A Year In Reflection: Lessons from the Dicelands

A year has come and a year is going. Silence has become its own language. I won't lie, part of me is still trying to decompress what's happening in our community. Always forward has become a marching song, so similar to what we say in wake of the world's state. Things are changing. Kind of. We move forward or get left behind. There are so many platitudes about time waiting for no one.

I keep looking forward, eager to step into the New Year, but find myself chained to the present, finding it almost impossible to move at all. Always forward, they say, but lately it's almost impossible to do anything in the present without feeling the weight of it all. This year was a struggle. It had great moments of beauty and of simplicity. It had moments of struggle. It had moments of defeat.

One of my favourite musicals is Into the Woods. The Baker's Wife has this beautiful song about how life can't be just made of moments, because then you'd never know you had a moment to begin with. Moments in life can give us hope and can take it away. They can show love and they can demonstrate hate. This year has been full of a duality that I find worrisome. Maybe I've been watching too much Star Wars, but I've come to find that intrinsic duality we ascribe to the world is flawed.

It's so much more than good and evil. People are complex, flawed, and beautiful. As I glance over my year in reflection, I realize how much I've learned and how much of that learning has come from hurting. This year sucked, in many ways. Despite all the pain, it also held so much goodness and light. It gave me life. It made me smile. And cry. And laugh.

What did I learn? Well, I thought I'd lay it out in the best ten lessons I've picked up this year from living in the gaming community and moving through my own life. Top ten lists aren't my jam, but hey, it's trendy. So let's have at it.

Honorable Mention: Metatopia: I belong

This year I went to Metatopia already knowing what I was getting into. I knew how playtesting felt, I knew a bunch of the people there, and I had been in the Gauntlet long enough I knew a bunch of those folks too. It felt more like a really great work reunion rather than a con. There were great drinks, great people, good noms, and all the fun of playtesting a game I had been killing myself over under the guidance of Sarah.

It felt... amazing... to run a game I had worked hard on and to see it not break. My first playtest was mediocre, mostly because I was dying of a migraine and on so many pain meds for pain and migraine that I just wasn't gming well. I felt bad for those players but really dug running it the rest of the time. People bought in, they played it, and they did their best to push its limits. It survived. I had some great feedback and have been slowly working at putting that feedback into my game.

I also got to hangout with the Gauntlet folk more. They're such amazing people and I loved actually being in the bar area hanging out with people and chatting. It felt good to be able to just be present and not feel like an outsider looking in. I can't wait for the next Metatopia, and I can't wait to keep trying my games there. It felt like I was one of the cool kids I had only stared at awkwardly the year before. I felt like I belonged.

#10 Dreamation: We're All Just Folks Now

Dreamation was probably my favourite convention of 2017. It has the best vibe to it, of all the places I've wandered, and has a beautiful presence. It feels like coming home, to see your parents at a holiday, and to hang out with your weird cousins and their even weirder spouses and partners. It's a solid, amazing group of people who put on a good con and offer a bit of solace in a world that feels like the outside should be on fire. Dreamation was soft and sweet compared to the rest of the year, and it gave me hope.

It was one of the last conventions I went to where I didn't really know people much. I knew a few people, but not enough to say that people knew me. I had a certain ability to be anonymous at Dreamation and that part delighted me. I could sit at a table with well known people and they didn't know who I was. I was just another face whose voice didn't matter. I liked the safety of that anonymity and the ease of being no one.

But even though I was no one, I was treated the same. Even though my name wasn't known, there were well known designers I got to play games with who respected my opinion and treated me like an equal. I will say the important lesson I learned at Dreamation was just how much like me those big names were. They were all just folk. Removing the veil of mythology from designers gave me confidence and increased my sense of humanity. I didn't need to treat designers like they were celebrities, I just needed to love them like they were people.

#9 Rape Threat: Love Can Drown Out Hate

Early in the year I stumbled across someone saying some pretty rape-filled and hate-filled things about me. I'm used to people hating me. I've had people threaten me before, but never with rape. I've heard the gamut of people saying they'd get me out of the gaming community, they'd make sure I burned, and recently, that I should never touch gaming again. Threats are idle, most of the time, and I've received idle prattle from men often enough I don't really take it to heart.

This felt different. It felt like it was violating my own sense of safety. It felt violent, in the way someone saying they would ensure I burned felt violating. I hadn't felt anything quite like this before and on that same day, a shooting took place outside our home and the world felt like it was falling apart. I persevered.

I persevered through the love of those around me. I wrote a blog post and talked to friends. Around me, people reached out, assured me of their love, and asked what they could do. I didn't have an answer. I realized I didn't need much other than feeling safe again. To feel safe again I needed my community to say this wasn't right and that it shouldn't be allowed. My community responded with love and admonishing of the act. My community's love made me feel less alone and isolated. It was the first real time I had asked for help and received it in abundance.

#8 QCC: Being Kind Makes a Difference

Right after Fan Expo, I had been invited to be a guest at Queen City Conquest. I was to run my game and talk on a panel about diversity. These were all cool things. It was my game's first run with the public and it went smashing. I made Senda of She's a Super Geek cry, which is, of course, a highlight for this year. I was nervous at being someone with a name badge and I was anxious about running Crossroads publicly.

It was a lovely con. I got to talk with amazing people and meet Cindy and Effie, two fantastic organizers behind QCC. There were drinks with the Misdirected Mark folks (also fantastic) and high fives with Senda and getting to see cool people I knew from other cons. It was a small community event that was in every way delightful. While I didn't know what to expect, I wasn't expecting what a wonderful group of people QCC would introduce me to.

 But what stood out most to me was a gentle soul I had at my table during my first session of Crossroads and another sweet soul who joined us for Rob's game of Lightsabers without Masters. These two people were incredibly vulnerable with me, opened up about the struggles they were fighting, and while they weren't seeking comfort, I felt they needed it. In those moments, I was kind. I always strive to be kind, because everyone needs love. I've made friends with these people. They're wonderful, beautiful souls and I'm grateful to know them. Kindness can change someone's convention.

#7 Gen Con: Use Your Voice To Do Better

On a whim, we decided to go to Gen Con because there was a chance Crossroads would have an ashcan out by then. It wasn't ready but we went anyways. There were a few things I was looking forward to, mostly seeing people I liked and checking out this amazing thing I kept hearing of called Games on Demand. Everyone said it blew their minds and had suggested we implement at our various cons.

We went. Gen Con was half the size of Fan Expo with five times the space. It was vast, sprawling, and honestly? Dull. Maybe it's because I wasn't engaged much nor did I make a schedule before hand. I went in with nothing to do. There were great moments. Hanging out with Matt McFarland, getting to meet Micki and Rich from the Gauntlet, listening to Rach talk about the Ennies. Gaming with Jason Morningstar was a truly amazing experience.

But the part that really stuck with me was doing the award ceremonies for the IGDN Indie Groundbreaker Awards, where I got to hand an award to Cat Tobin for the amazing and beautiful Seven Wonders. She cried, talked passionately about her project and why it was important, and left me in tears. It was a moment I'll never forget, being able to impact an award with my thoughts and to see it through by handing an award to a woman I see as a hero.

#6 Germany and Poland: Bearing Witness is Important

I have yet to really untangle my feelings on doing a WWII tour of Poland and Germany. It was... so many things. It was intense, important, life changing, compelling, and horrifying. It was soul crushing and deeply challenged my feelings on humanity. While I had read almost all I could on the war and the rise of the National Socialist party, nothing could have prepared me. There are moments I will never forget.

Part of me wants to go back and see it again, now that I'm prepared for it. Part of me never wants to step foot in a concentration camp again. I can't imagine living and working in those places. Living reminders of the horror we commit against each other. It renewed my belief that history needs monuments, intentional or not, so we can see the crimes of our past and do better. The world can be a dark, awful place, and this tour showed it to me without flinching.

I flinched. For weeks after my return I was depressed and I still haven't sat down and really talked about my experience with anyone. I want to, but I don't even know who to talk to about it. I learned so much there. But most importantly I learned the importance of not looking away, of being present and bearing witness. These stories need to be know and told and they need to be remembered and felt or else something awful will happen again. Is happening again. The cliche of those who don't know history being doomed to repeat it is a cliche for a reason. It is a fundamental truth I find frightfully terrifying. One wrong man in power and we're there again. We must remember. We must bear witness to what the past is waiting to show us.

#5 Death in the Family: Bitterness and Ferocity

A lot of souls left me this year. My aunt. My cat. My mom's dog. I know that's only three, but they all felt like a blow, considering they all happened close together. My cat I had had for 17 years and he had been my companion through everything. I got him shortly after the death of my father and he was in my life longer than my father had been. I had lived more of my life with Gizmo than without him. I was in Poland when he died, and while I am sad I wasn't within him in his last days, I am glad he passed peacefully. I miss him, still. An ache in the chest.

My aunt's death was unexpected and consuming. She was an intense human being, filled with the ferocity and might of my family but tempered with bitterness that left her alone and isolated towards the end of her life. I loved her, but she wasn't easy to love, and had said multiple things in my life that made me feel like if she really knew me, she would hate me. I never fully understood until she died that she was bitter, and that bitterness flavoured all her interactions. I felt like she didn't mean to be cruel, but it was like a groove in a record, the needle getting stuck. She just couldn't help it.

During her death I stood beside her. I told her I loved her, she was amazing, and that she had been unstoppable. She was afraid of being forgotten and I promised her I would never forget her. It was the best I could promise. And I won't forget her. I admired her strength and her magnitude. I saw her isolation as a lesson in remembering kindness and love, even when you don't feel you can, and to not let the tattoo of bitterness colour your entire self. She needed love. And I wished I had been more loving while she was alive. The best I can do is love her now, more fiercely, while being honest and keeping integrity in her memory.

#4 Breakout: I Can't Do Everything

Oh, Breakout. I thought Breakout would rank higher, but honestly, it didn't. There were a lot of fires and a lot of learning. It was an exhaustive weekend and I can't super remember most of it now. Which is a blessing and a curse. I've learned from last year, and I know what my goals are long term for the con and for myself. I'm working with wonderful people, and sure, we have our bumps, but we're a solid team and I love everyone on the team.

But the biggest lesson I learned at Breakout 2017 was that I am one person. If I want to enjoy the con I put on, then I definitely need to find more of me. So I am not chained to a table or just always running around putting out fires. Lucky for me, I've put together an amazing team of about 14 people who are going to be me at Breakout 2018. This should free me up enough to move between events and focus on the con at large instead of just the RPG rooms.

It's a big lesson for any con organizer. You can't do it all. I'm glad I heard the message from myself when I collapsed at 5:30 on Sunday and fell asleep in a restaurant at dinner. No good. I barely remember the Sunday and I'm hoping I didn't say anything awful to people. I was dying and I couldn't handle more con, no matter how much people wanted more. We're just people. And that means we need teams and help and people to trust. And that we need need to trust. I'm good at trusting. We'll see how 2018 goes.

#3 Gauntlet Con: There Are Good Communities Out There

At Metatopia 2016, I played a game with Jason Cordova of the Gauntlet Podcast and we hit it off instantly. One of those souls I was meant to know, y'know? He's a light in my life and I'm so grateful to know him. Well, he thought I was cool too and invited me to join the Gauntlet. To be honest, I had heard some rumours about the Gauntlet being a boys' club and unwelcoming to women. I joined anyways, willing to try rather than not. I baited. I posted stuff in that community deliberately seeing if people would attack me.

Never happened. It was a community that had it's moments but they wanted to learn, and the listened. I hadn't seen a community so eager to change in subtle benign ways that would make it so much more welcoming to people who weren't them. Then we hit a stretch goal and with Rich Rogers, I was asked to do Gauntlet Con. It was the first con I was doing with Rach and Rob and it was an online con, a space I had never run a con in before. Rich and I worked together great. It went off without a hitch and I spent the weekend on the internet with the Gauntleteers.

I walked away being so touched and so happy with how wonderful the community was that it became part of my 2018 goals to spend less time in meat space games and more time with the Gauntlet. I love them. I was so surprised when a mostly dude dominated community was beautiful, welcoming, and inclusive. One of the best moments was being part of this community, and seeing the way there are good people out there fighting for good things, doing emotional labour for each other, and taking care of one another. The Gauntlet is in the top because it gives me life. So much.

#2 Fan Expo: Sometimes You Fuck Up

This year Fan Expo was just problem after problem and I got very tired of men hurting me. It's still going on. Even recently I had someone express concern for my personal safety because of fall out over Fan Expo. Can you imagine? A local dude may hurt me because he isn't welcome at Fan Expo anymore because other people complained about his toxicity, and yet again, it's my fault. Regardless, we all know what happened at Fan Expo, between taking the blame for tokenism in panels and then having a guy get aggressive with me, one thing remains clear.

I could've done better. There were a number of things going on I wasn't as aware of as I should've been, and now that I am, I can do better. I can look at Fan Expo and change how I manage D&D. Part of that is finding people who love D&D to hand D&D over to. I'm done with it. When someone tells me my personal safety is in jeopardy over D&D at Fan Expo? I'm out. I'm done. But I will facilitate the trade off with integrity and ensure this new team of awesome people do an amazing job in this community. D&D deserves to thrive at Breakout and Fan Expo, but I can't be the one who does it.

Not doing this sooner, well, there are reasons. We've tried, but it's never worked. And it's okay to look back and see my mistakes. I could have communicated better, listened better, been more proactive, been more present. I could've done so many things better as a community organizer. It's taught me a lot about moving forward, learning from my big mistakes, and being able to digest them. You have to be able to own your mistakes, see what is your trash to pick up and what is theirs, and doing the best you can with that information. Otherwise, you'll never grow.

#1 The Crossroads Carnival: This Shit is Hard

I dove back into designing Crossroads because I wanted to do something with it. It had the seeds of something good, but I was drowning in what to do with it. Mark Diaz Truman played my game at Metatopia and adopted me into a Magpie mentorship program. Sarah Richardson became my mentor and guided me through creating this game. It was so much work. And it's still so much work. Magpie has a formula, in a way, to making a great ashcan. They're smart folks and they ask hard questions and they poke you where you need poking.

It's great. It's exactly what I needed and Sarah is so amazing. I was so lucky to get this help and to have someone there to guide me through. I've been playtesting for a bit now, but I found the regiment of what the game needed didn't give me time to really think outside the box and honestly, I was afraid to bring up whacky ideas because I'm insecure and weird. After a meeting with Sarah and Mark, they brought up that Crossroads needed a bit more. So I started working. And this week I'm hoping to get the new stuff done. Because I'm inspired.

Game design isn't... what you think. It's amazing and hard and passionate and also makes you wanna light shit on fire. By the time I was playtesting I didn't want to look at Crossroads again. I wanted to move on. Which is my fiery nature, but this makes you stop and keep working. It's been such an amazing process, but I can honestly say it's a marathon and each step has its own difficulties and its own rewards. I'm excited to keep working with Magpie and I'm excited to make this game with them. I didn't know I really had it in me, and I still might not. But they believe in me. And that'll do.

That's it, really. A whole year full of the best and worst things. I've learned a lot. I'm a little less patient, a little more loving, and a lot less afraid. I feel confident in who I am and where I'm going. I don't even know where I'm going but I know it'll be fine, because I'm capable. I did this year. I judged the IGDN awards. I made a lot of a game. I did Breakout and Fan Expo and Gauntlet Con. I podcasted. I worked every day almost. I went on vacation. I saw awful things. I got to hang out with my mom and that was a blessing, as every moment with her is. I judge the 200 word rpg contest. I made new friends and hung out with old ones. I gained power and voice. I gave up. I got up again. I fought back. I'm paying for it but it was worth it. I believe in you. And I love you.

Stay fierce. 
Be vulnerable. 
Believe in each other. 
Act with love. 
Speak with kindness.
And may the dice be always in your favour.