I have been a geek for as long as I can remember. There was no big event that I can point to and say “yep, that is when I became a geek.” My father read The Sword of Shannara series as a bed time story when I was little, I grew up watching Star Trek and TNG before I even knew what Science Fiction was, I watched anime on TV before I even new that Japan existed as a country and I watched horror films well before the age I should have.
Gaming on the other hand. I know the exact moment when I became a gamer. The Christmas of 1997. I tried my best to save money for a Playstation after I saw the trailer for Final Fantasy VII but I just couldn’t do it. I was 14 and completely unable to save money. (By this point I was already three years into being a fan of Sailor Moon, Dragonball and Pokemon, so I fell in love with the anime cutscenes. Plus those commercials were freaking awesome.) On Christmas day, a few weeks after I was heart broken I couldn’t save the money for it, I opened up my Playstation. A few minutes later I opened up Final Fantasy VII, with an awesome map I still have… somewhere. (I put it in a safe place because it was falling apart off my wall.) Thus my journey began into super serious Roleplaying Fandom. I fell hard for RPGs, especially Final Fantasy. I also fell hard for Sony. RPGs remain my favourite genre of games. Playstation remains my favourite console.
I dove head first into gaming without any concept of what gaming was or what it meant to be a gamer. Conventions were just starting up in Toronto, and the word wasn’t getting around often to my area (which is no where in Ontario.) I relied solely on magazines I could get in the Dugout (an old comic store that sadly no longer exists) for information on games. Electronic Gaming Monthly, The Official Playstation Magazine, Game Informer and Game Pro were my only glimpse into gamer culture. Wizard Magazine was where I learned about conventions being held in Canada. I don’t even remember Canada being mentioned in gaming magazines.
My first impressions of fandom as a teenager were difficult. I was a gamer and geek at a time when “girls just weren’t.” There was no handbook that a girl could pick up to help give her strength in a community and society that devalued what you were. It was almost universally accepted that gaming, comics and Live Action Roleplaying (LARPing) wasn’t something girls did unless they were trying to get something from someone. No one warned me about how much of an upward battle being a gamer girl would be, let alone being seen as a legitimate gamer. Things have drastically changed over the years. Not only are gamer girls far more common, the community embraces girls better than those outside of gaming. Despite what some would make you think, gamers usually don’t give a crap if you are a girl or not.
There were many traps within gamer culture that I had to face head on on my own due to not knowing very many people with the same interests right away. I am thankful that I found friends with the same interests in high school, without those geeks who knows if I would have remained one. Today many the issues I faced as an emerging gamer are not as prevalent, when problems arise they are generally taken seriously and care of swiftly.
I battled hard against people that wouldn’t accept me for many years, in some ways still don’t, yet I never gave up on gaming. I learned to let the bitterness go and developed a “Zero Fucks” attitude in the process. I am who I am and no one will make me think less of myself. I have also had the unbelievable privilege of marrying my gamer boyfriend. The hard part is who games and who cares for the spawn.
The best tip I can give to an emerging gamer girl is to learn to have thick skin. This isn’t a means to justify bullying, but it is a simple fact that the hardest part comes, not from the internet, but people you know in real life. Your parents, your friends, your family. Sometimes they don’t understand. My family doesn’t. When it comes to any fandom, people will try to devalue it. Harry Potter is kids books. Star Wars is contrite drivel. Whatever. Doesn’t matter what you are a fan of someone will try to make you feel less than. Don’t let them make you feel that way.
There will invariably come a time when someone (a game store clerk, someone at a convention or online) will tell you that as a girl you are not a real gamer. Either you let your ‘girls’ hang in low cut shirts to draw in views on your channel, or you can’t play FPS games (first person shooters) or you set games to easy or casual mode, or you dare to play a female avatar. There is always going to be someone telling you that you are not a real gamer because of ‘blah blah blah.’ These instances is usually when I get incredibly sarcastic, and in my best ‘woe is me’ voice I lament my life and that some random person thinks I’m not a real gamer. As if their opinion matters. Like Elsa I learned to Let It Go. If you don’t know them, why should you care? It is accepted that a lot of female avatars are really boys playing them, but most experiences I have had in the online communities of WoW, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, is that most players don’t care if you are a girl. It was always outside of the game that people gave me grief. Yes it was usually people who were not gamers who told me I wasn’t a real gamer.
One of the hard parts about growing up as a gamer, was when I would go to gaming stores and I shit you not, clerks would ask if the game was for my boyfriend. (This is when I point to my Chocobo Imbreeder shirt, and glare.) It isn’t a common occurrence for me anymore, and the clerks at my local EB Games probably recognize me during my weekly visits. This also only happened a few of times at my local store, and most often in the city. I did have someone give me grief over buying Dark Souls 3, because ‘its hard.’ (No shit Sherlock. Still buying it for myself.) They do happen from time to time though. Again I fall back into sarcasm. It would depend on my mood.
For the longest time I was afraid of going to conventions. As much as I always wanted to cosplay and go to more than just a few Anime North, I never did. There was a terrible stigma with conventions and harassment. In my head it was assumed that I would be attacked for daring to be a female in a male dominated culture. Which as it turns out, is entirely in my head. I overthink a lot. I over thought this so much I didn’t go to conventions for decades. I severely regret not enjoying more conventions when I was younger. There was also this strong impression I had that people should only cosplay based on their body types. This is total bullshit. This isn’t something that too many people focused on, it is there when you look at “best and worst” cosplays. At the conventions themselves most people just love the fact you dressed up. It was only recently that conventions started to adopt a zero tolerance approach to harassment, and to take it seriously when harassment occurs. The cosplay culture has become far more inclusive, and again if you cosplay, don’t let the haters get you. You just keep it up! Conventions are ridiculously fun and I would recommend everyone goes to at least one.
No one warned me about how much money I would be spending as a gamer. I have to budget for games now, unless they are in the bargain bin. I miss those days when I had disposable income and could spend money on Japanese imports of Final Fantasy my Playstation couldn’t play. Damned regions. Lets not even get into the crazy costs of cosplay. There are tricks to cosplay on the cheap, but I am an inherently lazy bastard, so I buy costumes. Conventions can be pretty pricey beyond the tickets and lodging. Merchandise is usually jacked up at a con also. If you find something you like, unless it is an item you don’t think you can find anywhere else, hold off. Something at a con might cost $40, but at HMV is only $15-20. Think Geek and Amazon ship to Canada and have decent shipping costs. The Bioware store finally took care of that fraking duty charge and their clothes are well made and cheaper online than anywhere else.
To be quite frank, I still spend an obscene amount of money on games and game paraphernalia. “I would rather be in debt than not get the Limited Edition Dragon Age Inquisition!!” Lets eat Ramen for a month!
Never feel ashamed to fly your geek/gamer flag. A lot of people won’t get the reference, but don’t stop wearing Final Fantasy or Halo shirts just because people don’t understand it. Like to gallivant around wearing Master Chief’s helmet? Who cares. Do it.
This is the best part about being a parent. I can corrupt my children by enforcing a love if imaginative play and letting them dress how they want. As long as they are not stark naked, I don’t care.
With Facebook, Instagram and Pintrest sky rocketing into popularity it has become far easier to find excellent ways to embrace your fandom. It is also far easier to find like minded individuals. There is thousands of groups on Facebook, and you can follow your favourite celebrities on Instagram or Twitter. They might even message back!
The biggest thing I wish I learned sooner, don’t be afraid of who you are. People will look at you funny when you talk about games, movies or comics, but don’t let it get to you. Don’t let other people ruin something that you love.
Felicia Day — You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) https://www.amazon.ca/Youre-Never-Weird-Internet-Almost/dp/1476785651
Wil Wheaton — Just a Geek: Unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise https://www.amazon.ca/Just-Geek-Unflinchingly-fulfillment-Enterprise/dp/0596806310
Sam Maggs — The Fangirl’s Guide To The Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks https://www.amazon.ca/Fangirls-Guide-Galaxy-Handbook-Geeks/dp/159474789X
Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Ultimate Walkthrough (collection of essays) https://www.amazon.ca/Final-Fantasy-Philosophy-Ultimate-Walkthrough/dp/0470415363