I had attended the XOXO Arcade back in 2016 while volunteering for PIGSquad, but it was just the Arcade for the one night. Even that was quite an experience, though. I got to meet Andrew Shouldice, who is making Tunic (at the time still called Secret Legend), Leaf Corcoran who runs itch.io, and many others whose names and projects I had only seen online.
This year I attended the whole thing, from Thursday night’s keynote all the way through the closing talks on Sunday. At other conferences, the talks I’m there to hear are usually on topics that are well within my circle of experience. XOXO talks were almost always outside my regular experience. And that was awesome. Rather than talks that just reinforced what I already knew, or expanded on something I already had experience with, these talks pointed my thinking in new directions and areas I hadn’t considered before. That’s important.
Another interesting phenomenon was seeing so many people whose work I had seen online at some point or another. Seeing all these people in person, rather than just as a Twitter username or domain name, was great because it put real people behind these cool things I’d seen online over the years. It’s easy to just consider all these things we find and share online as just “out there” to be consumed for entertainment, education, or whatever. But they’re made by people. And they were at XOXO. I also had quite a few come up to me already knowing who I was and things I had done. That was weird and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.
The XOXO Arcade itself was fun and exhausting. It’s tough to be standing around for five hours saying basically the same thing over and over again. And then do it again the next night. At the same time, it was a joy to see so many people enjoying my game and the games around me. The feedback I got was fantastic. There were even people coming to play because they had played it at PIGSquad’s Drink N’ Draw event in April and wanted to play again. So cool. The other games at the Arcade were so cool. Again, lots of games I had only been reading about online, but now here they were with the people who were making them. What a treat.
Whether I attend XOXO again next year, we’ll see what happens. But the experience I had this year was well worth it.