My strongest memories of the Game Developers Conference this year actually have very little to do with video games. This is discouraging. Instead, I mostly have stories like the one below.
On Monday afternoon -- my third day back in San Francisco -- I caught a bus from Haight-Ashbury back to my hotel in Union Square. I'm sitting opposite an African-American woman in her 40s who soon gets a cellphone call from who appears to be her daughter. They chat casually for a while about everyday things, and the mother nods and mm-hms her way through the call before just as casually leading into "Did you get high today? Did you get high? That's good, see, that's a start. Three days, you're getting there. I'm proud of you." Then she says goodbye and hangs up.
She gets off the bus shortly after that, and her seat and the surrounding area are suddenly occupied by a couple of white and massively-hipster high school kids who have been out shopping for records and neat posters. They're heading home to Berkeley and they discuss vegan fudge, Facebook, prom and Rock Band. I wasn't looking at my watch but they were talking for about nine hours. And somewhere out there is that mother and her daughter the recovering addict, focus-tested out of existence.
The rest of the week at GDC, I kept wondering who I was in that metaphor. Am I replacing someone or am I getting replaced?
I could very well be the new media, print-is-dead, cult-of-the-amateur firebrand who is indirectly contributing to the web 2.0 uprising that's driving newspapers and magazines out of business. People like me might possibly be as alarming to print journalists as a teenage biker gang terrorizing a retirement home. We're high-speed, chain-wielding maniacs and we've come to destroy you.
Alternatively, maybe I'm the one getting pushed to the sidelines. At GDC, I'm surrounded by people who have graduated to working in games professionally and I'm the only one who still hasn't got there and will probably never go there at all. GDC serves as a visual reminder of my extreme superfluousness to the game industry. Maybe I'm the dead weight. Maybe I should be getting off the bus.
GDC can seem like a community in flux. In a year, some of the people who are covering the show as press will be the ones making games; today's developers will be overlooked for the indie guys who are making better games for free; and soon all of them will probably be laid off. GDC itself cruises through San Francicso, attracting thousands of different people from different disciplines to the Moscone Center like moths to a flame, and on Friday they rapidly disperse to the four corners of the world. Sometimes, before you can figure out where you fit in to all of that, it's gone.
On my first day in San Francisco, I walked with my friends down a street and past a woman who was standing on the steps of her row house. "There goes a diaspora," she said. I don't know what that meant.