Sunday, July 26, 2015

What I learned about myself at Classic Game Fest

I found myself carrying twice my body weight in camera equipment as I took my first step into the Palmer Event Center. It's not the biggest convention space in Austin, but it's formidable none the less. The air conditioning couldn't have hit my skin sooner as I walked across the shiny concrete floor. It is summer in Texas after all. There's a row of vintage televisions all lined up with Atari 2600 consoles plugged in. They're all playing different games, but somehow the bright colors and the random bleeps and bloops sounds like music to my ears. We've arrived.
Classic Game Fest happens once a year, and it features everything from live funk bands to charming 8-bit bead art. It's a feast for the eyes and ears if you're a kid in the 70s, 80s, or 90s. But if you're a post millennium kid, the pop-culture overdose you experience here is wondrous. It's a mad house, it's controlled chaos, it's the culmination of our collective childhoods all under one roof.

I have the prestigious honor of being the official videographer for Classic Game Fest. Which means I get exclusive interviews with the likes of Ernie Cline and Howard Scott Warshaw. People who have either shaped the industry, or who have a voice in the gaming community. the problem is, I'm not exactly the most extroverted among us. I mean, being a gamer comes with a certain stigma about talking to people in any normal setting. And although that's a stereotype, it happens to be true with me. I get nervous around people, not to mention celebrities (who I pretty much try to avoid altogether).

After getting a few practice interviews under my belt, I decided it was time to try talking to Richard Garriott and Starr Long. I could actually feel the sweat glands preparing to erupt as I began the interview. I fumbled, I messed up Richards name, I forgot questions... I felt horrible. They were polite and accommodating as I attempted to get my crap together, but going over the footage I discovered something. What other people think about you is irrelevant to who you are. And the people who give you a hard time about mistakes and shortcomings are the same people who are harboring their own self-consciousness. Richard Garriott and Starr Long are wonderful human beings who obviously understand the truth that we all make mistakes. They've seen their fair share of failures and are totally willing to let others have theirs without rubbing it in. I want to be that kind of person. So, thank you Richard Garriott and Starr Long for being examples of patience and understanding in a world that is not so patient and understanding.

Ernie Cline letting a fan take a selfie with him.
And then there's Ernie Cline. He was arguably the most famous nerd at the entire convention, having just released his second book, Armada. This normally would intimidate me into a corner, but I remembered my lesson from earlier, and I went for it. 

Now, let me tell you the kind of person Ernie Cline is. Ernie Cline is the kind of person who would have a deep conversation about his latest story ideas with every single individual in line, if he could. He's the kind of person who makes you feel like it's ok to be yourself, because he's quirky, and talks too fast, and he's totally ok with it. Ernie Cline is creative and nerdy and 100% relatable. During our interview, I totally forgot there was a camera and just chatted about how cool the idea of Armada is, and where he came up with the idea, and why everyone could relate to the story. I wished I could just take him out for coffee and keep talking with him. After our interview, he did the most amazing thing I've ever seen a celebrity do. He showed all of us that he got Howard Scott Warshaw to sign his super rare E.T. strategy guide for the Atari 2600... Ernie Cline was totally geeking out in front of all of us, while we should all be geeking out over Ernie Cline, and it was so incredibly humbling. 

We're all just people.

For years I have felt ashamed about my love for video games. It sucks. I know I shouldn't feel that way, especially in this day and age, but it's a really hard thing to shake off. I hide it well under fake social encounters and v-necks, but it's always there... Except at Classic Game Fest. These are my people, and I love all of them. All of you. Because we are all just people.

My final lesson came while watching a documentary called Nintendo Quest. It's about a man who's friend challenges him to collect every NES game in 30 days (Actually it's every retail released North American NES game, and he couldn't use the internet. Just for context, some of those games can go for tens of thousands of dollars). Which to some might seem foolish or arbitrary, but I assure you this was an emotional journey that only gamers would understand. He wasn't just collecting some video games that came out 20 years ago, he was fulfilling a lifelong dream while going on an adventure. Which is something most of us can't even fathom. Adventure? What does that even mean anymore? It's interesting because the yearning for adventure is EXACLY why we play video games. But the challenge of Nintendo Quest was also about not letting obstacles like social anxiety or low self-esteem get in the way of your dreams. 

It actually doesn't matter what people think. I know that sounds cliche, but hear me out. If you are a way, that's you. Own it, and move on. You'll get into more trouble being self-conscious than you will not giving a crap. Not only that, but you'll find your true friends and family that way, and they'll help you fulfill your dreams. I'm not saying you should be a jerk to everyone, if you are, you need to do some soul searching and figure out why you're pushing everyone away. But this is my lesson from Classic Game Fest 2015. Don't worry about people, your way is yours.

Stop caring what the world thinks. Let them think it, and own what you got.

I love video games. That picture at the top is me dancing with some other fools to the Bubble Bobble theme song like idiots. I love Bubble Bobble, and Donkey Kong, and Atari, and old consoles, and weird controllers, and Splatoon, and Smash Bros, and Zelda... And nobody, not my family, not my co-workers, not other gamers, not the internet, nobody is going to make me feel ashamed about that.

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