Creating Acceptance in the Geek Community

Creating Acceptance in the Geek Community

 By: Terra Clarke Olsen

I’ve been mulling over writing this post for a while. I try to be positive and to not rant too often (last long rant was in November, when I wrote about Tony Harris), but there have been a series of events that finally tipped me over the edge. Bear with me a moment as I share a story that occurred a little over a week ago.

I have been thinking more and more about my relationship with gaming and my love for old games recently, and being the history buff that I am, this means I turned to historical books and watching documentaries on said topic. I looove documentaries, especially documentaries about topics that are dear to me- like gaming! So I was pretty thrilled to see that SIFF was hosting a screening of the newer documentary The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time.

space invaders lost in time and space

The Space Invaders is a documentary about old arcade games and their collectors. Well, it just so happens that I have been slowly coercing my husband into allowing us to have arcade games in our basement, so this was the perfect film to see in hopes of getting tips on starting a collection and to learn a few cool facts.

So I decided to take myself on a date with myself to go see The Space Invaders. I treated myself to Dick’s burgers and headed over to the movie. There was a small crowd, but nonetheless other attendees. The film was fun, and although it didn’t dive into some of the more interesting aspects of collecting (e.g. psychology) it was good overall. However, at one point they brought up gender, which of course resulted in my typical eye-roll and lament of ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Essentially the film showed a series of collectors reminiscing about their arcade days as kids, and how there were NO girls in the arcades. And then they showed a token ‘nerdy girl’ who did like arcade games. However they never asked the interviewees why women weren’t in the arcade with them. At one point they all talk about how arcades were kind of sketchy places, with thick smoke and dark lights. Yet no girls? Hm. I wonder why. Perhaps it’s because the environment wasn’t inviting or very safe? No? Okay, well maybe it’s that women were isolated and made to feel unwelcome? No? Hm. Oh, it’s just that women must hate video games? Oh, okay. That’s logical. Ugh. Commence eye-roll. But again, I liked the documentary.

Then the director got up. People (including myself) asked questions. But while the director was talking, a person…more specifically, a man..tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. Looking at me with condescending eyes and a small smirk, he asked “Do you even play these kinds of games?” My anger boiled inside. I was shocked and annoyed. First of all, can you say “rude?!” The director flew all the way to talk to us, and you are asking me if I even play games?! I didn’t want the director to think that I was being rude, so I told him in a harsh and quiet voice “Yes! Shhh!” then quickly turned back around. I ended up leaving shortly after so I wouldn’t have to be the target of anymore belittling questions.

Sadly, this isn’t uncommon for me. This is just one of many examples I could share. However, I have been lucky in that these questions are less common now since I drag my husband to geeky things with me. This has had the unexpected benefit of creating a shield between myself and the jerks who find it necessary to make comments challenging my nerdom.

Terra and her husband, Randall, at GeekGirlCOn

Terra and her husband, Randall, at GeekGirlCOn

But even more sad is that I’m not alone in my experiences. Geeky ladies everywhere have battle-stories like this in one way or another. The formula is simple and usually goes as follows: Lady expresses geekiness > man attacks lady for said geekiness > Lady has to defend her geekiness!

This is outrageous, annoying, and a million other adjectives that express frustration. Since the nerd community has been attacked for ages by outsiders, one would think these ‘geeky’ men would be more sympathetic to being an outsider. One would think they would be more welcoming to people joining their ‘club.’ Nope. Women are treated like the other. Unless the lady is serving as a sexual object, a token lady, or the butt of a joke, they have no place in the nerd or geek community. Why? Why is this? Are the men of this community so obsessed with having their own boys club that they find it necessary to exclude anyone they deem unworthy? How has sexism and misogyny taken such a strong hold of this community, which should be open to all?

A few nerdy GeekGirlCon staffers from 2012.

A few nerdy GeekGirlCon staffers from 2012

I don’t have the answers. (I have a few theories, but I’ll save that for another post.) But I do have suggestions as to how we can create acceptance. We need to actively create a community where ALL feel welcome. Men, women, and everything in-between. But how do we do this? How can we create an environment that is actively accepting? I have a few simple suggestions.

For one, watch how you behave. You may not be able to change others’ opinions, but you can help by improving your own actions and words. For example, there is no need to challenge anyone’s nerdiness! Someone might be a different level of fandom than you, but so what?! Bond over the things they do know/like, or reach out and teach them something new! Regardless it is not your responsibility or right to grade people on how  much they know about a certain subject. (Not to mention there will always be someone who knows more than you.)

Second, stand up for those who are being attacked. If you see someone being aggressive or condescending, say something. The world needs more heroes, so stand-up and act like one.

And third, invite a nerd-curious friend to a viewing of a nerd show or a board game night. You might have a friend that is really interested in a subject, but is too scared to ask about it. So send out an invite, and be non-judging about their lack of knowledge. Don’t forget, you were once a noob too. (I have actually been guilty of not realizing when my non-geek friends are interested in nerdy things. I have since become more aware of the clues indicating, what I like to call, nerdiosity.)

Really it all comes down to one simple rule: be nice to one another. Treat each other with respect and acceptance, and our community will be a whole lot better.

To close, I leave you with this video from the Doubleclicks, a local group who is super awesome (and have played at GeekGirlCon!). Their video basically explains how we feel as ladies of the nerd community. Watch it:

Have you experienced this type of treatment? Any success stories in creating an accepting environment? Let me know in the comments!