This weekend I would probably be in Portland, OR for XOXO like I was the last three years if there were one this year. I appreciate the Andys taking a break and although I’m missing it this year, I’m also kind of glad to have a break. It’s always a good idea to take some time to rest and/or reflect at some after major creative endeavors. Every year it has meant something different and greater than the year before and I’m sure that will continue to be true if (when) it comes back.
— 🕸Kanane🕸 (@spidey_j) September 10, 2016
The first year I attended was 2014, just a few weeks after Gamergate had begun. I was in a relationship that was on its way out and my impostor syndrome was peaking, along with my anxiety about whether I even wanted to work in games at all. After several years working in AAA, I had been thinking of indie games as my escape route, and Gamergate made it obvious what I think I already knew deep down: there is no escape route from the misogyny, homophobia and racism that plague our lives, in games in particular but in the world as a whole. Still, at the time I was exhausted and stressed out and dealing with a whole lot of PTSD related trauma, and XOXO unexpectedly gave me hope. To be in a room full of people (including a whole lot of cishet white men) who respected what we were going through and wanted it to change as much as we did meant a lot. I cried when they talked about their Code of Conduct because it was so important to me to hear that we would be protected, and I cried again when they talked about the times they ended up enforcing it (one creepy gamergater who was hanging around outside trying to foist awful pamphlets on women who were attending the festival). I also cried when the audience gave Anita Sarkeesian a standing ovation during her talk when she said to believe women.
The next year was better, in so many ways. I had a game that achieved some critical success, appearing in several publications (including the LA Times, to which my mom said “even I’ve heard of the LA Times” haha), so the impostor syndrome was a little quieter and my connections to indie games felt a little more solid (I think that was more about my own sense of belonging than anything else). I made some really good friends that year, friends that I’ve come to think of as family, people who support me in my growth and my creative endeavors, in ways I could not have imagined before then.
Last year, XOXO felt more like a reunion than anything else, but I also think in some ways it’s the one that had the biggest impact on my life and my approach to my creative work. I’m not sure why, exactly, probably some combination of the questions I brought with me and the talks that were presented, which seemed to fit together almost perfectly. I found myself thinking a lot about what it meant to be making indie games while also working full time in the industry. I had been telling myself that I needed to work harder, to be more productive, so that I could eventually focus on indie game dev as a full time endeavor and quit my day job, but I’d been starting to wonder if that was the right path for me. I came out of last year’s XOXO feeling completely validated as a creator, in possession of a newfound realization that making games “on the side” and sticking with my day job (which I truly do love) was the right thing, and making that choice didn’t make my status as a creator any less valid. Lucy Bellwood’s talk crystallized this the most for me, but I also think there were so many folks who spoke on similar themes that year that reinforced the message (Gaby Dunn, John Roderick and David Rees, to name just a few).
I’m not sure that I can put into words what XOXO has meant to me or what it is that makes it so magical. I know that a lot of it comes from the depth of the love that Andy Baio and Andy McMillan both have for indie creators, and especially for indie creators who are making a difference and doing something different, bringing something new into the world. Entering into that space, shaped by people who know so many of the challenges we face - isolation, impostor syndrome, lack of support, loneliness, failure, etc - and who want to create a positive space to share those challenges and support each other in facing them is a truly powerful experience.
I’ve long said that one of the most powerful things you can say to someone is: you are not alone; XOXO Festival has been (and continues to be, via the slack community) a space where we say that to each other. It means the world to me, and I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced it.
Originally published on Medium.