That picture was me at GenCon four years ago. I had just finished Mind’s Eye Theatre: The Awakening, and I believe that was a day or two before I sat down to do an interview with Rich Thomas to work full-time for CCP/White Wolf. I remember at the time that it felt weird to have strangers taking pictures of me and wanting to do interviews with me, and I joked about my “nano-celebrity.”
Four years later, and it still seems weird to me, but for very different reasons.
I actually had a talk about where my head was at in 2007 with Genevieve while I was walking around with her this past weekend. Around my late-freelance to early-White Wolf career, I had a mild case of imposter syndrome. My discomfort with my nano-celebrity was primarily due to me not quite believing in my own accomplishments – people were proud of the company or the products, but not with me. It took me a while, but ultimately I started to find my own voice and niche, and the imposter syndrome faded away.
Then I had a couple of years of “internet celebrity.” There were a moderate number of people online who knew me, but I could still walk around a convention and be ignored more than noticed by people I chatted with virtually. Being an introvert certainly didn’t help that. I had come to accept that perhaps I was more outgoing or entertaining or whatever online instead of in reality. I wasn’t upset by it, but it did make things a bit awkward from time to time.
At GenCon this past weekend, my perception of my own celebrity was shattered again. A lot of little things contributed to it (including many people actually not glancing down at my tag to catch my name), but four events really drove it home for me:
- I was informed by a couple different people that another game designer (who I won’t name out of respect) was terrified to meet me because he admired me so much. I’ve since talked to him, and we had a lovely conversation, but I sincerely thought people were fucking with me when they first mentioned it.
- I was invited to participate in a couple different things not because of my affiliation with White Wolf or because someone knew me personally, but because the kind of work I do and how I do it made the organizers think of me.
- Two different people telling me at different times that I was trusted and respected in the industry – not in my company, not in my circle of friends, but the industry.
- One fan actually tracked me down as I was walking around the dealer’s room just to shake my hand.
Now I’m back to feeling a little weird about this. Unlike before, this isn’t because I don’t feel I deserve it – if anything, I’ve come to accept that I have fought very hard to get where I am today, and that I deserve every ounce of recognition I get as a result – but rather that there’s still a part of my brain that’s the shy 15-year-old kid who thinks that there’s a very firm line between fans and creators, and that crossing over that line is something terrifying to attempt. I don’t do things because I want people to love me, but I do them because I love doing them. (The projects, not the people.) This has resulted in a situation where people respect and appreciate my work, which is awesome and exciting, but I still have that lingering knee-jerk reaction of “Really? Someone else besides me finds this cool?”
Plus, despite public perception, I’m still shy. I prefer to accept compliments by saying that the whole team did a great job (which worked most of the time this weekend, until one person flat-out said “But I also really liked the writing in this part – you did that, right?”). I tend to be vague about my body of work partially because I don’t like to brag, and partially because I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve lost count. But at some point, when a group of people fly you out to a different state just to give you an award telling you how much they appreciate your work (like as what happened at I-Con 2011 earlier this year), you have to spend some of that social energy and push the shyness away to graciously accept.
Because, having been a fan myself for so long, I understand the impetus. Some creative people really touch you, and on some level you understand them by being inside their book or game or webcomic or whatever. You need that moment of physicality to make this person you know into something real and not just a phantom. So I’m always happy to take a moment to talk or shake someone’s hand or do an interview or sign a book.
And yet, isn’t even that still deflection? Instead of deflecting the praise to others, aren’t I now deflecting it back to the fan? I can accept the respect and recognition I’ve earned, but I still can’t quite internalize it yet. I think that’s why I feel odd about this… call it “micro-celebrity,” something between a creative professional with a few fans and, say, Wil Wheaton. I feel odd because a part of me still feels like it’s not about me somehow. (And at this point, I can visualize some of my long-time friends rolling their eyes and throwing shit at me, which shows that this is not a new problem.)
Wow. This started off as a post about how awesome GenCon was, and turned into a lengthy rant about how I’m an ungrateful bastard. Aside from my personal foibles, the show was amazing, and I learned many things including how to spell “thwip,” the importance of 5 o’clock, and how to properly hit dudes. As always I did not get a chance to drink and talk with nearly as many people as I would have liked, but I appreciated the time I did get to spend. GenCon is always a great way to recharge my batteries and give me momentum into the next year, but right now I’m just mentally and socially exhausted, and looking forward to curling up with a good book or a video game for a while.