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Road to GDC: Missed Opportunities

This is part of a series of columns written by developers and others speaking at or about the Game Developers Conference in March.

“We’d like to fly you out all expense paid to speak at GDC,” my contact says. “We’d like to put you on a panel with the Global Gaming Citizen winners to talk about what it’s like to be changing the world.”

Holy Yoshi!

In December 2018, The Video Game Awards selected three people to be the recipients of a special award designed to recognize people overcoming extreme adversity to affect real change in our industry. Now, the recognition itself was amazing but to be asked to speak at the largest conference for developers about your personal experience is quite an honor. Especially when they offer to pay your way.

I’ve been pushing the game industry for nearly 15 years to be more accessible for gamers with disabilities. What I’m known for best is my work with AbleGamers. That charity is as important to me as anything else on earth. I bleed orange and black. But I’ve literally bled when I pushed myself too hard to do something to further the charity.

But as much as I love my charity and my colleagues, sometimes it’s nice to feel your personal sacrifices noticed aside from outside this amazing organization. In this case, I was being recognized by an audience full of my peers. For me, December was like getting the best tasting piece of birthday cake in existence. This invitation was putting a delicious buttercream icing and a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top of the cake and letting me devour it like a ravenous honey badger.

“What an honor,” I respond enthusiastically. “I can’t believe you’re offering to bring me out there!”

“Everyone here loves you. We’ve shown your video many times. Of course, we want to hear more from you.”

“Hell yes; I couldn’t be happier. I would love to accept but I’m afraid I can’t make it.”

If you’ve never heard of me before, you should know I have a blue check mark on Twitter, a purple check mark on Twitch, and two terminal illnesses that will probably kill me one day. My life involves a power wheelchair and a breathing machine called a ventilator. To say I have profound disabilities is … well … a massive understatement.

Most days, it doesn’t bother me. When I’m dating, I always have somewhere for the lady I’m with to hang her purse, I get to cut in line at Disney World, and any concert I go to always has a seat for me—because I bring my own.

But, every once in a while, it kind of sucks. Logistics are a nightmare when you’re in my situation. I can’t simply get on a plane. I’d have to get on a one-of-a-kind — yes, there’s only one—private plane that can accommodate my power wheelchair in order to get to GDC in California from Pennsylvania. All for $38,000. I only know that because this big-name company was entertaining the idea of paying the private company to fly me out to the award ceremony.

Turns out they love me. Just not that much.

I would’ve loved to have gone to the award show, GDC, SXSW, or any of the other dozen invitations I’ve had this year that I simply can’t accept because of a medical condition I was given at birth through no fault of my own.

The truth is that sometimes the universe doesn’t afford you the opportunities you wish it did, even when they present themselves. Other responsibilities get in the way or the timing doesn’t line up. Sometimes you have to turn down spectacular breaks in life for a variety of reasons from timing to cost of travel to family obligations.

Rather than being sad about it, I decided to write this and tell you what you would’ve heard if you would’ve been there and what I would’ve said if I had been there to say it.

“Being one of the first Global Gaming Citizens is an amazing honor,” I would say…

I couldn’t be more grateful to be given the chance to become an agent of change in this phenomenal industry. We aren’t just developers and players. We’re heroes giving people escapes from their daily lives when they need them the most. We’re game changers bringing happiness all around the world with our virtual worlds and lively creations.

What other industry in the world could we possibly have joined that would allow us to be a part of so many lives without being a member of the Marvel universe.

The beauty of the definition of success is that you control what it means to you. Maybe you didn’t get to go to GDC this year. Maybe you’re reading this piece at GDC. Maybe you’re presenting at a panel. Maybe you’re attending your favorite talk. Maybe you couldn’t go because you had obligations that were more important.

Life is full of maybes. And that right there may have been the title of my talk. The truth is, though, experiences like this one right here, right here is what has made me into a GGC, a COO, or any other fancy title I’ve accrued along the way. And it’s the same thing that allowed you to get as far in life as you have and achieve as much success as you have: Do stuff.

Although it sounds like a cliché, going out there and creating, learning, contributing, and doing are the real stepping stones to success. If you miss an opportunity like GDC, it’s not the end of the world. While it’s a great conference and an amazing opportunity to network with the best minds in the world, there will always be other opportunities.

Steve Spohn is the COO of AbleGamers charity, award-winning author, and advocate for people with disabilities. When not writing or doing charity work, you can find him @StevenSpohn or streaming on Twitch.

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