GDC was awesome.
It's ridiculously huge. 19000 attendees, what? If there are that many people making games, how are there not a hell of a lot more games?
(Answer: most of these people aren't making their own games, they're working on other people's games, or hiring people to work on other people's games, or funding other people to make games, or distributing other people's games.. the mainstream industry is an alien place.)
So I felt a bit lost at first, until I met up with some folk I know from the internet and UK indie meetups. It helped to be involved with something as well, I think if I hadn't been speaking at EGW I'd have felt more lost and overwhelmed. (Speaking was surprisingly not overwhelming, despite being to an order of magnitude more people than I'd ever spoken in front of before. It helped that I wasn't on my own, but maybe it's easier to talk about games than mathematics too.)
I happened to have gotten a full pass for free, so I went to talks and stuff, but it would have been well worth going just to meet up with people, even to just stay at the hostel and meet people there outside of GDC! I'm used to gamemaking just being my own weird hobby that nobody else does, so being surrounded by others who do the same was an amazing experience. Some of the talks were really good, but it wouldn't have been worth me actually paying full price for them.
Michael Todd's talk about depression really spoke to where I am right now with my mathematics. I've been in a downward spiral where lack of progress leads to lack of motivation and then lack of motivation leads to lack of progress. He suggested some strategies for dealing with this (in the context of game development, but applicable outside of it): focus on highly rewarding projects, stop being a perfectionist, work on shorter projects, measure work hours, design to suit your abilities.
Brian Moriarty gave an entertaining, well-researched, thought-provoking, but mostly wrong talk defending Roger Ebert's (dull, poorly-researched, completely wrong) claim that games cannot be art.
He pointed out that to determine whether games are art we need to agree on a definition of "art". Clearly games are are art under some definitions. But after this good start he failed to define his term "sublime art"! One of the common features of his examples of "sublime art" seemed to be historic significance, but this was presumably not the intention.
He made the point that videogames are not exceptional among games; they should only be considered to be art if board games are also. This seems obvious to me, but I've come across those who think otherwise so it's worth saying. He used this to support his argument that games aren't art because some philosopher didn't include them in his enumeration of art forms, which seemed a bit weak to me.
He also claimed that nobody considered mathematics to be an art form; I do, and I know many others who do also (mostly mathematicians).
He said we can't expect big studios to produce great art, because they need to make a profit, but then made the unusual claim that the same applies to independent game developers; he is perhaps unaware of how many people are making games while financially supporting themselves (or not) by other means (or with other games). But this is irrelevant to Ebert's claim, which was that games cannot ever be art, not that nobody is motivated to make artistic games.
Other talks I enjoyed were Steph Thirion's on designing by accident and experiment, and Brenda Braithwaite's on designing games about tragedy.
Overall, an incredible week. Hopefully I'll be able to go again - this happened to be on my way back from a friend's wedding in NZ (after not having been home for two years), so there was essentially no travel cost, and then I had a speaker's pass as well. Might not work out so perfectly next time.