We rolled up right in the middle of campus, and I got out, only a few steps from where my day would begin. I walked into the quad surrounded by brick buildings and felt scared. There were booths set up, all offering a different experience, a game to play, an organization to learn about, or a giant billboard to sign. I wasn’t really excited until someone said, “Hey come play a game with us.” I sat down to play a table game and was surprised at how inviting the people were. I have trouble going out of my way talking to other people and making the first move. Not knowing these people and feeling out of place was completely altered in this little interaction right before playing Pitch Fight with these kind strangers.
I went to IndieCade with the Top Shelf Gaming staff to get a better understanding of video game culture and what it takes to make games and encourage people to play them. IndieCade is a video game convention, and is nothing like I had ever seen before, except for maybe Comic-Con, but on a much smaller level. There were sections of games around a sample of the USC campus, ranging from tabletop games, to VR, to a PlayStation room, to a lobby full of groups that aid gamers and developers. Each room was lined wall to wall with games and creators waiting to share their story.
We made a game plan of tackling this huge arena. Some of us headed to the Digital Selects where I was immediately impressed with a mobile game called The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne. It’s a game novel that comments on the effects of anxiety on people’s daily lives. In each new turn I found myself relating to the main character, blaming myself for everything that went wrong, and feeling devastated when I made her more upset. I lost the game of course, but the girl running the booth consoled me with free oatmeal and stickers, which are guaranteed to bring joy.
The rest of the Digital Selects room was full of games that had very little correlation to each other. Styles from mythological to Western to horror to the personal story of the creator’s life to a game that was set up like a DJ turntable. I tried as much as I could with the idea in the back of my head that there was still so much more to see.
Throughout the day, I met many game developers and connoisseurs that taught me the beauty of gaming and the acceptance throughout the entire gaming culture. Everyone I met had their own story to tell and I was all ears. Gamers told me how they discovered IndieCade for the first time and how excited they were to tell their friends and keep coming back every year. It became their favorite convention and something to look forward to every year.
I was in the middle of this whole new experience, eager to see everything and take advantage of this opportunity. I wandered through the rooms and listened to dozens of people’s stories and how they started making games or why they even came to IndieCade at all. The video gaming community is so inviting; everyone I met was willing to take time to talk and help with any questions or curiosities I had. Whenever I had trouble with a game, someone was watching behind me ready to help.
I wandered around more, to the VR room to fulfill my dream of “entering” a game. I was disappointed because when I finally found the room, it was compacted with sweaty people waiting in lines to try games. Thinking I would never get the chance to get close enough to a game to even watch, I left and headed back downstairs. It took two people to encourage me back inside and into the line for SUPERHYPERCUBE, but it was worth the wait and claustrophobia to play the game. I felt like I was inside of the neon tunnel, changing the shapes of the cubes to pass through each wall like a Japanese game show. Around the room were other compelling games, adventurous, and mystical, but all puzzling and thought provoking. Some involved matching shapes and buildings, but Mare had a cute little girl to follow, flying from tops of buildings to lead her to the objective. The VR selects all brought unique perspectives, and a 360 degree experience inside of the game.
I got super hungry about halfway through the day but had the conflicting desire to leave and get nourishment or to stay and keep discovering new games. I met up with the group instead and we played a card game called Go Extinct!, a take on Go Fish with a scientific twist. We were battling to the death, strategically stealing each other’s cards while still trying to make the most matches of animals. The group created little jokes and antics to rile each other up and spice up the odds. Fellow TSG writer, Evan, won the game with a landslide victory by collecting the most valuable cards. Even though the game lasted longer than we had expected, the developer was delighted that we had learned something about species organization while still having a blast.
Later on, I tried a game that combined board game strategies and sewing, called ThreadSteading, and was blown away. I started talking to one of the creators and learned that it only took 10 days to fully develop the game from start to finish. A whole team from UC Santa Cruz had given up their normal lives for a couple weeks to decode and program embroidery machines to create it. The first half of the time, they combined their talents and knowledge to create something that they all loved, and it only took 5 days. The team realized that this huge embroidery machine wouldn’t be portable, and decided to downsize. They tackled the Singer quilting machine and created the whole board and concept in just another 5 days. This story mesmerized me. I can barely finish anything, so hearing that they created an entire video game in a week took me completely off guard; I was flabbergasted. Other game creators that I talked to said that their games took 6 months or even a year to complete and confessed that they still needed to be perfected.
Near the end I was alone and frantic to find someone. I rushed around room to room hoping for an open TV or a familiar face. I finally ran into Kara, another TSG writer, and she said she was heading over to talk about women in esports and invited me to join. We heard about the struggles of being a female gamer and getting enough support to reach competitive levels. Women have the same skill as men but they weren’t represented in the higher levels. The speakers were both women in the industry; Emmalee Garrido, a ESWC world champion, and Morgan Romine, the manager of professional gaming team, RagDolls, and esports director for Firefall. They spoke about the obstacles that women face, but also how far they’ve come and how much more they have up ahead. This fueled my feminist passion, inspiring me to tackle the hurdles that stand before me; college, career, and self-discovery.
I only played a few games at IndieCade, but I had an eye-opening experience that inspired me to start playing more games and engage with the video game community. I was immersed into this whole new exciting world, like diving into the ocean when you barely know how to swim. I saw beautiful creations and met brilliant people of different ages, races, and genders, all eager to play games. I paused to look around and instead of seeing the typical stereotype of a “gamer,” I saw diverse people ready to try new things. We ate tacos before heading back, and it was the perfect end to the day.
Ever since I came home, I’ve been playing games and finding more to try. My brother and I take turns playing Overwatch, instead of me just watching pathetically next to him. IndieCade shined a whole new light on my perspective; I learned to accept people for who they are rather than clinging to my first impressions, the way you should with a new game, playing it and engaging with it before deciding how you feel. I can’t wait to venture further through the world of gaming and see what else is out there for me to discover. IndieCade has the perfect environment for hardcore gamers and noobs like me.