A Strange Moment from GDC

Something strange happened to me on the Thursday of GDC that I feel like I need to talk about.

It had been an intense week, lots of joyous emotions, lots of knowledge, and lots of general exhaustion. Coming off of my train jam experience I had a feeling I was going to be in for a rough time in spite of most of the adventures of the week being good ones. All the same it came on suddenly enough.

I had given my microtalk and it went wonderfully, and the rest of the microtalks were also wonderful, and that was the high point. But I am an oscillating sort of person so I knew what comes after the high points and thought I needed to take it easy, so I let myself be herded to lunch by Richard Lemarchand, along with another huge pack of wonderful people. We got our food and sat in the park to eat and I was surrounded by lovely people, so many of them having so many good, insightful conversations, and it was very warm and I felt very safe. And when I am surrounded by loved ones and feel warm and safe, there is typically only one response.

I fell fast asleep.

Then in what felt like the next moment, Rich was nudging me awake, saying he hated to wake me but he didn’t want to leave me alone asleep in the park. I blinked awake and saw that all of a sudden, all the people who were previously surrounding me were gone. It was jarring and in a normal state wouldn’t have been much more than a “what a strange feeling” observation. But I was very raw from the week, and it felt startling, and then I began to get overwhelmed. Not necessarily by bad things, but by the bigness of GDC and the many insights and struggles that everyone was having. I started crying for no good reason. In the most understanding of ways, Rich held onto me and comforted me, and when I had stabilized somewhat, took me along under his wing so I wouldn’t be left alone. Richard is the kindest human being on the planet.

So we went off together to see Rami’s talk, but I was still feeling rather overwhelmed, and struggled to pay attention. It was like I was starting to go numb and I felt terrible, because it was a good, important talk and I was only half present for it. Afterwards I wandered out into the hall and got a cup of tea, and this is where the something-strange started to happen.

I was standing next to the tea-and-coffee station in the hallway of the convention center, and people were walking everywhere, and there was a lot of chatter and it was very loud and I was once again overwhelmed by the bigness of GDC. There were so many people, so many games, too many games, too many insights, too much struggle, and it was all feeling concentrated in one spot, and the ceilings were too tall. At that moment I realized that I could not physically move.

I had never had this happen to me before, but my mind was so numbed and pushed down by everything around me that I couldn’t even take a step. I was stuck in that spot, and this distressed me greatly. To keep myself from panicking, I started focusing on a patch of light on the floor in front of me. It was a weird patch of light because it was falling on top of more light, but if I shifted and made a shadow on the floor, this patch of light still showed up on my shadow. It made me a little curious so I latched my mind onto it.

I thought “Everything is too big and I can’t move, so I’m just going to sit here and look at this patch of light and just focus on it for awhile so I don’t get overwhelmed.” So I stood there and sipped at my tea and stared at the light on the ground and tried to tunnel in on it, away from the big washes of people that kept moving about all around me in the hallway. I made a sort of “reeling in” motion in my mind to try and soothe myself and keep from breaking down.

It was  like every person that I’d interacted with all week had walked away with a bit of me attached to them, so it stretched out like a tendril. Towards the middle of the week it started feeling like every person I walked past got a piece of me stuck to them, so by that moment where I was paralyzed in the hallway I was feeling stretched thin in all directions. So I pretended that I was pulling each bit of myself back in, very slowly, because if I’d done it too fast the pieces would snap. Staring at the light was a sort of focus for this.

“I will just stand here and watch this light for a moment.” I had thought, but I may have fallen into a bit of a trance state.  It seems I was standing there clutching my empty tea cup for a good long while.

Some kind words saying hello to me drew me out of myself, and I looked up and Rami was there and no one else. The halls were all empty compared to just a moment before when there were huge flocks of people everywhere. Or maybe it wasn’t a moment ago? How long had I been standing there?

As a stall, I explained about my light patch, and Rami investigated and helped me discover the mysterious source. I wasn’t expecting that, and now I’d lost my reason to stand in one spot, so I explained that it was a stall and I was, in fact, very overwhelmed. What was overwhelming me? Rami is very straightforward. Normally I am good at discussing these introspections but I don’t think I did a very good job of answering his question. I think I flailed, verbally, and gave up. It was too much to wrangle together into one thought. Rami must have noticed this because, much as Richard had done early, decided to herd me along and keep me with him after that.

I could walk again! But I was still in such a strange state. I clutched my empty tea cup and couldn’t really focus my eyes on anything, and just let myself be led along in Rami’s wake because it meant I didn’t have to make any decisions, which was a sort of comfort.

We sat down together and Shawn had found us, and apparently noticed that I was not in a good place. He held onto me and Rami held onto me, which was good, because I was certain in that moment that I was going to fall off the planet were I not being held onto. I could feel a warmth that comes from having people love you and take care of you. I don’t absorb love properly.

I sometimes feel bad that I feel things so sharply and so strongly, and I explained to Shawn that the downside to being enthusiastic enough to order two slices of pie for dinner at Mel’s were moments like these, when the feeling-things-strongly part causes me to get so overwhelmed. Shawn hugged me and told me I was wonderful, and Rami squeezed my hand, and I felt safe, but still numb, and troubled at the strange moment earlier when I couldn’t move.

I was herded once again to…somewhere else. Where was it? Oh, it was Adriel’s panel. I remember Rami sitting next to me and being all squirmy and adorable about seeing Adriel on stage, and bumping me occasionally with his head to point out how cute she was. This made me smile, but I do not remember much of the panel. I remember holding onto my empty tea cup and wondering why I still had it, and that perhaps I was doing the same mental trick in wondering about the tea cup as I had been doing with the patch of light?

Afterwards, Adriel came down to take care of me as well, and I was herded off again, away from Moscone, off to get our things and rush to the airport. At some point between the places I managed to lose my empty tea cup and I still occasionally sit and strain my brain to remember what happened to it, as if that detail is important somehow. It was a strange day and a strange ending to GDC, to be whisked off without getting to say goodbye to anyone.

Normally I have clearer insights for these stories, but I’m struggling here. I mostly wanted to talk about the strange point where I couldn’t move and I numbed myself to time as a defense mechanism, because that was new for me. And also perhaps the warmth of having people take care of me, and who accept and perhaps even love me for the intensity with which I feel things, even when that can become a nuisance. No one else seems to think it’s a nuisance but me.

I don’t know what the insight is here. I don’t absorb love properly.