(This post was written at the airport.)
“So, how did you like the conference?” my landlady asked me as she drove me to the Austin airport.
“Oh, it was great,” I said. “I met a lot of great people, made good connections, had loads of fun.”
A pause. “Did you learn any new stuff?” she asked.
It was then that I realized my biggest takeaway from GDC Austin wasn’t the actual conference, but the schmoozing.
I’d never been to GDC Austin; I always thought I was a GDC San Francisco kind of girl. Austin’s GDC is much smaller, and highly specialized (the main conference focuses on online gaming, which isn’t my cup of tea). The reason I went in the first place was they had a two-day Game Writers Summit, and the thought of being able to listen and learn from the industry’s best writers just made me kilig* all over.
The pass itself is quite expensive, by third-world standards ($495) so let it be said that if the conference turned out to be a complete dud, I would be very upset.
Thankfully, it wasn’t. The two days were filled with non-stop interesting sessions. Some were better than others. The big event of the first day was the moral ambiguity session, where writers sat around tables and argued on how to solve the Jesus/Hitler dichotomy in games. Of course, nobody had a good answer, and we never had enough time, but it was interesting to see the opinionated people come out to the spotlight (and, believe me, they did).
I also liked the first talk of the day, which was Aaron Oldenburg’s presentation on his game project (or game “experience”) based on his volunteer work in West Africa. It’s always nice to see people actually use the game medium for self-expression, something I am finding difficult to do in the competitive, commercial casual game space.
On the second day, there were several big talks; one by the writers of Valve, another with top designers and writers arguing on which was more important: gameplay or story. (No definitive answers there, either, but the fun was in the arguing.) My favorite talk of the day (and actually of the whole conference) was the one by Michael Rubin on game design innovations in interactive fiction. Yes, IF – one of my faaaaaavorite things in the world. The presentation itself was very academic, but I loved the content, and I had to bounce up to the stage and profess my joy to Michael. Nerd happy!
Also on the second day was the IGDA Game Writers’ Special Interest Group (SIG) gathering, where the SIG officers asked us what we wanted from the group. I raised my hand and admitted that I found hardly any presence for casual game writing, and that’s what I’d be looking for in the SIG. The officers were all very nice to me, and I found casual game writers afterward because of the question – awesome.
At the end of the day, I snuck out to the Indie Games Summit to watch a talk by Alec Holowka on storytelling through indie games. I didn’t read up on it beforehand, so I literally said, “Oh my god!” when I found out that Alec had made Aquaria. It is a gem of an indie game, and is also one of Dante’s favorites, so I went up to Alec and asked for an autograph and a pic. He obliged 🙂
All the sessions were useful, or at the very least, interesting; I made a lot of notes on how to apply what I’d learned to the adventure game we’re working on, and felt guilty that I haven’t been writing as much or as well as I should.
I mentioned schmoozing – there was a lot of it. I never thought I was a schmoozer; at previous conferences, I either stuck with friends I already knew, or hid in my hotel room eating pizza. “Surely you can find someone interesting to have lunch with in Austin,” my boss told me. And I lucked out; instead of hiding in my apartment, I walked up to a group of people and asked them if they knew a good place for lunch. They told me to tag along, and I ended up joining a small and awesome posse – Jared from Schell Games, Jorge and Pat from the Oblivion modding community, and Valerie, a writer from San Francisco.
On the first night, our little group went to Ginger Man (the summit’s hangout of choice), and ended up schmoozing with possibly the nicest, craziest breed of game developer – the writers. Every night, the writers would meet and laugh and drink until 2 am, after which Ginger Man would politely kick us out. I quickly learned the American way of drinking, where everybody buys everybody else beer (in Manila, you usually pay your own way); and also their way of jumping into a conversation while balancing a beer in one hand and a business card in the other. I am not a particularly sociable creature, but I really enjoyed everyone’s company, and for some reason they seemed to like me as well. And we did this _every night_.
Austin also gave me a lot of hope – both in a general sense, that the industry’s story bar will continuously improve; and personally, that a nobody from Manila could actually be a sort-of-somebody over here. I never thought I’d be having real conversation with people from Bungie, Big Huge Games, or Valve; I mean, I’m just a little girl from Manila! In fact, there was nobody else in the summit from South East Asia, AFAIK; I kept joking that I should’ve won a “Farthest Attendee” award, but I’m still waiting for my trophy.
So that is what I will remember from GDC Austin – that game developers can be warm and friendly, too, and that we writers need to stick together. It is too small and too overlooked a niche for anybody to fight. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again in the next conference. Assuming I can scrounge up the money.
All my photos of Austin are here.
*There is no English word for kilig; I’ve written about it before, but it’s sort of that feeling you get when your crush talks to you. The ridiculous, visceral joy. You know what I mean.