Bonus Post: Be nice to the lady nerds

So there’s this really ugly thing happening in the world of nerdom. I think I first started hearing about it last year, but I suspect it’s been going on longer than that; I’m kind of a nerd among nerds, and I don’t go to cons or frequent message boards or play online games or interact with other nerds who aren’t part of my immediate social circle, where thankfully this doesn’t really seem to happen much. But it is, I now realize, happening elsewhere. This thing has been on my mind a lot for the last few days, ever since I read Fake G33k Girl’s new blog. I can’t stop thinking about this, so I’m going to kind of ride her coattails and give my two cents.

(Although, if you haven’t read her blog yet, you totally should. Her treatment of this topic is so much better than mine.)

 

Back when I was in high school, the terms “nerd” and “geek” did not, or at least from where I was standing didn’t seem to, refer to cultures, but instead referred to stereotypes. Back then when someone called me a nerd they probably weren’t trying to be my friend. Back then we nerds didn’t call ourselves nerds, those names were stuck to us by others. We had a lot of common interests, such as comic books, role playing games and science fiction to name a few, but that’s not why we were called nerds. We were given these labels because we didn’t really fit in with the social structures around us. Occasionally that was a result of having interests that weren’t, at that time, mainstream, but I think more often it was a lack of social skills or other differences that earned someone the title of “nerd” or “geek”.

And of course, part of this stereotype was that we were all a bunch of lonely boys who will never grow up or get to touch boobs. Back then we had girls in our ranks, but they seemed to be a minority within our minority. They may not have actually been, I’m not sure, but that certainly was the perception, even to a lot of us nerds.

Later on we started to claim those words as our own, to wear them as badges of honor and build a real, honest to goodness, no bullshit culture around them. We held our heads high as we suffered the slings and arrows of people thinking it worthy of derision to learn Klingon, or become intimately familiar with the intricacies of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or keep a Magic: the Gathering deck in our back pocket.

And a while after that, perhaps in part because of that, a lot of our “nerd” interests started to become popular and mainstream. Nowadays we have big budget, high quality film adaptations of superheroes and 1980’s cartoons, as well as classic science fiction and fantasy novels. Whereas people who like dressing up like characters from movies, comics and video games were once seen as weirdos and losers, now it’s a real legitimate hobby with a special name and everything! We call it cosplaying, and lots of people do it, and gone are the days where we just assume they’re jobless losers living in their parents’ basements.

Being a nerd is no longer a stigma. It’s a culture, it’s a set of interests, it’s a lifestyle. Most importantly, it’s socially acceptable. We have actual nerd celebrities, like Wil Wheaton and Vin Diesel. Yeah, did you know Vin Diesel plays D&D?

Pretty cool, right?

It’s been a long time since anyone has called me a nerd or a geek in a mean, hurtful way. I’m no longer worried about sharing my geeky interests with strangers. People are cool with it. I no longer feel like I’m being excluded. That’s a good thing.

So why the fuck do I keep hearing about geeky ladies being treated like shit by nerd guys? I mean, of all fucking people, nerds are excluding women from their culture? This whole thing about “testing” women to confirm that they’re “real” geeks. Slut-shaming women who cosplay, or accusing them of doing it just to turn on their boyfriends. Talking to women in online games in such an objectifyingly, obscene way that many female gamers try to pass themselves as dudes just so they can play without other members of their community demeaning them. I even hear tell about threats of rape and other forms of violence because a woman has the gall to try to be a part of this scene we’ve created.

Nerds are doing this? NERDS ARE DOING THIS??

A true nerd knows the pain of exclusion. A true nerd knows the fear of being attacked, literally and figuratively, because of one’s interests. A true nerd should be grateful that all kinds of people, including women, are talking an interest in the things that we love. I remember being afraid of scaring women off, whether or not I was trying to “get with them” or just hang out, by talking about my nerdy interests. Part of that fear stays with me today. When I see a woman wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt or reading an RPG manual, I’m delighted. I’m overjoyed that the line between us outcasts and them cool kids is blurring. I’m glad that, whatever other social shortcomings I have, I can talk to these people because we have common interests. I’m glad that geek girls are a thing. I want all people to feel welcome in our geek culture.

 

So, y’know, don’t be a dick, huh?

 

P.S. I’m talking about misogyny here, but for the record I’m also against homophobia, racism, and any other kind of bigotry. These things have no place in nerd culture, and we all need to put a stop to it.

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Bonus Post

Since my blog post last week was me basically saying “sorry, no blog post this week’, I thought I’d make it up to you and make two posts this week.

One of things I’ve wanted to talk about here, but as of yet haven’t really, is role playing games as a medium of artistic expression. As an example, I want to share with you a story I wrote last year. I was running a Mage: the Awakening game, and as I was learning the game I wrote this short story. I didn’t get everything right (as I said, I wrote it while learning the game, not after) but I like it. I hope you do to.

Storm clouds are brewing outside the window of my office as the sun sets. It seems to have been getting dark earlier and earlier lately. I don’t just mean this time of year, I mean during the last several years. Since I Awakened. It’s a matter of perspective most Sleepers wouldn’t understand. Even during the daytime it seems dark to me, as I’m sure it does to most Mages. Glimpsing the Supernal Realms changes your perspective, and you see the Fallen World for what it is: a world of darkness.
A knock on the door pulls me from my thoughts. “Come in” I say. The door opens slowly to reveal the poorly lit figure of a young woman wearing a black trench coat. As she walks into the pool of yellow light cast by the lamp in the corner she pulls back the sides of her coat and puts her hands on her hips. Black tank tob underneath a fish net shirt. Low cut leather pants. Black boots. Black fingernails. Black hair with blond roots. Tribal tattoo around a pierced naval. I get the impression that I’m supposed to be turned on by all this.
“Are you Ronnie Masterson, the private investigator?” she says in a tone she thinks is seductive.
“Yes. And you are Elvira, the Herald for the Consilium.”
“Oh, you know about little old me?” Her voice is thick with fake modesty.
“Yes. More than you’d probably want me to know.” She starts to laugh until she realizes I’m not kidding, then awkwardly clears her throat. Before awakening and choosing the shadow nave Elvira, she was Brittany McPherson, a cheerleader from Des Moines Iowa. Then she became a Mage, adopted the whole goth/whore schtick and moved here. A lot of the willworkers in this town wonder how she became a Consilium official at such a young age, which only proves that mages can be idiots too.
“I assume” I continue, “that your here on behalf of the Hierarch? Official business and all that?”
“Yes. A cabal of younger mages were recently found dead. Murdered, actually. It looks like the work of a Banisher but we haven’t been able to find him. We heard you’re pretty good.”
I hate tracking Banishers. They know all the same spells the rest of us do, and their rhetoric about how evil magic is doesn’t seem to stop them from using it. The good thing about jobs like this though, is you can ask for a lot. Hazard pay and all that.
“Does the Hierarch know what my fee for Banishers is?” She hands me an envelope.
“Here’s half” she says, standing way too close. I count it and it’s all there.
“Inform him that I’m on the job.” She smiles, winks at me, than walks out in a way that I can only assume was meant to keep my attention on her ass. Once she’s gone I roll my eyes. Then I sit down at the desk and grab the phone. Time to get to work.
A few hours later and I’m stepping out of a cab into the rain. I got a tip that our guy might be one of the locals at a dive bar in the run down part of town. I walk in and find myself in every shitty bar you’ve ever been to. Overpriced jukebox playing loud country. TV showing a football game, turned up to blast out the music. Two drunk Irish guys at the end of the bar singing their drinking songs over all of it. Two fat bikers playing pool on an old, run down table. Hicks and yokels everywhere you look, and all of them are staring at me. A lot of women complain about men oggling them, but it’s the chicks that bother me. Most guys try to be smooth about it, but the dykes in this town have no sense of subtlety.
As I make my way to the bar, I casually cast an Unveiling spell to see if there’s any signs of magic use, and of course I see nothing. It was a long shot, but it’s good to cover all your bases. I order a drink and and try to get some information from the bartender, but I don’t really know what to ask him. I don’t know what the Banisher looks like or anything, and it’s not like I can just say “Hey, do you know a mage who likes killing other mages?” After a few minutes I give up and let the bartender get back to work. Suddenly I feel two hands come down on my shoulders, and I realize too late that the Irish guys stopped singing a while ago. A voice in my right ear says something that would sound like gibberish to anyone else. Sleepers will never know how funny it is to hear High Speech in an Irish accent.
“Your time has come.”
Fuck, must have seen my Nimbus when I cast the spell earlier. I’m getting sloppy tonight. Another voice speaks English into my left ear.
“Why don’t you come outside with us, sweatheart?”
Two of them. That’s good, that means I can charge double. If I survive, that is.
“Why in the hell would I go outside with you? How stupid do you think I am?”
“Oh, what, you don’ think we’ll do it hear if we have to?”
The guy makes a solid point. With all these people around it would be risky to cast any vulgar spells, but I doubt these guys would hesitate to do that. Outside I hear a crack of thunder, and suddenly going outside with these guys seems like a good idea. Gotta play it cool though, if I seem to change my mind too quickly they’ll be on to me. I get my hands to shake just the right way and drop my voice to a trembling whisper.
“Please, don’t do this. You don’t have to do this.”
“Oh, but we want to” one of them says, and grabs me by the arms. I pretend to be too weak and scared to struggle and let them drag me out back. The rain is really coming down know and I can see flashes of lighting in the distance. Best part is, not another soul around. I couldn’t have planned this better.
They throw me down to the ground and are suprised when I stand up laughing. I’m never unarmed in a storm. I hold my hands up like guns and point at them. I drop my thumbs like hammers and call down the lightning. But as soon as I do I can tell something went wrong.
The next thing I know I’m in a hospital bead with a tube down my throat. The drugs make the room look much darker than it is and I can barely see the nurse on the side of the bed. She tells me I was struck by lighting. She tells me the guys they found me with were killed by it. She tells me that I’m lucky to be alive.
Ok, maybe I could have planned that better.

I have an ever-increasing list of games that I want to run someday. They’re not always games I want to run right now, but someday. A recent addition to this list is the World of Darkness game Changeling: The Lost. I’m a late comer to Changeling; I never paid any attention to the original Changeling: the Dreaming, because at the time (“the time” being my narrow-minded, ignorant early 20’s), I didn’t see how fairies fit into horror, so I can’t compare the two. Also, I didn’t get around to reading C:tL until late 2013, even though the game was released in 2007. But now that I have read it I find it very intriguing, because it’s a great example of using a role playing game to explore real life issues.

In short, Changeling is a game about surviving abuse.

In this game, a Changeling is a human who was abducted by one of the True Fae. Now keep in mind, this is the World of Darkness, so these aren’t your modern, Disney-fied Fae. These are old school, Grimm fairy-tale style Fae. They’re monsters. They come into our world to kidnap and enslave humans in their world, called Arcadia. The boundary between the two worlds is called The Hedge, and it tears away at a human’s body, altering it and making it more Fae-like. In Arcadia, Changelings are subjected to abuse, emotional, physical, even sexual. Some Changelings manage to escape and return to the human world. They’ve become Fae-like, though they aren’t completely Fae, but they aren’t fully human anymore either. They usually find that they’ve been replaced by a duplicate called a fetch, so they weren’t even missed. They’re unseen absence and altered nature makes it almost impossible for Changelings to resume they’re old lives. They’ve also gone through terrible experiences that few humans would even belief and no human can relate to. As such, Changelings have their own societies which are basically large support groups. They are a culture of abuse survivors, banding together for mutual support and protection, should their abusers return.

The game book gives many examples of the kinds of histories and back stories Changeling characters have, and they’re all heartbreaking. If you remove the fantasy elements, odds are you probably know someone who’s gone through what these characters have. Not just the abusive acts themselves, but the ramifications; being afraid to talk to people about the experience, knowing that they won’t understand and may even judge the victim, and the impact such experiences has on who a person is.

Now to be clear, there is more to Changeling than the abuse angle. Much of the content of the core book deals with magic, Changeling politics, and the day to day lives of Changeling characters. I don’t want to give the impression that this game is singularly focused on abuse. There is genuine fun to be had, and not all Changelings are emotional wrecks whose entire lives are defined by their trauma (which I believe is true of real life abuse survivors as well). But this is the aspect of the game that stuck with me the most; in a hobby that so often seems to focus on slaying bad guys and collecting loot*, Changeling: the Lost is a game that tackles complicated and important issues in real life in a mature, sophisticated way.

 

*Just to be clear, I’m not knocking on games like this, I’m just saying variety is nice too.

WWII + Dragons = Fucking Epic

So I had an idea for a setting for a D&D game. Basically it would be a world with all of the standard high fantasy D&D elements, elves and magic and such, but with a level of technological and social progress fitting the mid 20th century in the real world. I’m thinking of an amalgam of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. This would be a different world, with it’s own history and geography, so things wouldn’t be identical and wouldn’t have to match real world chronology, but it would be exploring real life social and political issues from these decades through the lens of D&D style fantasy.

So first of all this world would be engulfed in a global armed conflict similar to World Wars I and II, with tanks, aircraft carriers and  blietzkreig-like air operations, but with magic and stuff. Imagine Normandy with dragons flying overhead! Yes, the dragons are involved in the war, and both sides have dragons fighting for them! Also, among the soldiers would be wizards, clerics, and other spell casters launching magic missiles and cones of fire while machine guns are going off and bombs are dropping. I think it’d be pretty epic.

One of the more powerful nations in this war is developing a bomb that releases large amount of very powerful and unpredictable magic. This bomb can be really devastating, but the technology behind it could also be used to power cities efficiently. This gives us an arms race and a debate similar to what we have regarding nuclear power.

Meanwhile, away from the front lines, matters of inequality are being addressed in at least one of the world’s super powers, perhaps the same one with the magic bomb. Certain races that have long been considered evil, orcs and goblins for instance, are beginning to demand better treatment under the law and to be more accepted in society. A civil rights movement. All of this against a backdrop of new technology drastically altering the way people work and live, leading to people re-evaluating their place in the world and the nature of government and things like that.

So I don’t have all the details, but I think there’s potential here. An orc civil rights leader telling people about his dream of equality, and perhaps a goblin leader refuting the orcs tactics of civil disobedience in favor of more drastic action. Halflings abandoning their nomadic lifestyles to live in suburbs. Tanks driven by gnomes. And did I mention dragons over Normandy? Tell me that wouldn’t be awesome!