Phew, I just got back from Finland and Germany and two amazing conferences. Whilst my body is thoroughly exhausted (thanks, sports!) my mind is more energised than ever. So, you have my apologies for the click-bait-y title, but this experience has truly been unique in that it is the first time I wasn’t physically ill from anxiety at a conference.
The entire process of conferencing is extraordinarily stressful. There’s the expense, travel, immigration, presentation-nerves, big social groups, fears of audience reaction, paper writing, possible rejection, misunderstanding, language barriers, unfamiliar cityscapes, tech failures, dead batteries, expensive mobile service, and more. Whilst there’s no way to lessen the natural anxieties which arise from travel and conferencing, I’ve found some ways of refocusing or perhaps distracting myself to be effective.
(I’m very much inspired by Nicolle Lamerich’s style of blog post here- and hopefully she takes that as a compliment 🙂 . Although probably unique to games-y type conferences, there might be wider relevance. The tips here appear in no particular order and come only from my personal experience.)
You are a games scholar. Remember why you became one? Oh yeah, because playing games is totally rad!
It seems funny that play is ingrained in our everyday lives to some degree, but when we go to conferences, we stop.
Conference schedules are jam-packed with events from morning to night and I’ve often felt an immense amount of pressure to attend every talk, read every paper, do all the things, and to do so I’ve had to sacrifice play-time. I realised that for me, play-time is me-time. A quick 5 minutes on the 3DS or a drop in play session in the arcade is like a stress-reset switch for me. It gives me a chance to switch focus from an otherwise highly stressful situation and just catch some bugs with a net in my AC:NL village. It is also a great conversation starter, I might add, and the StreetPasses are nice too.
For the last DiGRA, I never bothered to go to the Blank Arcade because I was too wrapped up in attending every talk and tweeting every session. It took me until this year, sadly, to realise I had fallen into the particular type of productivity-driven thinking which I loathe. Especially since, in this case, it can be productive for game scholars to play games! (This actually clashes against my own reading of Huizinga, but hey ho, this is a blog post, deal with it.) Conferences are not a competition- they are a venue for exploring individual interests. If you’re interested in games, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing.
2. Talk to Everyone
This is something I really struggle with. I am not a social person by any means- I can spend blood points to boost social stats for a fixed duration, but then I’m torpor’d (VtM players will get this reference). I find social interactions tense, tedious and exhausting. Playing my 3DS between talks or interactions helps, but doesn’t fully alleviate the stress I feel during strained, worky, networking type conference conversations.
I suppose my point here is that if you’re going to be socially awkward and struggle, then do so with everyone. Don’t try to make a powerplay by brushing past a student to talk to a professor- or if you have to- then excuse yourself and try to be polite about it. Or just be generally awkward and horrible to everyone equally. 🙂
And as an aside, if someone is awkward and horrible to you (like I probably was), it usually isn’t personal. They, like me, might just feel stressed because of myriad other factors.
3. Embarrass Yourself
Embarrassment is a fun topic, right Sebastian? I suppose embarrassment is a sliding scale and different for each person, but I feel like the more you can intentionally embarrass yourself in socially allowed ways, the better.
Most conference days end with a chance to experience embarrassment first-hand. Whether it be karaoke, danceoke (see below), a football match in which you injure your knees so bad you can’t walk properly for three days (also see below), or a group night out, these events not only help blow off steam, but also help the social lubrication of the conference.
Compared to the stress of letting your team down, embarrassing yourself with an injury or by being over-competitive, conference presentations seem like a walk in the park. I think this is for two reasons. First, it brings down risks to self-identity. A whole group of people are re-assuring you that it is okay to not be the rigid-professional at this given moment in time- it is in fact socially unacceptable to do so. Secondly, being silly or embarrassing or playful together is a bonding experience. Hard to be nervous in front of an audience that you’ve played with.
4. Eat Whatever
Seriously. Just enjoy not having to cook for once.
No rules apply. You want a breakfast beer? Do it. You want dinner at 15:00? Go for it. Most people will be so jetlagged that they won’t notice or care and will probably assume you are also jetlagged.
I recommend a humorous approach to life in general, but particularly at conferences. If you can get your audience to chuckle at least once during a conference presentation, you’re probably doing something right… or you have a funny topic. Obviously humour isn’t always appropriate, but I am sure you can figure that one out on your own.
A good sense of humour travels well. Take time to look around and notice your surroundings. Also take time to laugh at the little things. Like this toilet roll holder:
I’m unsure how many DiGRA attendees bothered to take a look during their walk in to uni, but in someone’s front yard was a big red box (see below).
Covered in graffiti, I assumed this was a disused cigarette dispenser, but a closer look told me no.
Yep. Just out in someone’s front garden. Although, it was close to the university and could have been a part of student halls, or maybe even a student prank as I believe these are normally found in toilets. I didn’t actually check to see if I could buy a TravelPussy, a mistake I gravely regret now. Anyway, I got a pretty good chuckle out of it.
Piggybacking onto humour is my advice to explore the local area. If you can, try to squeeze in a day before or after the conference to go walking around. If your schedule is too tight, take a midday break, grab a sandwich, and have a picnic.
I honestly don’t think brains (well, at least my brain) is equipped to deal with 8 straight days of (net)working from 7:30-23:00. Sometimes you just gotta chill in the woods for a bit… with something you bought from a vending machine in someone’s front garden… ;D
Until next time,