Sunday, September 1, 2013

On the Brink

I just had an Experience. Experience with a capital “E.” Something unique and magical and out of the ordinary. And all it was was going to a concert. A small, intimate concert, with a bunch of people that I’d never met, but know anyway. People with “Shadowrun” T-shirts and nerdy card games just happening to sit in their pockets, there to listen to a band called the Doubleclicks and a singer whose most famous song is called “The Nerd Anthem.” There was a sense of community, of communion, and although I did not speak to a single person, I was really comfortable. I just watched, and felt like I belonged even though I wasn't interacting with anyone. Maybe I should've talked to someone, I'll probably regret that later. But it didn't seem necessary, didn't seem vital to enjoy that moment, and despite my isolation I felt like I was part of something. This is an experience that I haven't had since I was 19, feeling like nothing so much as sitting in the makeshift black box theater next to the pizza parlor on my college campus, listening to amateurs up on stage sharing their souls in the Midnight Beatnik Society (who were not beatniks and did not meet at midnight). That close, intimate “these people are just like me and that’s awesome” feeling, with both the people in the audience and the people on stage. Marian Call and the Doubleclicks spent the intermission hanging with the people who came to their concert.

They’re on a different level—no one would be foolish enough to publish a CD of the ramblings of college-age Ryan Schmidt strumming along on his guitar to the Tacoma Song (though now I understand he’s doing quite well for himself as an improv comedian), and I certainly wasn’t invited up onstage with Marian to share my latest blog post, but I still felt that connection. Perhaps it was because these people were not pure amateurs, but burgeoning professionals. I believe Marian Call makes her living as a musician, but she is not a household name, nor will she ever be. I would be surprised if the Doubleclicks don’t have day jobs, and Josh A. Cagan’s big claim to fame is contributing to a not-terribly-good web series. They’ve moved on from the level of amateur, but they’re not yet at the level of pure professional, not Ozzy or Stephen King or even Felicia Day. That’s where I’d like to imagine I am—certainly a step behind, with my first game just about to come out, instead of my career being a few CDs in like Marian and the Doubleclicks are, no professionally produced webseries to my name, never mind the quality. But it’s that level of leaping forward onto the professional plane that I feel like I connect with. I might just be humoring myself, but I’d like to think I’m finally coming into my own. Twenty-nine, a little late, but that’s not uncommon in this day and age, this generation of delayed adolescence.

I may never be a household name, but I think that's okay. If I could simply foster the kind of camaraderie that I felt at this concert, share that feeling with some portion of the world, I just might be okay with that. I used to have far loftier dreams, wanting every single person in the world to experience my art, whether or not they liked it, but perhaps I can settle for something smaller.

There are 3000 people on the Fate Core community on Google+. I don’t know what percentage of the Fate Core crowd that represents, and I don’t know what percentage of that crowd I might be able to capture with my game or games—but if I could, if I could get 3000 people to buy my game, that would be an amazing accomplishment. 3000 is in some sense not that much: it would be a small town. It would be a small con. If a television series got those ratings, it wouldn’t finish the first episode. But for someone on the brink of professional artwork, three thousand would be like a million. Like ten. I’m trying to keep my expectations low. Maybe only a few dozen people will buy my game, maybe into the hundreds. Something along those lines is what I envision. But just think about it. I had maybe two dozen people who followed my blog back in the day, if that. I’ve shared my games with a dozen or two people over the course of my lifetime, and always in groups of five or six at a time. If I could spread that out, see and hear the effects further on, and further out, well that’s what being an artist is all about, isn’t it? Giving something of yourself to the world. I don’t write for me. If I did, I wouldn’t be trying to publish something, I would simply write in my journal and call it good. I write because I’d like to think that someone else would like to read what I’ve written, would like to play the game I’ve designed, would like to explore the worlds that come flowing out of my head. This is not to say the small and intimate don’t have their place. I cherish my time with my gaming group, and adore the job I have working one-on-one trying to help a single individual succeed. But there is something to be said for quantity.

Tomorrow, I have to return to my ordinary life, some of the pain-in-the-ass stuff I have yet to do: doctor’s visits and another day at work. But for a few hours, I was part of something, and if I can just hold on to that sensation, summon it up when I really need to, I just might be able to make that same connection with someone else out there in the world. Wouldn’t that be remarkable?