A page from the Workers Unite zine that reads "It was their Dream to Work in the Game Industry' heavily glitched out

Dispatches from GDC 2018: Day One

You’re all doomed!


I have no idea what I’m doing.

I keep waiting for the conference organizers to realize that they’ve made a mistake. I slept in these clothes last night, brushed my hair – brittle, green & wild – sometime yesterday. Last night, in a bid for preparedness I came out early to track down my badge and managed to arrive at the long location 15 minutes late. An investigative reporter I am not.

GDC is a strange place. It takes place in a complex of expo centers and conference halls, the kind of structure where you could easily throw three smaller events without issue. It’s sprawling — banners from the rafters adorned with names of big companies and game engines. Currently the building itself is half under construction, a monument of rising metal out of a busy street, surrounding streets rich with the stench of weed. It feels cavernous, eternal. The old guard, they tell us that it used to be in another city, but for the younger blood it’s always been in San Francisco.

It’s going to rain this week, so I spent as much time as possible outside in the slightly damp Yerba Buena park. The sun was out, but the shadows were still chilly and populated by game developers and journalists. I don’t know many people here — this is my first event as press since PAX five or so years ago, a lifetime in the world of games journalism. I’m not a part of the community of writers who travel this circuit. I still don’t know how to get the free lunch that I’m allegedly provided by the event as a part of my pass. These are not my waters and I am hesitant to try to find a safe harbor when I could just float by for this week, unattended.

I participated in my first hotel meeting today. I walked several blocks from the relative safety of Moscone, where there were no badges and the city was full of people bustling to the kinds of tech jobs that are infamously responsible for San Francisco’s rising income inequality. Running minutes late, I took an elevator to the 10th floor where I sat, alone with a man I had just met in his hotel room, as we talked about VR, his game and There Will Be Blood.  Nothing untoward happened, the meeting went well and the developer was pleasant but I kept thinking: this is the kind of shit your mother tells you not to do. I texted a friend every time I made another decision: the address, at hotel, “Alive.” The experience made me feel uneven — as though I was underwater, adrift in a sea of negative potentialities, and it got under my skin. Nothing happened, but as a friend pointed out later all my concessions for safety were for afterwards. They wouldn’t have protected me in the moment. They would’ve helped locate a body. Catch an abuser. But me? I would’ve been fucked.

I think about this because for a lot of women in the industry it’s not a matter of choice. You go because the hotel room has the coverage you need, or because your editor has assigned you this meeting. And so you go and you sit on a chair in between two well made beds and you play a game in relative silence, to the point where you can just hear your own breathing and that of the person that you’re meeting for the first time. You are require to put your trust, just for the moment, in the fleeting moments of interaction you have with another person.

I don’t know if I’ll do it again.

This year there’s talk of game developer’s organizing, of them pushing back against the years of the IGDA representation. In the parks, they pass out zines in boxes, talk to each other about the QA jobs they had where people shout at you for doing your job, or why they have catastrophic insurance because they don’t make enough money for anything else. This, maybe, is the year for protest.

Real world news trickles into this liminal space. Between announcements of the newest version of Unity or talks on the Asari from Mass Effect you’ll hear about a series of package bombings in the American Southwest or some new thing that Trump is up to. Has the world imploded while I’ve been away, playing games? Probably not, but it seems like we’re here trapped in amber as things go on about us as normal.