers, and that's an expanding audience.

There were also more than 100 exhibitors on hand to show of their wares, both soft and hard, to the throngs of gamers and back-to-back panels on everything from the psychiatric effect of video games on children to a comparative survey of the history of sex in video games.

And the show's creators, comic writer Jerry Holkins and illustrator Mike Krahulik, were on hand to meet fans, create some of their comics and MC the event.

In may not be fair to draw larger conclusions from the drop in Bumbershoot's attendance and the unbounded growth of the Penny Arcade Expo. But perhaps the two venues and their popularity offer some insight into the changing Zeitgeist of today's generation.

As gaming grows in popularity and its reach extends, no longer just pulling from today's culture, but often driving it, the Bumbershoots, the Woodstocks, the Lallapaloozas may eventually give way to Germany's GamesCom, Japan's Tokyo Game Show and Seattle's Penny Arcade Expo.

Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.

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