What GDC meant to me

Posted on  
April 12, 2014
Sarah Woodrow

When we were young and we wanted to make computer games, people equated that to wanting to be an astronaut; "But which realistic job do you want to do? How about school photographer? That's creative."

When we first met, I was 17 and Woody was 18, a games career seemed like a dream, but not an impossible dream as it did 10 years earlier. Instead, back then people loved to tell us "you're too young to be in a relationship, you won't stay together, your relationship is DOOMED!"

So 13 years later, while I was walking around San Francisco and GDC with my husband, playing around with a puppet of a character from a game we made together... I had to pinch myself a bit. It did all feel like a crazy delusional dream that came out of the depths 17 year old Sarah's brain, that she would have dismissed as madness.

We bumped into people in the street we'd known for years, met up with good indie friends and made some new ones... (Hi, to the Irish contingent, we love you guys!) We spent a lot of time with the guys from Ukie, because they're awesome. We had meetings with people in cafes and bars that were so casual for "meetings" that it just felt like a really nice chat with a friend.

It didn't feel like we weren't supposed to be there or anything. It felt nice, like a home from home. It just didn't entirely feel real and most of the time I had to keep taking a moment to tell myself it was.

One night, I suddenly had one of these moments of clarity and self awareness while explaining the brilliance of Come Dine With Me and Grand Designs to one of the guys from Nintendo America in a hotel bar. It happened again, later that night. We were leaving a party. Woody was running round with Red Chompy, and I was chasing round after him laughing; "sssh! You're harming our brand!", when some random guys asked about the puppet. They explained that they were from Telltale games so we talked for a while about the Walking Dead and Fables. It struck me that they just seemed so proud to be a part of something that people enjoy that much and I felt so happy to be able to see that.

GDC is amazing. It is full of passionate, creative people who really care about what they are doing. I spent an hour or so at the indie booth chatting to one group in particular. They've made this beautiful game, and they were happy but a bit nervous to be showing it before it was ready. No one could complete it on their own. These guys must have found it frustrating to have to explain to everyone what to do to complete the demo, yet everyone stayed and tried, immersed in the beauty of it. And I could see them watching their players closely, cogitating over how to solve the problems, focused and driven to make it better. Looking to perfect their art.

Game development doesn't just involve one skill. It's a relatively new artistic medium composed of so many skills and GDC is an example of how the industry is growing and changing, trying to understand what is possible and what this all means.

Nothing about games is set in stone, the possibilities are honestly endless. I truly believe that games are the next great art form, its just no one has realised it yet because the art has been cloaked and obstructed by technology and money.  In my mind the people who say "Games aren't art" have the same voice as those who told me to be a school photographer or leave my boyfriend.

After my time in the indie booth I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Nintendo museum part of the expo. I realised, as I looked around at everyone reminiscing, that the short history of computer games is what inspired us to be here and that we all have our own ideas of what to try next. I think that history will look back at now and still see this as the beginning. We are a growing movement of people using games to push forward and combine all the artistic disciplines; film, paintings, sculpture, music, storytelling, into the discipline of making games.

A conversation about games among game devs will always be so fascinating, because it involves so many disciplines, ideas and technologies. No two people think or feel the same way about it. In another 30 years who knows what attending GDC will be like. I think that's one of the reasons that as I sat there, I felt so aware of the people around me. These people are the ones who will define the next generation of games. They will be the ones to take it where it's never been before. We are on the precipice of something and everyone is excited and energised by it, whether they are business or art focused.

So although it all felt so surreal, it didn't feel like somewhere in a parallel universe there's a different Sarah, better off as a single school photographer, looking back at the last 10 years, glad she didn't "waste" her time drawing badly, making no money, trying to understand her place in the world, contemplating how to create awesome things and philosophising about how to use games to make a difference.

It just felt like everything since I met that cute long haired scruffy skater boy at art college has been leading up to being able to do this and I'm incredibly grateful to be able to be a part of it all.