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I am a shark. I am Tako King. I am CTZ. I am a drill. I am your Community Manager. I am Hamza Aziz. Four years and counting.
At PAX East 2011 this past weekend, I joined Derek Nolan of 2Old2Play on his long running panel, Online Gaming Communities and "Real Life" Relationships. I got to speak about my personal history as well as talk about the Dtoid community along with Stan Press of AstroGaming, Morgan "Roulette" Rominep of the FragDolls and Ross Furman of SFX-360.
This was the basic "script" I wrote out to say, but note that I ended up leaving some of the parts out or alternating what I said on the fly. I was pretty fucking nervous, especially since a lot of what I had to say was personal. It needed to be said though, because I know there are people out there that need to hear this kind of stuff in order to not feel completely alone in this world. So here is the script, minus the pictures (my laptop ended up busting up on me before the panel so no one saw any pic.)
On behalf of everyone at Destructoid and myself, Iíd like to thank our hosts, you guys for being here, and tycho and gabe for this amazing weekend. To Destructoid, we feel like PAX was the missing link in bringing the gaming community together, and its an honor to share my story here.
Dtoid logo / group photo
Before I begin, I wanted to show you a video we created for The Destructoid Show. I put out a call for community members in San Francisco to show up at a park, and this is what happened:
(( play video ))
TWITTER / CONTACT INFO SLIDE
My name is Hamza Aziz, aka The Shark.
Iím one of the founding members of Destructoid, a gaming site that started five years ago almost to this day. But my life wasnít always this awesome.
TERRIBLE PHOTO OF ME - EARLY 2000íS
This is a photo of me from 2004 before I started working in the video game industry.
Isnít this ironic? I was fat and depressed before taking video games seriously. Now, itís totally different for me. Iím actually getting laid underneath the table while Iím talking to you (probably).
AWESOME PHOTO OF ME TODAY
Today I live in San Francisco, am the go-to guy for previews and coverage on the west coast, I get to go to every video game event on the planet, and am the community director for the largest independent gaming community online. This is my full-time job. I am living the dream, bitches!
So, this panel is about online communities and real life relationships, how they effected us and what they mean to us, and I want to first relate it to my personal story before Destructoid. Just by looking at these two photos you can tell what a profound effect Destructoid has had on my life.
Back In 2006 I was just one of the guys on the forums, who eventually became a contributing writer. One day, by sheer luck, I would be hired by Destructoid.
But before then, I was a nobody.
EARLY DAYS AS AN EMO KID
For me ... up until five years ago I was depressed, scared and lost -- a total emo kid. It was hard for me to make friends throughout all my years of school, and my family always had pressure on me to figure out what I would do for my degree in college, future life and all that.
I felt alone, contemplated suicide, but couldnít put my mom through that so I just kind of sulked in it for years waiting for something to happen -- and as luck would have it my day did come. My only great friend at the time, George Martinez, set off a chain of events that eventually had me discovering Dtoid.
That day would change everything. I joined an online gaming community and it saved my life.
THEN DESTRUCTOID HAPPENED
The Destructoid story is an amazing one. Hereís the short version: Some random guy in Miami, without knowing anyone in the industry, created a video game blog to get a press pass for the invite-only E3. Niero, the founder of Destructoid, is a restless dude who had a video game club before there was even an Internet (memo pads lol). He sold everything he owned to fund all the crazy stuff we had to do early on like travel and as a result today weíre still independently owned.
In our first year he wrote 2000 stories and made a crazy helmet out of air conditioning parts to promote the web site. As it grew, he only hired people from the forums (like me) to help run it. I had spammed him a ton of news links and he thought I had a good eye for weird shit. As the site grew both our hobbies became real jobs, and with a few others we all quit our day jobs and now run the site full time.
Over 3 million readers a month!
You can see pictures and read the whole story on ModernMethod.com, our company site.
And as a result....
THE NEW HAMZA IS THE TITS
I missed out on growing up like a proper teen so these last five years have rectified all that. I've gotten fit, I've gotten a back bone, I've gained confidence, skills I'd never imagine I'd have, I'm social as fuck, the complete opposite to my anti social ways of before.
In fact, itís my job to be social all day and give back to our community.
Because of how big we are, I am more than just a CM. I'm a CD who has a worldwide team of die hard Dtoiders that work with me to keep the gears on the Destructoid robot turning.
If you donít like me yet this might help: Last year I gave away over $30,000 in video game stuff to our readers and help raise over $20,000 in cash for various charity organizations. And I love my mom!
Now, letís talk about your mom:
DESTRUCTOID GOT ME LAID
Destructoid has provided an incredible never-ending pool of friends online and in real life all around the world. This year Iíve even made it my duty to travel more and meet more people.
And you know what else? I've fucking discovered love, people!
I've met celebrities, I've met developers I respect immensely and this has all happen because of everyone I've met throughout these last few years. It boggles my mind that I have friends ALL around the world that I can talk to about whatever, whenever. I fucking have fan art!
HOW DOES A GAMING SITE DO THIS?
Destructoid reels you in by covering a broad range of gaming topics: we write over 50 stories every single day, we even often scoop bigger sites. But what really hooks our devoted readers is the community: we are very tolerant of differing views, our writers are very accessible and transparent, and you can interact through Facebook-style chat, comments, forums, and best of all community blogs. We have a monthly assignment that can put your stuff on our front page.
ITíS NOT JUST ME
Sites like Destructoid and events like PAX are social support systems. You just have to dare to open yourself up to them to make the most of it. Iíve seen so many lives change for the best.
Take video games out of the picture and look at what peopla really doing:
people are expressing their weird joys, connecting through common grounds, validating each otherís expression, and over time these people become part of your real life.
Our site is a great place to do this because weíre so focused on making your experience a positive one online and offline.
THE COMMUNITY TAKES ON A LIFE OF ITS OWN
The Dtoid community interacts in many forms: through blogging and getting together and getting drunk at gaming events, or to really be there when people need us. I think the best example of this is user lvl99ron.
Ron spent about 3 weeks in ICU due to a infection in his lungs. He went through hell, but he made it through. 3 weeks in ICU is a lot of money, so another community member named Alex Barbatsis organised the Ronathon charity event. He got various community members in the LA area plus Destructoid staff to participate in a 12 hour live stream to play games and do stupid things in front of the internet in order to raise money towards Ron's bill. We raised just about $1,000 for Ron's medical bill.
Just a few weeks ago we raised over $5,000 to fund a clean water well in Africa, and we raised over $6,000 during the Extra Life charity to benefit childrenís hospitals.
We want to give back as much as possible.
If in my life I'm ever given a chance to use a time machine to alter my past for a better outcome in some way, I wouldn't take it. I accept what life has given me and will continue to just live it to the fullest I can and then some. Seriously, even the fact that I never got laid in high school, I wouldn't change a thing ... Well I would go back in time to look at dinosaurs cause dinosaurs are fucking cool.
I hope what I said here created a spark in your brain/soul/heart, especially those of you who are like me who needed that glimmer of hope and have that push. Life can suck, yeah. But life can be pretty fucking awesome too. At the end of the day, it's all up to you. You have the power over how your life goes.
[Video of the panel was taken and will be up hopefully soon. The panel went down in a complete blur when I talked so I'm looking forward to seeing it all happen again.]