For those four hours, we were paid to play.
That night, while helping tear down the Wizards booth to get myself into the company dinner, I relayed the story to some of company staff. "Sounds like you had a good time," one said, packing books into boxes. How did I expect him to care? His game line had just been axed.
After my free meal, one of the company's PR reps shook me off their party. She was a big girl with confidence and moxie, who took me by the hands and thanked me for the hard work and said something like "maybe we'll see you next year." I think her name was Terry. Her guile was great. I left, feeling more like I'd been thanked than ditched, went back to my barista gig and green apron and kept dreaming of being a game designer.
Years later, I'd try to shake a hanger-on between after-parties and, only when I was trying to fall asleep on the plane back home, realize that I was on the other side now. That I was trying to cut loose some fan volunteer, only without any of Terry's charm.
As a demo monkey, you're sort of invisible. I met a lot of people at industry parties, from game writers I idolized to the guy Darth Vader choked in Star Wars, but I was still a nobody. People would drop a name and I could say, "Yeah, I know him," and mean it, up to a point. But that person rarely knew me as anything more than a face that he'd seen every summer for years but couldn't quite place a name to. Some of those contacts met me for the first time two or three times.
The last few years, my employers sent me to Gen Con to sit on panels, sign books, sell books and, still, run a few games. The morning of every game, it felt like work. I was on a schedule; attendance was mandatory.
Looking back at the promotional campaigns I ran as a developer, I remember the weight on my chest, the stage fright. I was nervous because I still wanted to put on a good show. I still get nervous running games for friends and students. At the time, I thought it had become a slog, but part of me still cared - I was worried about delivering fun. But with that worry came a good time. Play was part of my job, but I couldn't see that; I was deep inside the belly of the Wumpus by then.
I've been to Gen Con as a tagalong and an employee; as a writer treated to dinner and a developer doing the treating; as the new guy who doesn't know anything and as a conspirator keeping company secrets. I've been to the show as a pauper and a player, a developer and a dope. But I've never left hungry.
Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer and game developer. He was lead developer of Vampire: The Requiem for White Wolf Game Studio. Do not talk to him about zeppelins or we will be here all day.