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Dispatches from GDC 2018: Day Three

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  • There is a kid outside of the Humble office. The office is an oddity itself buried near a San Francisco Burberry and Chanel, the young man holding a sign that reads “ask me why I should be your intern” even more so. When I go inside, the Humble office manager has no idea what I’m talking about, the suited man having completely escaped her notice. Lottie, fromĀ Cultist Simulator, expresses having seen him as well as we sit in the neat Humble office on textured gray ottomans looking at her game on falling deeper into Lovecraftian horrors.

    Do not hire this boy. His guerrilla marketing tactics are really quite terrible.

    This is a day that I spend mostly in the press room, writing the 2nd dispatch. I sat across from writers that I worked with at Kill Screen back when that was a thing, the kinds of folks that I had only met through the tubes, as no one has ever said. They are writers that I greatly respect and it was nice to finally meet them in person. I was worried I was going to be awkward, and maybe I was. The only perks to having a two week long panic attack before an event is that when the event finally happens, your body is too exhausted to be afraid. You have the strength of weakness, the ability to face your problems head on because it can’t be worse than the last two weeks.

    I met a red headed writer named Sam, who mentioned he had worked with Unwinnable before, though I think that predates me. From the table next to me someone said, “Unwinnable owes me money” and Sam bit back, “That’s a lie, Stu Horvath would let his child starve before he didn’t pay a writer,” and the other guy laughed and said he was kidding. I like working for a place where that’s a joke and not the reality. A friend and fellow freelancer once told me fondly that Unwinnable writers were paid with the change from between Stu’s couch cushions. It feels, in a sense, like we’re all pulling together here. Not like a place I used to work, which we’ll call Kill Screen because that’s its name.

    Writers are often scared of talking about the bad pubs they’ve worked with. Openness holds with it the threat of professional suicide. I think Kill Screen is even more difficult to talk about, because working there it felt like everyone was waiting for you to fail – not inside the company, but from outsiders. Kill Screen was a place that encouraged, no demanded, that you write about things in a certain voice that I still love to do to this day. Some of the best writers I’ve ever met on the Internet, talented folks that have a way of seeing games writing in such a fresh and thought out way? I met them at Kill Screen. But at the end of the day, when I was let go with a day’s warning and thought, “Oh how did I fuck this up?” and then wasn’t paid for six months? That was a different kind of bad. The kind of bad that feels like a lukewarm take with the stuff coming out about Paste. It’s just the reality of writing on the Internet, and isn’t that a kind of fresh hell.

    I thought about Kill Screen, about every bad pub I’ve worked at before Kill Screen, whose names are now etched in my brain space with bad boyfriends and restaurants that have given me food poisoning and friends who left me on the side of the road as a joke, I thought about that every time someone brought up unions this week.

    The union conversation is one I’m not terribly comfortable with. It’s not because I’m management – I believe that unions are rad and that writers should be treated with decency and respect and that often times, unions are the ways to achieve those goals. To an extent, I think those values are reflected in the ball busting way that Unwinnable tends to treat assholes who take advantage of writers on the Internet. It’s similar in a lot of ways to the struggles reflected in videogame development culture. But as a contractor and freelancer, unions are kind of irrelevant to me, the IGDA even more so. When Josie, a fantastic person I met this week, asked me if I was going to the union meetup I told them no. “I don’t have a dog in this pony show,” I said. And I mean that. Even if games unionized, it wouldn’t ultimately affect me. The IGDA has never been useful and will continue to not be useful to me. Unions that don’t protect the weakest members of their profession, the folks who are let go with no notice, the folks who don’t have insurance or the ones who do the grunt, shit work seasonally until they’re tossed aside as soon as a project completes? I don’t understand the points of those.

    But I appreciate people who did attend and engage, including Michelle Ehrhardt who wrote on the round table for Unwinnable. Those people are the future of the industry and I look forward to their enthusiastic rise.

    The night ended at a party at the IGN headquarters, sitting on the floor of the office space while people played games around me. One of the guys with me was eating purloined cereal from the IGN office supplies and a beer from an open keg on the floor. Exhaustion had set in. It somehow feels like Day Three is actually Day Seven, and time has become an unerring slog. It’s Friday right? Saturday evening. I’ve been here long enough, right?

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