Braid Mission


Game On

Earlier this spring, my role at Braid took me to new and unfamiliar territory: the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco.

This all came about because one of our Braid volunteers, Emily, works on the marketing team for the GDC. Emily has served as the facilitator of a Braid team that’s been matched for several months with a young woman who loves to play Fortnite. Unfortunately, she doesn’t love going to school quite as much, mostly because she suffers from anxiety and was placed into a large public high school this fall. Preferring playing video games to attending school is, in the long run, not an ideal situation, one that would (and should) drive many a Braid team to worry. 

But Emily knew that an organization called The Diversity Org was sponsoring a special youth event at GDC. The Diversity Org’s mission is to combat the cycle of economic disparity by exposing students to high-income careers they may not have known about previously. They hold workshops around the country that teach minority and underrepresented students about how to obtain high-income jobs and fulfilling careers.

Emily went to great lengths to obtain passes for our youth and two adults to attend the workshop, which was going to introduce high school students to the variety of careers possible in the gaming industry and might inspire our youth to see the value of sticking with school. At the same time, she was supporting our youth’s guardian through the process of getting her daughter transferred to a smaller high school, which fortunately happened in early March.

I am not a gamer (unless you count Animal Crossing), and neither is Iris, our youth’s Braid mentor. This allowed us to approach the conference with curiosity and wonder, and to let our youth guide us to what she was interested in. We arrived an hour early, which gave us time to get oriented and explore the Moscone Center and jump into the Exhibit Hall as soon as it opened. This is where all the major gaming companies set up booths to showcase their latest developments, and most of them have opportunities for conference attendees to actually try them out.

When we got to the Exhibit Hall, we made a beeline for the Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite. Theirs was the largest booth in the hall, with several demonstrations happening simultaneously. Iris marched right up to one of their game developers to introduce herself and our youth. He chatted with our youth about Fortnite and showed her the latest developments on the big screen. Iris asked him a lot of great questions about his job and how long he had been working for the company. I loved watching Iris in action as a mentor, observing the trust she has formed with her youth and how she helped her navigate a new and intimidating environment. We left the Epic booth with t-shirts, mini Lego kits, and freshly baked cookies!

Then it was time for the workshop, which featured a panel of four professionals from the gaming industry. They talked about their roles, how they learned about the industry, what they’d worked on (lots of gasps as they listed off the names of major games like Hogwarts Legacy, Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto), and the average salaries in their fields. They talked about where they had been able to travel because of their jobs, as well as what they found most rewarding. They also spoke honestly about the challenges of being women and minorities in their field and how they had had to work extra hard, but how the industry is starting to shift in noticeable ways.

The day was supposed to continue with a tour and some workshopping, but our youth asked to leave at lunchtime, so we made one more lap of the exhibit hall and then headed home. To be honest, our youth didn’t leave GDC wide-eyed and totally inspired to become a video game designer. She was reasonably overwhelmed by encountering so many new things that day – including the idea of pursuing higher education. 

We’re proud of her for showing up, for listening, for learning a lot of new things. And we told her many times we were proud of her for naming her limits and trusting us enough to tell us she was overwhelmed. After having time to process her experience, she has been able to talk more with her mom and her mentors about how her day at the GDC inspired her, and she is settling in really well at her new school, where she is feeling calm and capable. It’s nice to dream that maybe one day she will be speaking on a panel at a conference like this, but we try to hold dreams like that loosely at Braid so they don’t become expectations that are difficult for our youth to live up to. What we can guarantee is that she will have a supportive team walking with her to help her discover her potential and navigate the moments that are overwhelming, regardless of what the future holds.