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GDC: Become a Conference Associate!

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This will be my 7th year at the Game Developers Conference. Has it really been 7 years? Anyhow, everyone in the western world (and beyond) should know about GDC. It is an extremely influential event, where connections, ideas, and innovations are realized. As I documented in my GDC podcast, GDC elegantly captures the video game industry in a one week event.

Around this time of year, we have to fill out our application:

Tell us why YOU would be a great Conference Associate. Resumes will be ignored. Recommendations will be ignored here.  Although you have been a CA before and we know you, we anticipate having to turn away a fair number of veterans. We will be using everyone’s essay to determine who will be selected for for this year’s GDC. 1500 character max.

The introduction to the application reads:

So your startup is “seriously underfunded,” you’re a starving student, you just want to lend a hand, or you just can’t imagine yourself at GDC without hundreds of your friends. Whatever the reason, you may still be able to attend this premiere event. Are you willing to earn your attendance by doing about 20 hours of work with a fantastic group of people? Apply to volunteer as a Conference Associate (CA)!

Earn attendance by doing 20 hours of work? I honestly don’t know what GDC would be without the CA program. I guess it’d be just another conference, one that costs $2000 to attend.

I’ll save my recollection of the years for next year’s essay. This year, I was able to dig up my first year experience from 7 years ago. Now, I don’t have my essay from my first application, but it was only good enough to land me a spot on the waiting list. I’m sure Tim and Ian, the coordinators, have it somewhere. The computer programs that drive the selection and organizational process are extremely impressive.

If I remember correctly, I may have mentioned having a crush on Super Mario, one of probably 5 or 6 sentences in the essay.

March 5, 2005

well…this has to be quick…im at the oakland library right now and i only have a few min 🙂

sooo…im here in cali enriching my education at a week long video game conference….its my third trip here in the past 6 months….the first two were b/c of my sick grandfather….and i guess after he passed, my grandmom has been pretty much alone here…..so, im back and visiting….and boy is the weather unimaginably awesome….

i hate cameras…i get so wrapped up in catching these moments…thats why i avoid carrying them around…but alas, i have already filled up a whole memory card…..(will find some way to post them soon….stupid cheap hotel with no business center and charges for internet access)….it is the nicest looking hotel from the lobby, but those rooms are pretty crappy…..

my friend and i are staying at the ramada on market street in down town san fran…we got there just fine….did i mention that the weather here is amazing….

im going to church with grandmom tomorrow….i wonder what adventure awaits me the rest of the week….there are so many people i know id be having so much fun with if only they couldve come along….but my adventures seem to only feature me and those strangers i run into along the way….

keep me in your prayers…..

GDC 2005 opened up a world that continues to overwhelm me with its possibilities. Someday soon, I hope to overwhelm it back… haha. That week, in 2005, I made friends that will last me my whole career and beyond. Such experiences cannot be manufactured, and you can’t keep them (except in your memories). Being so rare and valuable, I’ve learned to cultivate and savor such experiences, while many others miss these opportunities because they simply aren’t paying attention.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

what an amazing week… Game Developers Conference March 7-11 San Francisco, i have notes, but its been so long that i dont remember what some of them mean anymore…

day 0 – sunday

i got back to the room with leftovers that i couldnt do anything with, b/c the hotel was pretty cheap.  no fridge, no internet, small room…but nice lobby (really really nice).  i gave the leftovers to a bum outside.  i was in a horrible mood, so i prayed.

that night, i headed to the Conference Attendant (CA) dinner.  it was a room full of nerds…lol; these people were awesome.  i took my picture with thumbs up.  i was one of 4 girls out of like 200 CAs.  we had fajitas.  one of the girl CA’s conviced me to buy tickets for the Final Fantasy concert the next night.  i cannot believe i wasnt going to go to that. joke of the day: what do you do with a girl who has low selfesteem?  bring her to GDC!!…how tru…

Commonly in fiction you’ll find that magic only exists for those who believe in it– often, the young and unjaded. I mean, you wouldn’t look for things if you didn’t believe they existed. So, what makes me believe that being a CA is so priceless? Well, I don’t know how often you can make lifelong friends in a week, but, in my experiences, it takes the right circumstances, environment, and adventure.

day 1 – monday

i tried to get there early.  my first duty was press room.  there i met a gamespot guy, who talked to me throughout the conference.  i went to a really long AI talk, heard about AIIDE, and then fell asleep.  that night i went to the concert….i recall this night in a letter i wrote my little brother.

[The letter can be found here]

in addition to all of that, i snuck up to the VIP room, where nobuo uematsu was giving autographs.  later, one of the people i rode up with gave me his autographed poster.

After GDC in March, I was able to make it to AIIDE a couple months later. AIIDE has become a primary community for my work, and where I met some of the very important people I’m working with today.

There is no GDC that can be compared to your first time going. The novelty wears off quick, but the friendships build even quicker. Each year, I find myself caring less about the premier events and talks, and caring more about seeing all the people I don’t ever get to see. Let me let you in on a secret: once you know enough people, you don’t need premier events– it becomes far more efficient to meet people through the people you already know. If you’ve got the right attitude, you’ll be building connections with more people than you’ll know what to do with in the coming year.

day 2 – tuesday

i didnt think a lowly undergrad would need business cards, but i they became an essential part of the conference.  i got a gold star for running around the city looking for cd cases, and i bought paper for my business cards in the process.  they liked me, they really really liked me.  towards the end of the day as i was headed to the game awards at the metreon, i was stopped and asked if i spoke another language.  yes, mandarin, i answered.  turns out one of the volunteers signed up for the VIP east meets west reception as a translator who only spoke english.  they gave me his spot.  i had about an hour to check out the awards ceremony for the “walk of game.”

at the “walk of game,” i met this guy who i ended up spending much of the conference with.  at the walk of game, i also met super mario and sonic the hedgehog.  next year i’m pretending to be press, b/c they get let into EVERYTHING.

next things next, i rolled up at the VIP reception.  a lot of asian people and american people.  we wore flag pins to signify our fluency in whichever language.  i had china, taiwan, and america.  nobuo uematsu was there with his peepz.  i ran into the author of a book i was using for my thesis, and had a 45 minute conversation with him about my research.  i ran into a couple guys who were “with the press.”   through them i heard about the square-enix party.

Now, if there’s some cool announcement being made, you’ll likely hear about it, because the marketing is no joke. It’s not like the bells and whistles you’d find at E3, where they need to impress the average consumer. At GDC, great ideas and geared to inspire the great minds in the industry. What I mean is, you don’t have to look for the big news. There’s just too much you’d find. Likely, you’ll know which game post-mortems you’re most interested in, which developers that are speaking that you’d like to meet, and where to find the likeminded gamers. I’d just let the marketers do the rest.

we got to the door and the receptionist was looking for their names on the list.  she answered the phone and i just decided i was going down to the party.  later i found out that one of the reporters covered for me, and told the receptionist i was an intern.  we all got into the party.

there was a pianist, a jazz pianist down there.  his name was Gig Anderson, and we ended up playing autumn leaves, over the rainbow, and the Bb blues (i traded with the bassist).  jammin!  one of the producers thought i was entertaining and i got to exchange much conversation with him.  he was a producer (something important like that) for final fantasy XI.  he was white, spoke japanese, and was one of the nicest guys i’d ever met.  there was only 3 of us left at that point: me, the phone card guy, and a reporter.  the reporter kept on trying to offer me a job with his online game magazine.  something about girl reviewers that are high in demand.  he really wanted me to get an interview with ichiro, the CEO of square enix usa.  i didnt know what i was doing, but i did it.  i asked him a plethora of questions.  this “interview” (which was really just a conversation) lasted about 30 minutes.  it wasnt a very interesting conversation.  we also met this cool japanese-american guy named yasu, who invited us to go get chinese food with all the executives and producers of square, but later took back the invitation.  whoa, that wouldve been unbelievable.  next year i am wearing makeup, so i look older.

i was walked home by the same guy everynight.  we went back to the CA lounge, emptied out the fridge, and fed the homeless people on the way home.  this guy walked 6 blocks out of the way everynight to get me back to my room.  my feet really hurt that night.

As a veteran, let me just say that free alcohol, food, and games haven’t been worth much in the coming years. Once the novelty wore off, I was left with people who I know I could change the world with. Does this happen at all conferences? Well, kind of, but it soon occurred to me that GDC had set a standard for personal interactions that has shown to be more meaningful than the professional. I’ve found that I bring that expectation to all my conferences now. That’s why I was playing jazz saxophone at AIIDE this year (lol). What I’m saying is: somehow GDC has caused me to expect more from large gatherings of likemind people.

day 3 – wednesday

the people played confquest, which i kind of wished i had taken part in.  as a result, a lot of people missed the microsoft keynote, and missed their 1/3 chance of getting a plasma screen tv…wow.  i was so mad.

after my discharge from my duty, i went to see the nobuo uematsu interview/q&a.  i got to see all the square-ennix people i had met the night before.  dylan, the white ffxi guy gave me a free logitech controller, b/c he didnt want it (man, he was nice).  i got in line for question asking and asked: “do you listen to jazz?  and if not, can i burn you a cd?” ::delay for translation:: ::nobuo laughs::  he answered, “i was once in a bar in [some mid-western state] and i heard some pretty horrible musicians; however, they play with such conviction that i find it to be admirable.  This is why I find Jazz to be admirable.”  i think i’ll still burn him a CD.  at the expo, there was crazy free stuff and free chinese food/burgers and looong lines.  lol, this was one of the first places where the girls bathroom was virtually empty the whole conf, and there was always a long line for the guys.

that night was the 7th independent games fest and the 5th annual game developers choice awards.  i chilled that night.  sometime during the week, i got to see a poster presentation of “peacemaker.”  i met the team when i visited CMU’s ETC.  the guy remembered me and gave me invitations for the CMU VIP party (lol VIP, not really).  also, i ran into RIT program directors for the game lab.

Let me say that none of my subsequent GDC’s were quite like my first one. By now, it’s all boiled down to: “being there, being positive, keeping things running smoothly, getting help, and lending a hand.” So, what perhaps is one of the most influential experiences of my life, it is being part of the GDC CA program. These fun little adventures that captured from my Xanga 7 years ago have become what they are– funny stories of an unusually curious girl. On the other hand, the expectations, character, and friendships that’ve come out of being a Conference Associate is still quite difficult to capture, but becomes more clear over time. I’ve written about it here and here.

day 4 – thurs

i checked out more expo stuff.  there were cool demos for virtual human experiences.  i checked out the nintendo keynote speaker.  i had lunch duty.  the afternoon, there was a microsoft women in gaming reception (more free food), and i got a free xbox game (fable).  it was boring.  that night i went to the CMU party with the guy who’d been walking me home.  i knew a lot of people there.  i introduced the guy to both directors of the CMU and RIT programs.  i chatted with them to inquired about my application.  both schools seemed eager for my acceptance of their acceptance, although i hadnt even heard from either school yet.  both schools pretty much assured me that i got in (i feel bad for turning them both down).  i also knew some of the CMU grad students from my visit to pittsburgh.   now that i think of it, i spent $0 on food that whole week.  there was so much to free food.  i’d collect the food and feed the homeless people on my way back.

Now you can’t come to just expect this stuff to happen. First, because it goes beyond what is marketable and what most people would expect. You can’t just fabricate “it,” because I don’t even really know what “it” is. I just know it when it happens, and I can guess where it is likely to happen. I mean, I’ve spent so much of my adult life trying to understand what “it” is through recreating it. What I’ve learned is that it takes the right people with the right hearts, the right vision, and the right engineering.

day 5 – friday (last day)

duty for the day was head set hander outer.  then i went to see the will wright (creator of the sims) talk.  he was a very entertaining presenter.  (i saw him again at AIIDE).  very funny man.  his session was PACKED (i saw imaginary animals make love…lol).  then, i had lunch duty.  i made an amusing comparison of lunch duty and harvesting of resources in star craft.  it starts out in chaos with us drones, probes, SCVs running around, but when the resources run out, we just stand there with nothing to do.  as we are standing there, resourceless, and having this conversation, i get called to do something else.  later they told me that i was “clicked away.”  lol :)…yes, we are nerds.  by the end of the week i had 2 gold stars for i dont really know what, but i mustve done a decent job somewhere.

that day i saw a CMU ETC talk.  it was….ok.  that night i went out to china town, and got bubble tea.  then we went to the closing meeting/raffle (with that guy i hung out with all week).  i was so tired, i slept through some of it.  we said our goodbyes and i was really really sad.  the volunteers were soooooooo nice.  im going to get more people to go with me next year.  its an amazing opportunity.

by the end of the week the volunteer coordinators all knew me, and told me they hope to see me again in a year.

Ok, so I don’t know if GDC needs to cost $2000. I know that I’ve gone for free every year for one reason or another. I’m sure there are many variables that come into play, but the week of GDC is a week when you can feel and see how meaningful life can get. There’s so many different types of people coming together to make something happen (both for the industry and for GDC itself). The conference continues to run with the servant mindset of the Conference Associate coordinators, Tim and Ian, where they empower a couple hundred to be their best. Whatever “it” is, they’ve managed to figure out how to bring out the best in people for this one week.

March, 6 2010 (5 years later)

I’m getting to a point where I can see the end of my time as a CA.  Like, maybe within the next couple years, I’ll be at GDC as something else.  On one hand, this makes sense, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself again..(I’m still a pretty small fish)…

This kind of makes me sad though, so this year, GDC is about being a CA, b/c I want to be able to contribute as much as I’ve received while I am most directly able to.  The glorified roller coaster ride that GDC can be isn’t that exciting anymore, and, as my documentary suggests, it really IS about the people.

I feel that last year i wasn’t fully present (b/c i was filming and presenting…haha)…. but this year, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Forget my career for now, forget the magic of GDC, I’m a CA for the next couple days :)…

I don’t think I’ve answered the question yet: “why would I make a great CA?” Well, I believe that only Tim and Ian know who actually “get it.” And I hope that among the ones that do, I am somewhere in there. But of course, I know how to be on time and do the tasks. I know how to encourage people and be easy to get along with. What makes me a great Conference Associate is that, in addition to all the necessary things, I want to see the culture of what is so rare and uniquely good preserved and spread to a world that doesn’t even realize how much it matters.


If I were to guess what the secret is, I’d venture to say that it’s some combination of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control through an abundance of grace and humility. That’s my understanding, and the understanding of what I believe would also make a great Conference Associate.

2 thoughts on “GDC: Become a Conference Associate!

  1. This year was my… 10th or maybe 11th year. There’s this one smart and pretty girl there most years I tease about being a Cylon. I can’t tell if that annoys her or not.

    • point taken and appreciated, but don’t get too carried away!!!

      In regards to teasing, I find that being compared to that which one studies would be similarly appreciated.

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