This is a guest post by Camdon Wright, one of the winners of the IGDN Metatopia Diversity Scholarship and designer of the RPG, One Child’s Heart, about his experience at Metatopia 2017.
Trigger warning: Childhood depression and suicide
I have loved gaming since I first stole my cousin’s expert Dungeons and Dragons blue box (sorry, Steven). I never played the game but I spent hours reading through everything it contained. I have obsessed over characters, stories, moments of sadness and joy, and how to create honest moments at a gaming table for most of my life.
I’ve lived all over the west coast but spent most of my childhood in Alaska. When we moved to Denver, Colorado 8 years ago I discovered a substantial and supportive gaming community. I began to seriously focus on my writing and game design five years ago, and in the last year that work has borne fruit. I’ve finished my first game, Madness and Desire, and sold my first adventure to a publisher.
When I submitted my application to the IGDN Metatopia Diversity Scholarship, I didn’t really consider the possibility that I might win. Everything I put in that form was as authentically me as I could make it. I thought that was enough to ensure I would never win.
The game I offered to bring for playtesting was One Child’s Heart. It is a story RPG about the smaller traumatic moments that change the course of a child’s life. With honesty, kindness, and compassion you have a chance to help a child believe in themselves and their ability to survive. I designed it to tell the stories that are personal while highlighting the power of individual human connection.
On October 9th, 2017 I got an email that stated, “Thank you so much for your submission to the IGDN Metatopia Sponsorship. Your application was a standout in a crowded field, and we’re excited to inform you that you have been selected as a recipient of the 2017 IGDN sponsorship.”
I freaked out for about 30 minutes, messaged my wife and my friend Wendy, and then got right to work. The IGDN was giving me a shot at my dreams and I had to grab it. I reached out to everyone that I knew was going to, or had gone to, Metatopia and asked them what I might expect. I wrote every day as much as I could. Somedays I cried while I typed out memories of childhood traumas for my game One Child’s Heart and had to stop after 15 minutes, but I kept going back.
Then on October 22nd, 2017, two weeks before Metatopia, my son tried to take his own life. I have never been more thankful than I was in the moment when I realized that he was still breathing. The IGDN, Metatopia, and every game I might ever write disappeared. I knew that my little boy was alive and I would sacrifice everything to keep him that way.
Life quieted down, just a little, and I had a big question to answer; do I still go to Metatopia? My family told me it was my decision to make and that they would love and support me no matter what.
After lots of talking, learning, and love we had the beginnings of a path forward. We decided I needed to follow through with the opportunity. My family believed in my dream. They needed to see me move closer to it.
I wrote every day. I was writing a game about childhood trauma while my own child was in a hospital because of a major depressive episode. I cried, cussed, and fought my way through every word.
I was terrified, heart broken, and excited. I left home fully committed to show up as open, vulnerable, and ready to learn as possible. My interactions with the IGDN crew, my mentor Dev Purkayastha, and the staff of Metatopia had me feeling like I would be among friends.
New Jersey or Bust
I knew that I had made the right decision from moment I met board game designer Roberta Taylor and our ride to the hotel, Nick. I even had a great time wandering around the hotel lobby with my roommate and fellow scholarship winner, Jefferson Lee.
At their heart I believe that conventions are all about people. There was a magical moment where the first person sat across from me and asked me about my game. I traded business cards with other designers, tried to remember everyone, and did my best to be encouraging and open to encouragement. A small dinner with a couple of friends turned into a mob of over 22 game designers that overwhelmed a restaurant. I was surround by people that love games and see the art within them like I do.
The social side of conventions doesn’t come naturally to me. I find it easier to connect in a small group. Small was out the window for the entire trip. The weekend was filled with game talk, shaking hands, and making friends. It was exhausting but I tried to take advantage of, and enjoy, every moment.
The supportive and inclusive culture designed into Metatopia, by Avonelle Wing and the entire team from Double Exposure, made everything easier. The expectation of human decency and compassion colored almost every interaction. People aren’t perfect and I ran into a few challenging humans but they were the exception. I also felt like I would receive help if I ever needed it. That feeling of safety made it easier to push myself outside of my bubble.
I attended all of the IGDN scholarship gatherings and met some cool people. I learned a lot, but my real take-away happened during the Friday morning coffee lean; if Dunkin Donuts can convince people that their coffee doesn’t suck then anything, including the weirdest indie game, is marketable.
- It was a joy spending time with my mentor, Dev Purkayastha, and asking questions. He was so kind, humble, and welcoming. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer person to guide me through the experience.
- It’s no secret how much I love Ross Cowman’s BFF. It was a beautiful game, tested by wonderful people, created by a thoughtful designer. We were a group of teenage girls that went on adventures, read books, got crushes, and enjoyed our friendship. My feedback might have been a little gushing but I tried my best to be honest with everything I loved and where I struggled.
- I learned how to run a playtest focused on one mechanic of a game for Phil Vecchione’s Hydro Hackers. We created a neighborhood for retirees, called The Ring, which we built around a culture of boxing and art. Because the games I make are compact I hadn’t considered the need for modular testing. It was eye opening and the fact I had a great time while learning was a big bonus.
- Jack Graham’s game Battenburgh was a great experience. I had fun yelling at my fellow players, in character, as both their mother and sister while we worked our way through a Wes Anderson style family drama. I learned a lot about the inner structure of a GM-less game as well as balancing prop use at the table.
- I was part of the test for Timepeekers by Matthew McFarland. I didn’t initially understand the mechanics that he was trying to communicate but I did my best to provide helpful feedback. He was great but I didn’t feel like I was the right fit as a playtester.
Friday evening was the first public playtest of my game, One Child’s Heart. These were going be the first strangers to poke and prod at this little piece of my heart. Everyone was kind, supportively critical, and vulnerable with their emotions. I was one hug away from breaking down in tears of gratitude for their time and honesty in making my game better by the time we were finished.
My second, and final, playtest group was entirely composed of people that didn’t have direct experience talking to children. It was gratifying when the wheels didn’t come off of the game. They were still able to tell an honest story and they had fantastic ideas and feedback to offer.
Back with my family
Now I’m back at home wondering; how was my Metatopia?
It was a ray of light in the darkest of moments. It was terrifying and made me question my ability to create art through games. My Metatopia was a caring and supportive environment for people with a dream that they’re willing to work for. My Metatopia introduced me to designers that became my instant friends and others that I didn’t have much in common with. My Metatopia was sad, lonely, and filled with guilt. My Metatopia was filled with unicorn stickers, kindness, late nights, and beautiful humans fluorescing in the light of a joyful community.
My trip to Metatopia was a deeply personal and transformative experience. Describing it as anything less seems disrespectful to the moments I experienced and friendships that I formed there. I ran and talked about a game that is a love letter to the little boy I was and it turned out to be a message of hope for my own son.
My Metatopia is more than I imagined it could be and I’m grateful to you all. My son is doing better now but the entire family has a long journey toward his safety and mental health. He’s not alone and he is loved so I believe in his success. He is starting to believe it as well.
I’ve begun the process of self-publishing One Child’s Heart so it can been seen and played by the wider world. The support and encouragement that I received at Metatopia and from the IGDN plays no small part in that. You can follow along with my personal gaming journey at camdon.com or just keep updated on game related announcements and my convention schedule at analogletters.com. I encourage you to reach out on Twitter @camdon, or on Facebook /camdonw if you have any questions or want to talk.
Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. If you’re thinking about suicide, please visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the U.S.A. or visit http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html to find help in your country of residence. The world needs you.