So, I got accepted to talk at the GDC in San Francisco this year.
Holy fucking shit.
I’ve been attending the GDC I was a wee sprite of a game developer. I sat in awe as Marc LeBlanc cavorted around the hall shouting about “MDA! MDA!”. I watched Chris Hecker’s presentations go from highly technical algorithmic breakdowns to meditations on the intersection between technology and human beings. I attended Brian Moriarty’s ‘last’ presentation, and walked out stunned, in awe, my ideas about how awesome presentations could be forever changed.
GDC geek, I. Fanboy.
Of course, along the way, I applied to give talks. We all do this, I think: we imagine that since the ideas in our head are incredibly useful to us, they must certainly be useful to others. I applied for three years in a row, I think, before I realized that, like in the normal games industry, having a good idea wasn’t enough.
So it was, a few years back, that I returned to the well, and applied once again. This time, however, I had learned: the talk I submitted came straight out of my actual work on Red Steel 2, it covered ideas that few if any other developers had ever encountered, and I submitted to speak at GDC Europe – where, as an American, I would be an oddity, and the organization was (perhaps) more hungry for speakers (and thus more willing to take a risk on an un-tested speaker).
Got in. Woot!
That talk was a pretty awesome success – people seemed to like the cane swinging and the entertainment factor, and that coupled with some actual data seemed to fit the bill. I gave another talk the following year, and one at a show called FMX in Germany. And I ‘broke in’ the talk I will be giving at GDC Prime at the first PAX/DEV.
Two GDC Europes, an FMX, and a PAX/DEV, all with high ratings on the surveys. That was a resume – some material to put in that little box at the end of the application that reads “prior speaking experience and ratings received”.
Still, I was pretty nervous when I submitted the application.
See, the topic is wider than I’m used to. I’m presenting work that I have been doing over the past six months in mapping something called the Big 5 model of motivational psychology to game design and gameplay elements. It sprang out of an attempt I made to unify the existing game motivation-of-play models. That failed, but along the way I stumbled on to something much more potent: a motivational model with a statistical base of scientific evidence behind it that took me completely by surprise. So, I’ve been connecting that base to what we do as game developers in triggering human motivations.
Does that sound cool? It does to me. So why was I nervous?
Two things: first, there is not very much room for this kind of talk at the GDC – there used to be more talks like that, but there has been a shift towards practical, immediately-applicable presentations in recent years. That’s probably a good thing… but not if that’s the topic of your talk. Second, while I’ve become a semi-known speaker, I am absolutely not known for this kind of topic. And offering to give a talk on a topic that you aren’t a recognized expert on is risky at best.
But, somehow, it happened. Which is amazing: walking around on that floor with a ‘speaker’ badge will be strange strange strange.
And, of course, getting accepted only increased my nervousness. Because this is The Show, man. I only get one first chance at speaking here: I hope I don’t fuck it up!