Brain Space: The Anti-Social Network

I’ve dealt with various forms of anxiety all of my life. I have financial anxiety that stems from growing up poor and on food stamps that makes me nervous whenever I spend money, even just the act of paying a monthly bill. I have anxiety about driving, especially when I’m driving someplace I haven’t been to before. And I have social anxiety that has affected my life in many ways, both large and small. This anxiety played a major role in my adolescence and set me down a path that I’ve struggled to overcome ever since.

That sort of anxiety can be particularly frustrating when you’re attempting to create a brand from the ground up which typically requires quite a bit of networking and relationship building. For the most part, Mega Dads being an online brand means that much of this is possible via emails, DMs, or sometimes video chats. I’m fine with all of these forms of communication, but there are some times when you need to get face to face with other people and that’s when my anxiety can really kick in, and this was never more true than during my trips to E3 in Los Angeles.

To be clear, I’m not always crippled by social anxiety. I haven’t ever locked my door and refused to interact with the outside world (as tempting as it may be). It’s generally a mild form of anxiety but it seems to worsen during certain situations. I’ve attended local conventions and managed with minimal trouble, interacting with fans of the website and doing live shows on stage in front of an audience, but there’s something about E3 that really kicked it into overdrive. I think it was the anxiety combined with a very real sense of imposter syndrome that made want to crawl up into a ball like Sonic the Hedgehog and roll myself right out of the L.A. Convention Center.

I remember standing in line to enter the carnival themed Bethesdaland event that was happening in the days before the show opened. Being a longtime follower of the industry, I was a bit in awe at all of the familiar faces I was seeing. Developers, journalists, and other media personalities that I had been a fan of for years. I recall in particular seeing the co-host of one of my favorite podcasts standing in line in front us, and as much as my inner voice was saying to me “Go over and introduce yourself!” I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I stood there and watched him disappear into the crowd. These were professionals doing a job and they didn’t need me fumbling over my own words to say hello. The same thing happened when later at that same event I saw Jeff Cannata, whom I had been a fan of since The Totally Rad Show. Adam nudged me, telling me to go over and speak to him. But I just couldn’t. My body wouldn’t let me.

Things didn’t get much better at the show itself. If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending E3, it’s hard to describe the mass of people and the chaos as journalists and media run from one hall to another to get to their appointments on time. It’s such an overwhelming sensation, between the shoulder to shoulder crowd and the flashing lights and eye catching booths all vying for your attention. I would walk the halls and one after another I would pass by folks from Giant Bomb or IGN and would open my mouth to say something to them, only to say nothing and continue on my way. Despite the press badge hanging around my neck that I had worked so hard to earn, the voice in my head would tell me “These aren’t your people, you don’t belong here.”

There was another moment during the show when I was walking through the Sony booth and heard a voice call out “Mega Dads!” My first thought was to wonder how in the hell anyone would recognize us at a show like E3, then I saw that it was a fellow podcaster that I knew from our interactions on social media. Having spoken with him before on Twitter didn’t help the situation much though. I don’t recall much about what we said during our brief encounter but I know that my brain got so fuzzy as I was trying to piece together words into something that resembled a coherent sentence, and that whatever I ended up saying to him was only slightly less awkward than if I would have just vomited on the floor. This was a nice guy that I would have loved to hang out and chat with throughout the show, but my stupid brain decided that was too much to ask for and just shut down.

After seeing me squander away several chances to introduce myself to people, Adam decided that what I needed was a little push. Sitting at the Xbox Press Briefing I once again saw Jeff Cannata sitting across the isle from us. Adam insisted that I go say hi, but I was having none of it. I was going to sit quietly in my seat, watch the presentation, and not interact with a single soul. Adam stood up and said “Fine, I’m going to go say hi. You can come if you want.” As he stepped into the isle, my brain played out every possible outcome of this scenario and eventually came to the conclusion of “To hell with it” and I stood up too. We went over, said hi, chatted for a minute, and went back to our seats. Weird. The world didn’t come to an end and Jeff was completely charming and kind.

After that I started to get up the nerve to say hello to some other people that I saw during the show, and everyone was completely gracious with their time and remarkably friendly. Every single one of them. I somehow got up the nerve to say hello to Neil Druckmann, Ted Price, and Shuhei Yoshida, each of them taking the time to stop, chat, and get a picture with us. Not one person was annoyed to be stopped by me, or refused to say hello. It’s almost as if these folks who I had been idolizing and propping up on some sort of pedestal were just normal people like you or I and didn’t mind taking a quick moment to chat with someone who shared the same love and passion for games.

Those interactions that I had during E3 turned out to be my favorite memories of the show. That’s not to say that the solution to everyone’s anxiety is to get pushed into a situation that you’re uncomfortable with and hope for the best, but for me that bit of encouragement and coaxing is what I needed to come out of my shell a little and come to the realization that I wasn’t as out of place among all of those industry professionals as I may have thought. I wouldn’t tell anyone to do anything that they’re truly uncomfortable with, but also sometimes that leap of faith is what’s needed. And it helps if you have someone next to you jumping at the same time.

Some of those chance encounters have led to wonderful collaborations. I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest on Jeff Cannata’s show DLC twice now, and after stopping to say hello to Victor Lucas before the end of our first E3 I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with him on multiple occasions. And shortly after that missed opportunity outside of Bethesdaland, I learned that the podcaster that I had been so nervous to say hello to suffers from the same type of anxiety as I do and is himself often terrified to make those kinds of introductions. Hearing that someone so successful and professional struggles with the same issues that I do really made me feel that I can overcome my anxiety. It doesn’t need to stop me from reaching my goals. Even if I may need a bit of a push from time to time.

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