At this point in the year, graduation has advanced from the background to the foreground like a tidal wave appearing on the horizon. My undergrad schedule is about to end. My daily routine—keeping track of five classes, two jobs, and an internship—is about to be distilled and filtered into a new daily routine, one where I only have to keep track of a singular career instead of the amalgamation of “what do I have to get done tomorrow?” that I’ve been facing most weekday nights for the last few years.
Sure, it’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s all the emotions that people have been experiencing at the edge of college graduation for decades. And like those people, I’ve been job searching and thinking of where I’m going to live and how I’m going to eat. On the contrary, there’s a lot of things I’m not thinking about during this time. Every so often (if I’m having a rough evening) these thoughts get really taxing, and I’ll spiral down into the endless loop of “Oh god I have no skills” or “Nobody will ever want to make games with me blah blah blah”. It’s in those times that I have to bring myself back up and reflect on all the Awesome Stuff! I’ve done to get here.
During those times, it’s not the positions I’ve held that make me feel good about myself. It’s not the classes I’ve taken, or the skills I’ve learned that make me feel confident that I belong in this industry. It’s not even the articles I’ve written (at least, not on an individual basis). If there’s anything that makes me feel skilled, purposeful, and hopeful for the future, it’s the experiences.
It’s working with a journalism startup in its infancy, helping build a web presence with my talented, passionate, just-graduated friends. It’s meeting my first dedicated writing team and befriending them. I admired their work, and promoted it not just because they’re fantastic people but because they too produce Awesome Stuff! It’s looking at a huge problem in mobile games, brainstorming what can be done about it, and dedicating my senior capstone to fixing that problem. All of these things weren’t done by myself. They were done with other people.
There are two main ways that I gained the connections, friends, and opportunities that I did. One was college, which is expensive and clunky if you’re going into game design. The other? Conventions. It’s not University or Twitter that did this for me, it was Consumer Electronics Show, Penny Arcade Expo, and Midwest Game Developers Summit. I am always at my best before or after these conventions. I’m excited to be attending a place full of people with the same passion as me. I’m motivated to show them my best work, and once the convention is over I feel like I’ve gained all the knowledge I need to make my creations even better.
A gaming convention, professional or passionate, is the place to meet those people. It’s a gathering where everyone is their for the same purpose: to increase their knowledge and experience in the gaming world. Everyone has the same schedule. Nobody has anywhere to be but the expo hall. As long as you present yourself properly and act professionally, you’re treated as an equal to people that you’ve looked up to for years. And still, even during my final year of school, I meet people at my school majoring in game development that don’t go to conventions. They don’t even have good reasons, either. Things like “I can’t get a ride there” when people have publicly offered them, or “I can’t afford the ticket price” when a one-day pass is $20. I understand that sometimes it is impossible, but for so many opportunities to have come and passed, it’s not hard to tell there’s something else going on other than a stroke of bad luck.
This coming weekend, I’m going to be at GlitchCon in Minneapolis, and I’m working on my projects harder than I have this entire year. I already know that once this is over I’ll be hyped again to be working on things and preparing for life-after-graduation. A lot of my fellow students won’t be getting that burst of motivation that spurs them into action, and that’s saddening. If you’re a chronic convention-skipper, now is the time to break it. Trust me, it might be tough to gather up the funds, or find the time to attend, but it will advance your career in games further than anything else you’d be doing in the meantime.
Print some business cards. Pull out your good shirt. Prepare to show off your Awesome Stuff. There are literally hundreds of these gatherings a year. Opportunities won’t always land in your lap, but they’ll probably land near your city. If you’re really serious about making your games the best they can be, then I’ll be seeing you at a convention this year. Game developers don’t just learn from games, they learn from other developers. Luckily for you, they’re just a road trip away.