GDC, CA, SF, WTF

Last week I attended the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. As someone on the periphery of games for the past 3 years, I’ve heard of it and read the stories that have come out of it almost obsessively, but this year was the first year I’ve been able to attend. I did so as part of the Conference Associates program, meaning I had to volunteer twenty hours, wear a bright orange shirt, and meet some wickedly amazing people (but more on that later).

For the past few years, like most 20-somethings, I have been musing on what I “want to do with my life.” I’m fortunate enough to not have a day job – right now I function in the capacity of errand runner and operating person for my partner’s freelance music business. I had a “real” job from the first time I could, when I was 16, all through college and early adulthood, until the summer of 2012, when I quit my extremely fulfilling data entry job (sarcasm) to take on this position. There’s something very weird about going from a full time worker bee to having very little to do very quickly. I enjoyed not having to “really” work (don’t get me wrong – I am well aware of the privilege I have to say this and I am more than aware of how lucky I am to have this be my position) for probably a year, until I hit a brick wall of depression and confusion.

Most freelancers and people in my position that I know hit this at some point; human beings are programmed for order and discipline, and when you don’t have that for awhile, things get messy. I have a wonderful life, with many loving people, with disposable income, and an amazing dog to boot. Most people aren’t so fortunate and that has been a conflict I’ve struggled with. I’m allowed to feel these things, but at the same time, it feels like complaining, and to some degree I think that it is. I’ve had at least a year  with copious amounts of free time, to do anything I could have wanted – write a book, learn how to ride a horse, train my dog into a crazy agility star, go back to school, learn how to sew, pick up a guitar, program a game, all of these things, I could have done in this past year and what did I do?

All I did was get depression from not doing anything, hate myself for getting depression from not doing anything, and curl up in a ball in my bed almost every day and continue to not do anything.

I’m not shy about my depression; I’m a firm believer that by being more open about these things, more people won’t go most of their years not seeking treatment for it, like I did. When I quit my job, it got out of control, to a point where it had never gotten to; you know, casually contemplating what would happen if I wasn’t around anymore. I finally got help, found a therapist, got on meds that dragged me out of it, and now I’m here – feeling slightly adrift still, but with a general direction I’m ambling slowly toward.

Which brings me to GDC.

As someone on the outskirts of the game industry, by virtue of my partner’s business, it’s something that’s come to my mind again and again. I’m a writer, first and foremost. You know, someone who writes things that nobody ever sees and still calls themselves a writer (a completely valid thing, in my opinion). I say this because of of the terrible self-consciousness I feel when I am around other writers and game makers. I’ve forayed into Twine and other programs that require little to no coding skill. I want to make games, I want to tell stories – I’m just not sure how and I feel invalid, because I can’t code, I have practically no projects to show, and I’m a nobody. Who am I to want to get into games?

I applied to the CA program, not sure what to expect. They get over a thousand applications each year and select fewer than 500. I have 4-5 years of convention volunteering experience, at local comic and anime conventions in Phoenix and Tucson, all that experience in leadership positions. As someone, though, with little experience in game anything, I still expected to not be chosen. Imagine my surprise in January, when I got an email informing me that I had been accepted into the program as a first round pick; I wasn’t even put on the waiting list, which had been my best case scenario. I was ecstatic; I felt validated, I felt empowered. I had been selected out of over 1000 different people to help run this convention.

I’m not going to lie, it still feels pretty neat.

After I received my acceptance letter, I started seriously, seriously considering what I might be doing in life. With my new feelings of validation, I started to write more, though still not necessarily showing it to anyone, but consistently writing. Why did I need the validation to actually start? I don’t know, but it got me writing, and I’m thankful for that. I kept writing up until GDC, where I met up with old friends and met new, amazing people, most through the CA program. I attended some of the narrative summit talks, which were useful, and worked an all day workshop, which I couldn’t participate in, as I was working, but was able to watch all day. I exchanged passions and ideas with people, and then, on the second to last day, I worked the #1reasontobe panel, where Deirdra Kiai put into words everything I felt but had been unable to articulate.

Making games is easy. Belonging is hard.

Don’t I know it.

I could muse on this all day, but just know it sums up everything I’ve felt, in most aspects of my life, and especially in trying to navigate the murky waters of the video games industry. Armed with this understanding and knowledge, I’m less lonely on my perch of outsider-ness. I’m less lonely in a room of people I know but feel like I can’t speak to, because they belong and I don’t. Everyone is part of some they – and more than likely, most everyone is afraid of some other they. It’s othering, and it’s something I do to myself. And I don’t have to. Belonging is definitely hard, but it’s less lonely knowing I’m not alone and it’s less intimidating knowing that every they probably feels the same way.

So I left GDC with a new lease on life, so to speak. I am inspired. There is more direction in my life than there has been in years. I want to create, I want to share, I want to help, I want to do. I want to write words that will make people feel things. I want to critically examine things that aren’t being critically examined. And I want to meet people who do the same. For the first time in my adult life, I’m not so adrift anymore, and I can visualize where I want to drop my anchor for the long term.

If you have the ability to, I highly recommend attending GDC. Even just be in San Francisco at the time it occurs. Feed off the passion from the attendees – if you want to say screw the conference, do it. It’s the people, the makers, who make GDC what it is.

And if you have the ability to become a CA – do that too. You will meet so many amazing, positive people. If you’re unsure of your passion or your talent or your energy, you will not meet a more supportive group of people, I can guarantee it. I cannot overstate how tremendous and empowered I feel by just being part of the program. It’s an opportunity I’m endlessly thankful to have had.

I hope this passion and excitement don’t wear off, as passion and excitement are wont to do. I may not be ready to do a game a week, or even a post a week, but I am ready to write every day. Even if no one sees it. And I am ready to consider that not any less valid, too.

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