Every Year in March

Every year in March I go to San Francisco with the positive intention of magically and overnight becoming a confirmed, ebullient extrovert, transformed, I imagine, by the six-plus-hour plane ride and my own stubborn belief that I really can do anything I want, if I just put my mind to it.

I went to my first Game Developers Conference in 2012. While events like E3 and PAX are the places where game developers and publishers go to talk to their consumers, GDC is where the makers of games talk to each other. I went that first time mostly because my husband (who writes about games for a living) was going, and they were willing to give me a press badge. Yes. Exactly that. I was a tagalong wife. I was the woman standing behind the guy who had Actual Reasons to be talking about games. I was, and am, an outsider in a tightly-knit (or at least extraordinarily insular) community of gamemaking geniuses.

A weird thing happened, though. Somewhere in between the hapless dudes trying desperately to reparse whatever PR told them to say into something that would appeal to my audience — women, duh — and the people who looked right through me like I was a fucking ghost, somewhere in there I fell in love with GDC.

It wasn’t a May/December romance. I can’t even rightly say we were star-crossed lovers, as to this day I am certain that, aside from the lovely people in the planning and media-pass-granting side of things, GDC does not know I exist. I admire GDC even knowing that it does not think of me at all. If GDC is the high school quarterback, then I am in the bleachers, wearing a baggy sweater and comically oversized glasses. I may even be under the bleachers. I may, in fact, be Tina Belcher.

Point being: I have an outsider complex, and one that is richly deserved.

I have had a lot of weird experiences at GDC. I’ve had meetings with developers who did not know what to do with me. I mean this literally, they react like someone who’s driven an automatic all their life being thrown into a car with a manual transmission and instructed to drive for their life, right now, because zombies are coming. These developers have always been male, and that is probably not a coincidence even if it’s not the whole reason.

But I understand. The truth is that these interactions are largely transactional, and that doesn’t change just for me. These particular devs are only interested in me as a media professional for what I can give them — several million eyeballs in the heads of game-playing people would be ideal. If I publish something as part of my work at xoJane, I can deliver the several million eyeballs, but many of them have only a passing interest in games, if any interest at all. So an unspoken question hangs between us: what can you do for me? If my answer is “not much,” then why are we even here? It is depressingly rare to meet a developer who wants to talk to me about their game just because they are excited about it.

There are also surprises, like the guy who sidelined me mid-stride to show off his game about shooting lots of grotesquely mutated monsters on an alien planet with an enthusiasm so intense that it seemed it never even occurred to him that I would not find his mutant-exploding game as awesome as he did. This happened immediately following a scheduled meeting with an adventure game developer — a genre that actually is generally popular with women — who met my engaged questions with mumbled responses and refused to make eye contact at all. It always seems to break down between dudes who are trying, very hard, to get to my perceived level — whatever that is — and guys who seem resentful to be talking. to me at all.

I am being very gender specific here, but there is a reason for that — it’s because neither of these things has ever happened when talking to a developer who is also a woman, even though who I am doesn’t change. Is it me, who is awkward, or am I just being self-deprecating? Is it them? Or is it a bit of both.

I read something several years ago — I think it may have been Warren Ellis, or I could be wrong about that — anyway — in which the writer referred to the now-retired Space Shuttle as having all the elegance and technological advancements of a city bus launched into orbit. I was nonplussed. Having grown up with the space shuttle as a seemingly inexorable part of my consciousness, it had never occurred to me before that it was, fairly, an ungainly and awkwardly designed relic that probably should have been retired in favor of something vastly improved before I finished high school. The observation was apt, but still, I felt knee-jerkily defensive of the Space Shuttle: It’s doing its best with limited resources! I thought angrily. Yes, it is old, and outmoded, and in a different world we might have upgraded to something sleeker and cleverer and more efficient and going into space could be as simple as starting a car. But this is what we have. And what, are we going to just stop going into space until we have a more perfect means for it?

I remember that anytime I think about trying something new and frightening. I think about using the resources I’ve got, even when they are not ideal. Not everything can be managed with grace and good humor. Sometimes I try to do things that are beyond my comfortable abilities — beyond what I might be built or prepared for — even knowing I will make a mess of them, that I am lacking all the polished features that would make my efforts easy and straightforward and the results perfect. Instead I make do with what I have. I do my best, a thirty (eight) year old low-earth orbital space bus. I may not be doing everything as perfectly as I’d hoped — it may not be as easy and unchallenging as if I had everything I need. But I’m still going into space.

This was originally published on Medium.