Like usual, the Covid-19 pandemic is a story of givers and takers.
Many of the Covid deaths in the United States may very well trace back to my county, St. Louis County, here in Missouri. While the virus consumed Italy, a young woman studying abroad there, hailing from just a few short minutes down Interstate 64, maneuvered around the coming travel ban to flee the country, spending only a short time in Chicago before riding a train straight back to the neighborhood.
She was infected.
She soon learned this because she was symptomatic and had to seek medical attention where she took one of the area’s earliest Covid tests. When it came back positive, officials say they explained in clear terms that the family was to quarantine in their home.
They did not.
Two members of the family attended two social functions within days of the test. The rest is history. St. Louis’ first Covid death, a local hospital nurse, came soon after.
The family seemed to believe they did nothing wrong, but just for good measure, they retained the services of the same defense attorney that represented the police who killed Michael Brown and Anthony Lamar Smith. He spoke for the family moving forward.
This pervasive sense of entitlement set the tone for the region for the rest of the pandemic since. Our packed resorts made global news during two consecutive pandemic spring breaks. Rather than address ignorance, our politicians pandered to it by wasting vaccines, fighting and firing health experts, and campaigning on a false sense of ”freedom” against an uncaring virus that slaughtered over 20,000 in the state. Gyms stayed open in defiance of public health officials. Patients who swore this was all a fake power grab on the part of the government yelled at my wife, a healthcare provider, to insist she was a liar with their final unassisted breaths. Almost no one in Missouri did anything they did not want to do, nor did they avoid doing anything they wanted to.
The people who have done their part during Covid times have given up just about everything. I don’t have to list all the sacrifices we’ve made professionally and personally because anyone still reading this has experienced it. The people who truly did this right have given up their previous quality of life for years, and worse, we’ve had to require our kids to do the same.
I published my first book in 2021. While the people around me were dining out with friends and taking vacations with elderly relatives, I attempted to promote and sell my first book remotely on other podcasts in the game development category. There was no party, there were no signing events, and it was the last thing on my mind because I would have given it all up to take my kid to his Grandma’s house. The moment I let up too soon, I’d be leaving the group on the right side of history. I’d be walking away from the givers and joining the takers. I’d lie awake wondering if there was blood on my hands.
When vaccination took off and infection started to decline, I gleefully booked a table at a local gaming convention to sign and sell the 6-month-old book to anyone still interested. The Delta variant took off, and I gave up the table without recovering a dime. Soon after, I turned down an in-person interview with a local NHL hall-of-famer because it would have to happen at a packed grand opening for a local business. It was my first opportunity to break into local journalism. No one had an ounce of sympathy when I turned it down. Finally, I declined my first offer to attend GDC as press knowing I might not get another chance.
This is all to explain that, when I heard someone attended GDC where they learned through multiple tests that they were infected before knowingly taking it to a social event, there probably weren’t many people angrier than I was—even if I wasn’t surprised. This situation, which I’m not going to detail specifically, was another classic example of pandemic selfishness, not to mention it explicitly violates reckless endangerment law. It was a failure to understand the severity of the pandemic and another slap in the face to all of us who have spent this time literally tortured for the good of our friends, loved ones, and even total strangers around us. If you think I put pen to paper here to save this person’s reputation, let me assure you I have not.
That said, it’s important that we not wield the weight of our entire pandemic experience as a weapon against one person for a mistake I can all but guarantee you was not the only such indiscretion at GDC. I’d speculate this individual was expecting a more sympathetic and welcoming response to their public apology which likely stems from their failure to recognize the severity of the situation, but there is simply no way it was the only mistake of its kind. This is why many believed it was still too soon for an on-site return to GDC. While Covid infection rates have drastically improved in recent months, they’re nearly identical to March of 2020 when the virus was first declared a national emergency. We’re all grateful for vaccine protection—actually, I suppose I can only speak for about half of America on that—but at a time when we’re only just returning to daily life with cautious optimism, it seems fair to call early 2022’s return premature.
More importantly, we need to recognize that we’re doing harm without good by dogpiling one attendee for damage done at GDC. There was never going to be a best-case scenario where thousands of participants knew their infection status at all times and acted accordingly. Welcome to the public school dilemma, by the way. If you’re angry about what happened at GDC, you’re angry about GDC.
It’s never your responsibility to make someone sorry or force them to internalize something. Further, dogpiling won’t achieve that, and it’s a form of online harassment that has repeatedly led to loss of life. For the good of your own soul, don’t participate in something you can’t undo.
Unfortunately, the world is exhausted, and more of the givers are starting to take. No one is a monster for trying to return to normal life if they do it responsibly, but that normal life is still going to be fraught with careless behavior. We need to focus on safety for ourselves and those we’re responsible for, raise more questions about who decided this year’s risk was acceptable, and ask ourselves how it went.
Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based comedy writer and game developer with bylines at Weekly Humorist, Fanbyte, Slackjaw, End of the Bench Sports, and more. He’s the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.