How I learned to beat GDC.

The Game Developers Conference is one of the world’s biggest conventions for game industry people. Last year I went there for the first time and wrote a bitter, disillusioned piece about it. Being at GDC can make you feel lonely. Then I figured the whole thing is like a game level with pitfalls you just can’t foresee the first time. I went a second time, and this piece is about where I learned to jump and duck. A lot of media is about the winners of GDC. This piece is for the losers (yes: I just called you a loser).

DISCLAIMER: This is not all-around advice for all GDC people. It’s how I personally dealt with going to this conference as a visitor, and a relative newcomer to the industry.


I rested well before going to GDC.
Last year I prepared to a certain point, but it turned out that business cards and hotel reservations are just details. My best move this year was to get the stuff at home that I wouldn’t get at the conference and that is rest. Rest is GDC’s rarest currency. Even if you can resist the urge to relentlessly go out and socialize, there are many things that can keep you from resting, like noisy hotel neighbours or jetlag or just being freaking hyped. If you don’t get rest you get sick. The week before GDC I just slept well and didn’t do many things. It worked.

I stopped being bent on meeting people.
Even if you’re not able to rest before there are ways to save your energy. GDC is a social carousel that you’ll be compelled to jump into. Being in the same spot as “all” the game people in the world is a great opportunity. The shadow of that is that staying in your hotel room feels like a waste of that opportunity. Even if it’s to do things like showering, breakfast and napping. The pull to constantly go out and “connect” with people is strong with me but it’s a battle I can’t win. GDC is not all the fun in one place. It’s all the fun spread all over a giant city, and somehow they didn’t let you in on it. Last year that hit me so hard that I just had to give up caring about it. Once you let that go you can divide your time the way you want. It’s pretty much like Bob Marley said “You can meet some GDC people some time but you can’t meet all of them all the time”.

I gave up on social media.
Whatever feeling you have about being left out will be amplified a thousand-fold by checking up on things like Twitter. When somebody tweets that another guy owes him 50 dollars all I can think is “Okay what the hell am I missing now?”. I think putting inside jokes on an outside medium is alienating. During GDC Twitter and Facebook will be full of that shit. I stayed away from it as much as I could and used Twitter mostly as a slow chatbox for meeting with friends.

I stopped respecting people’s status.
It’s very easy to walk into people who you look up to and it can uncontrollably change the way you step into a conversation with them. People can feel that and they don’t like it. Deep down everybody longs for success and status but once you have it, it seems like everybody wants something from you and that’s hard to deal with. I had an encounter with a guy that made a hugely popular game and he seemed prickly in every interaction I had with him. I had no idea who he was but I offered him a napkin and he just frowned like I was a lepper begging for money. For this guy status was a new thing and he dealt with it by adding barbwire around himself. I can’t afford to worry about what these people think of me and I just stopped asking or finding out what they do or who they are. I don’t chase them. I don’t stare at them. I just hang out with people I have fun with and that’s it. Even famous people poop and pee and smell if they don’t shower. You get the best conversations with people if you don’t know who they are.

I started using being alone as a tool.
Conversations, new faces, new names, new topics. There’s a ton of things coming at you at a typical GDC day and you need to process all that stuff. There’s no shame in being alone and isolated once in a while. I even benefit from it. Take it as a moment to let things seep in. Take a nap. Go somewhere and have a meal by your own. Maybe take a day off and visit a part of the city to wander around. Treat yourself!

I stopped caring about parties.
For 5 days straight there are parties going on every single night. At the end afternoon “What party are you going to” is the question going around and it’s a tiring thing to be bothered with. It’s fun to have something to do but you shouldn’t overvalue these things. People will always make it look more exciting than it actually is. It’s hard to pick which party to go to as there are always many happening at once. You’ll always miss some fun somewhere. You might meet a couple of nice people but I think parties are not the best way to do that. Thanks to loud music you often have to raise your voice to make yourself heard. Dirty trick: Just go to the party when it’s about to end. It’s not a problem if you don’t have an invite. Just stand at the exit as people poor out to have smokes or snacks. By that time most of them are a bit tipsy thus more open and honest. You might get some nice chats out of it.

I stopped asking people what they do.
This is a bit of a freaky trick but it worked for me. I noticed that “So what do you do?” is a crippling question for some. It can be taken it as a status check. As if it implies you want to see if they are worthy of your time or not. It can lead to a bad start of a conversation, A moment where people think they have to hold a mini presentation about themselves. I experimented with skipping that question and going for the blunt and piercing “So what is your agenda?”. People don’t expect it but it leads to surprisingly honest answers as if it is the moment people take their mask off and become themselves. This is especially the case on the expo floor where a lot of people walk around looking for work or represent a company. I still may very well be viewed by people as a weirdo though.

And those are the cheats I used to survive GDC. All of them are related to lettings things go to preserve energy. GDC sucks up physical and emotional strength. I feel like I learned to sail through that by dropping all excess baggage, and honestly I had a good time. I met some nice people. It’s hard to measure this in actual payoff but at this rate I assume next GDC will be even better. Like in gaming. You get better at it with every try. Just make peace with the fact that you are just one person. You cannot be everywhere at once and you don’t have to. You are not alone in feeling alone.

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