BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Gamers from far and wide are flooding into Boston for one of the world’s premier gaming festivals this weekend.

PAX East, an annual celebration of gaming culture, is drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the Boston Convention and Expo Center for the three-day festival. It’s a place where serious gamers can preview unreleased video games and devices, compete in tournaments, hear live music and meet others for whom gaming is a way of life.

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“It’s kind of like a Woodstock for gamers,” said Robert Khoo, president of Penny Arcade, the group behind it. “It’s more than just about games; it’s about the culture that surrounds it.”

After starting as a small gaming festival near Seattle in 2004, PAX has ballooned into one of the industry’s biggest events. In addition to the Seattle event, the festival has grown to include annual shows in Boston, San Antonio and Melbourne, Australia, drawing crowds clamoring to explore the latest games and technology.

The event’s name is short for Penny Arcade Expo, a reference to the online comic strip whose makers founded the Seattle event.

Tickets for the festivals go on sale six months in advance and routinely sell out within hours. The Boston show has been sold out for months.

“It’s definitely not a show for casual gamers,” Khoo said. Most visitors drawn to the event see gaming as a “lifestyle choice,” he added, not a hobby.

This year, virtual reality technology has generated big buzz ahead of the Boston show, as several companies prepare to unveil new gaming headsets that can whisk users away to other worlds. Organizers said gamers will get a chance to try out some of the devices and sample the onslaught of games promised to follow.

But video games are only part of the attraction. One hall is entirely devoted to tabletop games. Everywhere, fans dress up as their favorite characters from video games, movies and comics.

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On Friday, a Pennsylvania man wearing red-and-white Pokemon hair told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Doug Cope he drove eight hours to attend the festival.

A gamer from Chelsea told WBZ he’s excited to be at the popular event.

“I grew up in the arcades, growing up in the 80s (and) Pac-Man was one of the biggest games I used to play,” he said while wearing a hat featuring the video game character.

College student Ryan DeLosh is visiting on Saturday from Lowell. He’ll sample the games, but mostly he hopes to meet the Internet stars who host his favorite YouTube shows about gaming.

“I have a couple YouTubers I watch all the time who are going, and I wanted to meet them,” said DeLosh, 20, who is a newcomer to the festival. “It always seems like a fun time.”

Others are coming for the panels, which often feature the people behind the games. Some are coming for tournaments. But many, Khoo said, come for the camaraderie.

“Being able to come under one roof with all of their friends that they may or may not have met is really a positive experience,” he said. “It’s kind of a reunion of sorts.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Doug Cope reports

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