This month, your patronage paid my travel expenses to ECGC, where I spoke about player-created narrative and diverse communities—as separate topics, that is. I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of the East Coast Games Conference until last year. Richard Dansky mentioned in passing a loooong while back that he’d love to have me speak there, and I gave a breezy “Sure, why not?” response. Then, last fall, he called me on it. I was officially an ECGC speaker.
I had no idea what lay in store for me.
If you’re like I was and are scratching your head in confusion about what ECGC is, you can learn more HERE. As you see, it’s a scrappy, up-and-coming gaming convention in Raleigh, North Carolina. As of this moment in time, it’s also hands-down my favorite con out there.
You all know that PAX East left me regretful and wondering if cons were just for fans now. Well, ECGC reminded me of the magic that happens when fans and devs are free to focus on their shared love of games without hype or pressure. It was the anti-PAX (The PAXcine?) and the cure for my disaffection. It made me fall in love with the games industry all over again.
But let’s start at the beginning.
I was originally slated to do a presentation with Mikki Rautalahti from Remedy Entertainment, but that evolved into a panel discussion with Mikki, Ann Lemay from Bioware, and Jesse Scoble from Kingsisle Entertainment. After lengthy discussion, we decided to talk about ways to let players tell their own stories within your game narrative.
Then, a few weeks before the convention, I somehow ended up on a second panel about diversity with Lindsay Grace and Chris Totten from American University's Game Lab.
Of course, I discussed Project Untold at both panels. As one does. I’ll get videos of the talks to you as soon as they’re published.
So far, everything sounds pretty much like PAX, right? So what was different?
From the moment I set foot in Raleigh, people started nice-ing at me. I’ve never met such friendly, helpful folks. It freaked me out a little, to be honest. But they tell me that’s how things are in the South.
I had an experience my first night in Raleigh that sums up the spirit of the con for me. It had been a long day of packing and traveling, and I got in to Raleigh around 9 p.m. My hotel was nowhere near as nice as it looked online. It’s the kind of place that you know has spiders. Even if you never see a spider in your room, you know they’re watching you from behind the walls.
I went out to find some food and got lost. I wandered around in the closed up, deserted downtown for a half hour before running into a young couple. I asked for directions to ANY open store. Instead of gesturing vaguely to some distant point, these kind people walked me there. We made awkward conversation along the way. When they learned I was in town for a video game convention, the guy put his hand over his heart and said, “Oh. I love games.”
I (obviously) asked what his favorite game is.
He said, “Guild Wars 2.”
Of all the gin joints in all the towns…
Well, we had a lot to discuss after that. I had a nice chat with him about his main, the GW2 community, and the upcoming expansion. Then we found the store, and they vanished back into the night.
But that experience reminded me of the power of video games. You can go into communities all around the world and have something in common with complete strangers. You have a shared lived experience. "Yes! I fought the elemental in the swamp, too! Many died that day, but we won in the end." It’s a powerful bond. At their best, that’s what games are. They are worlds and experiences that people have in common. And cons are a chance for people who create these experiences to meet the people who are enjoying them—and to find out what they’re doing in them.
That's what ECGC was, for me. The con is small and new enough that there are few barriers between devs and the audience of (mostly) eager students and aspiring devs. While major companies had a presence there, they didn’t overshadow the experience. I didn’t feel marketed to. It felt intimate.
The fans noticed it, too.
One starstruck student who ended up sitting near me during Write Club! (like Whose Line Is It? for writers), said, “I always thought you devs were like gods, just…out of reach. But you’re people. You’re just people.” I felt the same way. The wariness I felt toward the crowds at PAX was nonexistent at ECGC. I wasn't wondering if this congoer or that was a potential threat to my safety. We were able to be “just people” together. I had forgotten the joy of that connection. It’s another thing that GamerGate has stolen from our community.
After ECGC ended, I spent a few days hanging out with the other writers on the narrative track. In my eleven years in the games industry, I have never been in a room with so many gamewriters at once. It was a rare treat. Not only did I get a chance to pick the brains of some of the brightest literary minds in our industry, I also got to hear how they maneuver through difficult situations, what their processes are for producing content, and how they’ve overcome the turmoil of the past few years. We drank a lot of scotch, we swapped horror stories, and we talked about the challenges of writing interactive narrative.
It reminded me why I got into gamewriting in the first place. It restored my faith in the games community. It gave me hope that we can heal the damage from the recent culture wars.
As many of you know, this past year has been a difficult one for me. Personally and professionally. There have been several occasions, especially in recent months, where I considered leaving the industry. Especially after PAX. ECGC changed that. I came out of the con with renewed purpose, determined to stick it out and make games I believe in. I'm going to fight harder than ever to get Untold out there for players to enjoy.
To sum up this dev diary: ECGC rocks. Go if you get a chance—especially you devs. Next month: I’ll have a Project Untold update for you all. Shocking, but true. As they say in Kpop, please anticipate!
NOTE: I was going to talk about my trip to NYC for Rhizome's Theresa Duncan retrospective, but then I found this great writeup.
Definitely play her games on the emulator. They are absolutely charming.