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Davis, California

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Coming of Age in the Digital Revolution: Adventures in a Cyberplayground

I recently had an experience that left me with a new perspective on how to relate to other people. I’d traveled to San Francisco on a whim, taking a mini-getaway from the repetition of my daily routine to attend a film festival and visit an old friend from high school. This tiny trip was overwhelming in the best way. I soaked in the environment of filmmakers and connoisseurs of the form, imagining the whole time how I would translate my observations, interactions and experience into a feature. Per my natural tendency, I indulged in my favorite pastime, especially in places like San Francisco: people watching.

Amidst my bus and Uber rides, I listened to the conversations around me and watched how people connected. Two women – one holding a spot in line for the second – found each other with phones pressed to ears and a shared laugh once they realized they’d been standing next to each other. Inside the theater, I watched as the people sitting next to me Instagrammed the old-fashioned organ player in the middle of the stage, the logo for the film festival projected on the red velvet curtain in front of him. I noticed these things and thought about what I’d say, how I’d translate my experience into a discussion of our social relationship to technology and what that possibly suggested about our collective consciousness.

It turns out I didn’t have to search very far for the answer. In fact, it found me before I was even done processing the question. It came in the form of the Folsom Street Foundry Game Night, a collective space and game convention of competitive teeth-cutting and rank-climbing. For me, going to the Foundry for the first time was a visceral trip down the rabbit hole, a reminder of the fact that those of us who function outside the mainstream are world-builders. We speak in a language that’s constantly transforming and connect via our shared approaches to reality. I understood this on a deeper level while I was at the Foundry, felt unmistakably akin to Neo and laughed at my awkward self and my rising body temperature. It wasn’t just that I immediately wanted to talk to everyone there; I wanted to see how their identities – digital and otherwise – translated into social interactions and face-to-face connectivity. As anyone who’s been to a Con or similar event will know, there’s something striking about several hundred Super Smash bros. fans interacting with eachother because almost all of those interactions are mediated through a screen. Add to that the competitive nature of the environment and it’s easy to see how collectives like The Foundry have emerged to foster and preserve the unique subcultures within the modern gaming industry.

The thing that impacted me the most about my experience in this cyberplayground was the fact that I felt isolated although other people physically surrounded me. I asked myself what that meant, to feel like I was disconnected yet plugged in as much as the monitors around me. I felt this total paradox, to socialize and to remain silent, to observe but also interact with the people around me. This dichotomy is not unfamiliar to me but its edges are a little sharper now. I was able to visit a place that reminded me what life is like outside my immediate surroundings and what type of communities are available for people who want to pursue playful lives. My experience at The Foundry left me with an electric kind of emotional residue and it showed me a new way to value mediated human connection.

Follow Whitney Davis down the rabbit hole at wmdavis@ucdavis.edu.

Graphic by Sandra Bae.


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