The following article was written for the IGDA Newsletter.
“What is IGDA?”, “What can it do for me?”, “How can I join?”, “What is this card game?” I soon join the throng to the open bar, if only to escape the endless questions and playing the soon-to-be-heavily-redesigned card game over and over. My lack of identification as a volunteer of any kind allows me to mingle freely while the line inches forward and many a fellow developer holds what is presumably their first drink of the night. Being one laden with social anxiety of a nearly dysfunctional order, I went back for several more until I was able to rattle off appropriate replies and corresponding facial movements without hesitation. Looking around, it was tough to believe it was only the first day.
Then Wednesday came. The first day of the Expo Floor. By this point, I knew my fellow volunteers well, and we all had worked out any logistical wrinkles that arose, so it was supposed to be quite smooth, albeit more populated. My social experience up to this point was limited to passing by a few hundred people at most, and I figured this would be no problem. Never had I miscalculated quite so severely.
I fought quite successfully to keep it together, until I decided to go visit the very reason the population tripled: the Expo Floor. I nonchalantly descended the escalator as I had done many times in the previous few days, only to be confronted with a wall of humanity. Being my usual headstrong self, I decided to ignore the small heart attack and press on toward the booth near the door with the familiar Project Anarchy logo. The woman at the counter was busy, so I wandered the area, slowly delving deeper and deeper into the monstrous crowds until I found myself completely surrounded. No familiar logos, friendly faces, or exit signs in sight, I felt a surge of tears which were quickly fought with a more powerful surge of adrenaline. Despite being wide-eyed and sweating bullets, I was determined to appear at least somewhat casual as I attempted to find my way out. I couldn’t ask as my voice would betray me, so I wandered toward a wall with big windows on the second level. I found myself faced with a hallway and more people, and though I didn’t see them, the escalators that would have led me back to the safety of the IGDA booth. Instead, I blindly pressed on, my iron will quickly rusting away. My breath quickened and tears stung my eyes as I followed the hallway past another escalator that would lead to the registration area (which I would later backtrack to, after encountering the GDC Play area).
I eventually found myself outside between the Moscone North and South buildings, and couldn’t hold it in anymore. I pulled off my nametag to hide my shame, and cried. I don’t know how long it was, but I eventually calmed down enough to realize people were staring at me and I should head back in. I went straight to the IGDA booth, and broke down again. Rather than stare at me, they rallied around me. I was ashamed of myself, but they were all trying to support me. A lot of them came out as feeling the same as me, so I wasn’t dealing with this alone. I cried more and drank pretty heavily that evening, but that was the day I will always remember as one where I felt like I belonged, like I was safe, like I was cared about.
The rest of the week went more smoothly, and they continued to support me while I tried my best to support them. I was among friends, and this is something I will never forget. It didn’t make the anxiety go away, and I still had some rough points. I met developers, exchanged cards, answered questions, revisited the Expo Floor with other volunteers who played it off as nothing more than what they wanted to do anyway. But on that Wednesday at GDC, I faced one of my deepest fears, and felt nothing but the warm embrace and support of friends, rather than the pain I expected. This is how GDC14 has changed my life.
Gabby Taylor is an aspiring game designer and head of GreyBox Studio. When not making design documents, she contemplates going outside, and sometimes even takes a few steps when feeling particularly frisky.