GDC Perspective - The Good, the Bad, and the Anxious

Queer Quest by Mo Cohen

Five years ago I decided I wanted to make video games. Last week, with the help of Intel, I was able to attend GDC (Game Developers Conference) for my first time. Intel gave me a scholarship to help cover travel costs which made it possible for me to attend, and they also provided a scholarship for Marlowe Dobbe, an artist from the Portland game dev community (PIGSquad). I'm a strong believer that in order to help promote diversity at least two folks need to benefit. It is much easier being one of two women on a team than being the only woman on a team. Marlowe and I were able to sync up and explore the expo together as well as recap and share our experiences. It's expensive to go to GDC, staying in San Francisco for a week is easily $1,000 in boarding alone. That plus food, potential child/pet care, taking time off work, and travel can really add up and prevent women and minority groups from attending GDC. But for those that had the means, there were a lot of great opportunities to meet each other.

When I was first dipping my toes into the indie game dev community, what struck me most was the genuine collaborative community vibe. Maybe I lucked out with the friendliest community, Portland Indie Game Squad (PIGSquad). I asked them for advice about GDC, what talks to look for, what party tickets to invest in. Luckily, that positive energy carried all across GDC, and I saw a lot of familiar faces from PIGSquad at the conference. But good vibes aside, I was still anxious about where I fit in at GDC.

When my game, Queer Quest, was going through Steam's Greenlight I met a number of trolls and generally rude folks that reminded me that not everyone sees the importance of representation in games. They didn't understand that my game is so overly gay to help make it easier for the less openly queer games to exist. The name is blunt because it gets a reaction: either folks smile or they frown. I was worried that at GDC I would feel like my game, there to provoke a reaction. I showed it one night at a PIGSquad hosted party in a crowded bar. Some people stared at the sign for a while, processed the name, frowned, and walked away. Some smiled and pointed and played. One couple from Chile introduced themselves to me and said they came out to the event just to play my game! I was relieved. GDC might be an overwhelming sea of strangers, but it was also a great place to meet the other queer indie developers who were figuring out their place in the game dev scene.

Queer Quest - Kiri on the Porch

There were a lot of opportunities for diverse developers to meet, ranging from tea and cupcakes to fireside chats in a hotel to coffee and donuts in the morning. I tried to focus on events that weren't hosted at bars because I'm not a great drinker and my hearing isn't good. Queer events were my mainstay, because I don't need to convince other LGBTQ folks the importance of queer games. Also, it's easier for me to comfortably network with other visibly queer folks. White cis straight guys talk to me less, especially considering how many of them I saw and shared space with at GDC. That’s OK, because there were enough other folks in the events I went to, but I had to seek them out. I'd love to attend more talks that aren't diversity specific and see the same broad audience that those talks draw. But knowing that there are events at GDC making intentional space for diverse groups helps bring the right folks in.

There were a lot of panels and talks about diversity in games, but I didn't want to go to them. I was worried they'd be things I already knew and was constantly striving for. During the Q&A of a talk I did attend, a man pointed out that half the audience was women and congratulated the speaker (also a woman). It was well intended, but damn if I wasn't annoyed. Why wasn't this guy going to the male dominated talks and asking why the audience looked so monotonous? There were little moments like this that reminded me that even though I have so much in common with these folks, I still occasionally felt like I was a diversity statistic.

Sometimes being the odd one out drives my ambitions. I tried to compare GDC talks to riot grrl shows, and how if I gave a talk I'd make all the dudes in the front three rows (or at least, the ones without glasses) stand up and go to the back to make room for any women/marginalized folks to sit up in the front. But GDC is not like the feminist punk rock movement. It was hard to see when taller folks sat in front of me, it was hard to stand my ground in crowded parties, it was hard to show my games to folks and then get asked if I was the artist. I did the programming, the writing, the designing, the promotion, the business side, the marketing side, all of the sides except the art and music. And yet, I always get asked if I'm the artist.

All in all, I had an amazing GDC. I met good people, played good games, and absorbed a lot of great information and perspective from game developers I admire. Yes, it's still a white guys club and I'm not a white guy. But there's space for me, and that's a good start.

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