Dispatches from GDC 2018: Day Two

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  • It rained today and I bought a $2 emergency poncho from the inexplicable hardware store adjacent to the Moscone Center. The poncho was hidden along the back wall of the store, far past the $24 umbrellas that beckoned from the rainy street. It’s expensive to buy things in San Francisco, especially when it rains. The economy during a rain storm is different, windbreakers marked up at the Gap by $10 when a cold front moves in.

    I build my days around limited elements, trying to stop myself from feeling the weight of it but it’s exhausting staying in a place where few people know your name and where you’re surrounded by banners the size of Brooklyn apartments, gladhanding assholes trying to sell you on the blockchain and not nearly enough dogs.  Today was a day of talks, so I cosplayed as a 7-year-old in a large frumpy blue thermal and a pair of oversized overalls. It was wet and drizzly, so even the best dressed looked like wet dogs, hair hanging limply between sullen cheeks. I like the rain normally, but my sphere of San Francisco — the three blocks surrounding Moscone that constitute the entirety of the city that I’ve seen — is bleak in the wet, dripping and incorporeal.

    There was a party at night, the Other Party, one of those in jokes to the GDC collective that only make sense within the context of this other world. It was a bring you own game party and developers huddled around laptops. The twist in that the party didn’t give everyone power, so you were mostly at the mercy of your laptops battery, people swapping games in and out of the warm and huddled masses of party goers still moist from the rain outside and the sweat inside. There’s a mini-game there, how many players can you get to play your game before your battery dies and the answer is always not enough. Scarcity it seems, is the theme for GDC 2018.

    There’s this anti-capitalist sentiment in the undercurrents of GDC this year, twisting its way through the corridors and out of the mouths of speakers. It’s in the hostel rooms where people congregate at night, a man telling his friend about the rise of socialism in the United States and how it is different than the fall of socialism he saw with his home country of Romania. In line for food (it’s $10 for a tiny personal pizza here, and $5 for a drink. No matter the rain, the economy here is terrible). It’s in a talk about surviving alternative indie development, people decrying oppressive systems on stage before transitioning to talking about survival careers and how to work in education to pay the bills.

    The talks are the answer to the question “How do you survive on your art?” But it feels like the answer is always, “You don’t.” You survive on some other money, you live on the laurels of your previous successes and you create because you have to. At least for some of the creators. I don’t go to the other panels, I guess.

    The industry eats people, takes in their work and their intelligence and their value, then consumes them whole.

    At the end they may have a product they can show to their parents and families to say, “Look, this thing I had a part in creating, it exists.” But what is left? The catastrophic insurance that demands they meet a $7000 deductible to get care. The glut of overwork that drives anxiety and depression and the disrepair of the body and soul? This seems melodramatic, but when glaring down the gaping maw of the industry, the gnashing teeth that demand sacrifice with no real promise of reward, there is little to do but to hope that things will change. If not for us, then maybe the people that come later.