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PAX your bags: My first trip to Australia's biggest game convention

Three days, thousands of gamers and a good pair of shoes -- what's it like doing a gaming convention as a first-timer? Roll for initiative, newbie, you're in for an awesome ride.

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I never thought I'd find myself shoved under the armpit of a stranger in a 7-foot tall Reinhardt costume. I'm a tech writer, sure, but surely mine was not the strain of geekdom that would have me getting schooled at pinball by a 16-year-old or hugging strangers in foam costumes, right?

Then I did my first PAX.

The video game and geek culture convention is an institution in the United States, and is now in its fourth year in Australia. And with the CNET team heading down to Melbourne to cover the con, I tagged along for the ride.

I wasn't sure what to expect. Was this going to be like the first gaming event I ever went to, where a Call of Duty fan walked past me and shoved a "No n00bs" badge in my face?

It turned out I was in for a big surprise. And the biggest thing I learned was something I'd probably known all along.

People go hard on cosplay

As a theatre nerd, I know a thing or two about crafting costumes from sequins and duct tape. But the cosplayers at PAX take it to a whole new level. Die-hard makers told me about losing sleep in the week before PAX as they cut, sewed, painted and glued their outfits out of a pure passion for the game.

A massive Reinhardt from Overwatch, a glowing green Thresh from League of Legends next to a genderswapped Lux, complete with pink glitter beard -- the craftsmanship was amazing. And you can guarantee those costumes aren't easy to carry onto the train at the end of the day.

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It may not have been the most accurate cosplay at PAX, but I will never un-see these Sailor T-Rexes playing Just Dance.

Claire Reilly/CNET

The devs really want your feedback

It was great to go hands on with the indie games on show at PAX, but what I didn't expect was to talk to the people who'd actually made them. One developer told me about how his 4-year-old son inspired him to create a Mortal Kombat-style game featuring those inflatable waving tube men you see at car yards. I watched a friend demo a game he'd been working on for years, picking up bugs as people played through the game in real time.

Devs come back to PAX year after year with new games, or new builds, and get feedback direct from fans. This con is a proving ground for local talent, and you get to be there to see the rising stars as they're starting out.

You're going to eat some terrible food

Burger for breakfast, burrito for lunch, burger for dinner -- I ate some terrible food at PAX and most of it was in meat-log form.

There's nothing quite like sitting in a dim corner of an expo hall horfing down a gristly sausage roll to make you reassess your life decisions. That is, until you realise the woman opposite you is eating a bucket of popcorn and a Fanta slushie, and you realise you're not the worst person present.

The expo isn't just for teenagers

PAX didn't look the way I expected it to. Sure, there are plenty of teenagers, but I saw a surprising number of kids cosplaying with their parents; mums and dads walked the show floor with people of all stripes playing the games they love.

One of my show highlights was sitting down to paint miniatures with a 30-year-old guy and his mum happily discussing Christmas plans. I also had an awesome chat with a young Pokemon fan whose dad had let her take the day off school for PAX. We spoke about the kinds of games a 10-year-old girl loves, and I realised she was just like a younger me (but much cooler). Plus, her painted miniature was sweet! Which leads me to...

I think I'm secretly a master painter

Seriously, I might have found my calling. Yes, I have the clumsy hands of a toddler and I'm too impatient to let my base coat dry, but thanks to the kindness of strangers, I'm pretty much a pro. I lucked into sitting next to an actual miniature painting pro, who taught me about dry brushing and washing just like his dad had taught him. The end result, Axl Bone-Jovi the Skeleton Warrior, is a now sitting proudly on my desk as a reminder of a great day.

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The writer with her freshly-painted miniature, Axl Bone-Jovi.

Claire Reilly/CNET

The geeks will inherit the earth

Every single person I met at PAX was so generous with their time. They let me pose for photos, taught me the ins and outs of pinball, gave me homemade pins and shared their insider knowledge. PAX is a three-day convention dedicated to the niche topics that get geeks excited, and those people are so willing to share their excitement with you.

Before I went down to the show, I was worried I wouldn't know enough about the latest console games or obscure table-top game rules. I worried I wasn't geeky enough. But I was reminded of Simon Pegg's famous quote about geekdom, and it rang true:

Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something.

You and I might like different things, but there's something so wonderful about getting us all in the same room to nerd out over our hobbies. And at PAX, nerding out was very cool.