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A Nerd Tale

July 15, 2013

TL;DR at the end.

We bought our first computer in 1995. I don’t clearly remember the first game we played. It must have been Paint; that’s what children do on a blank-slate Windows machine. I vaguely recall the pixelated scarlet/orange hellscapes of Heretic, brought to us by John Carmack who gifted the world with Doom. My brother and I also played Full Throttle; we never made it past the bit with the motorcycle fistfight – comically violent, truly engrossing punch-trading between two burly bikers riding Harleys along a boxy desert highway. It was glorious. I must have been seven, my older brother was nine.

My mother always looked over the games we wanted to buy at the store, so we often got at least one educational game with the regular ‘fun’ games – to the credit of learning game designers, these educational games were usually pretty fun too. The Jumpstart series¹, for example and the Putt-Putt games (to this day, my dream sports car is the Putt-Putt-esque Mazda Miata Mx-5). We played the heck out of a Tonka game. My youngest brother loved it to bits. Tragically, the CD is now scratched up and unplayable.

And then there were the Game games. Quirks. The Lion King game with Timon and Pumbaa. Theme Hospital. Earthworm Jim. Rayman. Constructor. Morrowind and Oblivion, Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights. Farcry. Halo. Half Life and Counter Strike. King of Fighters, to which we lost so much time of our valuable formative years, and the Sim* series: The Sims, Simcity 3000, Simgolf, Simtower, even Simant. The list goes on and on. We did go outside every now and then to kick a ball around, catch ants and occasionally burn small things.

Some time around Standard 5 (5th grade) we managed to convince our parents to buy us a Gameboy Color. Oh, the Tetris I played. Oh the Super Mario. Oh, the Pokemon. Always, always Blue; always, always Charizard. I’ve lost count long ago of the number of games I restarted after the buggy cartridge reset and lost my save. Not much has come close to the heartbreak of accidentally smacking the cartridge too hard and opening up the game – heart pounding, bated breath – praying, praying that the save was still there. Usually it wasn’t.

Once, when the save had disappeared, I tried lightly tapping the cartridge and loading the game again. My save had miraculously reappeared! I’d have felt similarly if I were a Christian seeing Jesus Christ rise from the dead.

Of course, not all my childhood was spent on the PC. I mean, after all, a lot of the time my older brother was hogging the computer. So I also read a lot. Harry Potter, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, R.L. Stine… In my misspent lower teens I’d discover Raymond E. Feist, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind and a little later on, gods such as Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. My brother had additional horror and SF proclivities. I read his Frank Herbert, Robert Jordan, H.P. Lovecraft, some Forgotten Realm novels, and Stephen King’s Carrie². I devoured his Robin Hobb books and when he was abroad studying, I bought more. Then there was Phillip Pullman. Eoin Colfer. Much, much later on, I read the Song of Ice and Fire series. So I got a bunch of reading done.

My older brother learned to play Magic: the Gathering (MtG) at school and taught us too. Before that, I collected Pokemon cards. I played a decent amount of MtG but steadfastly refused to collect any cards for a couple of years. I started, officially, at the Legions prerelease event. One of my first rares was Phage the Untouchable. I love her irrationally. She is an irrational card to love. My brother is more an Akroma fan. The downward spiral hasn’t yet quite ended.

There was school too, at some point.

In my later teen years I got heavily into anime and heavier still into manga. The manga was always there, though we didn’t really understand that as kids. For years we’ve collected Malay-translated comic books of Doraemon, Dragonball, G.S. Mikami, Crayon Shin Chan. Discovering I could read manga (extralegally) online was like discovering crack. Our Internet bills were affected also. I maintain that Angel Sanctuary, 20th Century Boys and Eden: It’s an Endless World are Works of Art. Not just in the literal sense – they clearly are – but in the Epic, Beowulf/Mahabharata-Ramayana sense.

You know what, I won’t go on listing because by now you might be feeling like your eyes are dribbling down their sockets.

What is the point of all this anyway?

Here’s a confession: I am, the last time and every time I checked, a girl.

I’ve got three brothers. Most of us are quite nerdy.

Like typical siblings, we grew up squabbling and playing with each other in almost equal fare.

Never once did I ever feel like anything I find interesting should be different, because I am a girl.

Never once did any of my brothers tell me not to join in a game because I am a girl³.

I’ve never really been belittled for my interests, for any particular reason. My mom complains, but that’s just something mothers do.

Which is why I find it mystifying to read articles and comments – mostly comments – saying girls shouldn’t be doing what they like to do, but instead should go forth and do what the writer thinks they should do. Boy, that’s an awkward sentence. Here’s a common example: “Go back to the kitchen and make me a sandwich.”

I rather pity the people who say these things.

Usually guys who play MtG with me think girls playing Magic is awesome. I totally agree. It’s like phwoaar (note: disinclude myself from the phwoaar). Of course, when I beat guys who play against me for the first time, sometimes they get the “Oh, you lost to a girl lol lol” ribbing from their mates. If I lose the game, my poor opponent gets teased for “bullying a girl”. It’s a bizzare Catch-22 situation; I wouldn’t want to be him. Chalk up these words to lack of exposure. It dissipates fast – faster if I beat the guys who said it too. Muahaha.

Badly paraphrasing Michael Jackson and Mahatma Gandhi: if you want change, you gotta make it happen – starting with yourself. Maybe all the uninformed comments stem from plain old lack of exposure. Girls can be just as boss as guys in matters of the nerd. Like, superior physical assets aren’t even at play here, after all. Maybe all we need is to be heard⁴.

I’d love to hear about everyone else’s nerd stories; doesn’t matter who you are. While I do feel that girl gamers (or other underrepresented nerds) really aren’t obliged to establish their nerd cred, I say there is a problem which should be recognized, which stems from a lack of understanding. Exposure helps.

What I’m doing here is to show that my experiences and points of view are just as valid as anyone else’s, and everyone should recognize that. IMHO anyone who doesn’t is kind of a twat.

Also since I’d prefer not to end the post with an insult:

RAINBOWS. BUTTERFLIES. COOKIES. BIKER BEN.

TL;DR – Girls can be nerds too. Get over it.

¹ I credit Jumpstart 5th grade for 90% of my art knowledge and tremendous skill at object stacking games.

² I was a kid. King was not my thing. My brother actually warned me. Perhaps I will revisit, since I am practically geriatric compared to when I first read him.

³ If they’d tried to stop me, I imagine teeth and tears would have gotten involved.

⁴ Or read, or seen, as it may be. Take for example Felicia Day, who has a video series about retro gaming with her brother. Like, real deal, man. Internet high five!

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