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4:14am on Sunday, 30th March, 2008:

On Being Famous


Something I have a hard time adapting to when I go to conferences is that at some of them I have celebrity status. I'm not sure quite why this is, nor why I have it at some conferences but not at others, but it happens. Sometimes, I can wander around freely and no-one knows who I am, and I'm asked polite questions along the lines of "So, have you worked in the MMO industry for long?", yet on other occasions people ask me for my autograph and to have their photograph taken next to me. Most often, people have a kind of sense that even though they personally haven't heard of me, someone they have heard of seems to know me, so I must be at least partially worthy of respect, but they're not sure why.

The conference I'm at right now, IMGDC, falls into the "You're the Richard Bartle?!" category. People I've never met before come up and introduce themselves, just so they can thank me for what I've done and tell me how much they admire my work.

Now I'm not complaining about this at all; I know it's not easy for people to go up to their (what am I, hero? idol?) and speak to them. I feel very humbled by it.

However, I also feel something less laudable: that I'm a fraud. I'm accepting praise, but it's praise I don't believe that I deserve. The people who look up to me are sincere, but that just makes it worse: I can hardly tell them off for attributing me with qualities I don't think I have, because that would seem ungrateful; however, some of the nice things people say about me are almost too embarrassing to bear. Nobody is that accomplished, let alone me!

Tomorrow, I give my keynote speech at 9am. There's a party going on as I type this the night before, and a lot of people are going to be very much the worse for wear at 9am tomorrow. They really should stay in bed. However, I know that a good few of them will drag themselves to the convention centre anyway just to hear me speak. Worse, I suspect that a few of them may have decided to attend IMGDC in the first place primarily because I was down to give a keynote. Why is that? I'm only me! If I can't even get all my students to attend my lectures, why would it be worth getting on a plane just to listen to me?

Nevertheless, I do the gracious thing and take the praise in the spirit in which it was intended. I rationalise it not so much as praise for me, but as praise for some ideal of which I act as physical proxy. Virtual worlds change people's lives, but you can't thank a virtual world; you can, however, thank me as co-creator of the first one, so I work as a stand-in. On that basis, I'm happy to accept people's thanks.

If it's not like that, though, and people really do want to thank me rather than what I stand for, well, I'm very flattered, but really, I just can't see what I've done to merit that kind of attention. There are other people at the conference far more worthy of being famous than I. Why elevate me to stardom?

Nope, I just don't see it.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).