Travelogue, Day 4: ARMOR

[Each day I’m publishing little excerpts of an ongoing travelogue I’m writing about GDC, ¬†games and my work here. The full piece will be for sale when it’s finished, but the daily excerpts will be available to all. If you’ve missed previous installments, just check prior entries on this website.]

If I’m being honest, even though I go GDC every year and I love it, it makes me a little scared. Suddenly the internet is real, and it’s all around me. My double life — where I do a thing on the internet all day that very few people in my real-life physical space know about or care about — suddenly resolves. The world is full of game developers. The people I’ve never met who read my drunk tweets are here.

It’s strange the way you can instantly recognize crowds of game developers. You just know who your people are by looking. You hear a lot about the clothes: Black tee, collared shirt or checked shirt, but it’s not even really even about that. Something about the pairing of wiry beard and small curly ponytail. Or of speckle of razor rash with metal gauge earrings. Terrifyingly tall, gangly vikings in weird hats, or reedy folk with 90s haircuts — the blonde bowl, buzzed underneath. There are women and they have furry animal backpacks, dyed hair, aggressive shoes.

It’s strange to be frightened of these people: This is a mecca of the meek who’ve inherited. We are all such obviously misfits, escapists, weirdos. We’re nerds, even when you can’t tell by looking at us. Every year I have conversations after talks with people for whom approaching a stranger is such a genuine challenge that they tremble while speaking. They look around anxiously as they talk, they struggle for words. By the end of the week I do things like that, too, overwhelmed and on edge. There are just too many people here.

I never know why anyone is looking at me or coming up to me: Because they recognize me from the internet? If so, are they the kind of person who likes my work, or are they one of those people on NeoGAF? Are they going to confront me about my perceived disrespect for the game industry or about some flippant Tweet I’ve made (this has happened, two or three times, and it is rattling)?

I also have dyed hair and aggressive shoes, I must admit. Fashion is armor for women here. It used to be that wearing lipstick or a dress or heels in this world was dangerous. You would be presumed to be a girlfriend. Or a PR girl. These guys, the ones who class up their high-octane logo tees with a blazer, would see you as a potential conquest. You were asking for it. In the expensive parties, late at night after lots of alcohol, someone will mutter the word bitch under their breath.

These days the big hair and aggressive shoes are my way of saying “I fucking dare you.”

That darkness underlies my time in the industry less and less, though. I think. It just feels brighter and gentler here, somehow. It will take a little while for me to feel really safe, but I… think it might be okay. I hear my name called from an escalator and it doesn’t sound like an epithet. I turn and someone is waving.

There are allies and there are hugs. This week I’ll tell you all about them.