On Fangirling, Social Media, and Positivity

Recently, a writer seemed to conflate fangirling with praising other women and pegged these gestures, especially if made in public spaces, especially online, as disingenuous. Later, she adds that in the past, when contact information or an address for celebrities and other known individuals was harder to find, sending a letter of praise actually took some work, so it meant more. This is the old “I walked three miles to school in the snow, up seven hills, and barefoot” cliché. Just because something took longer or was more difficult to achieve doesn’t automatically give it more worth. Social media isn’t a throwaway for most people. The argument comes off as a dismissal of the modern instead of realizing that people often simply find new ways of doing the same things. We’re social animals, and just because we can reach out to those we admire more easily and openly, it doesn’t devalue the statements within.

An example cited in the piece was a tweet by actress Anna Kendrick talking about shaking at the unforgettable moment of meeting Beyonce. Now, putting myself in that position, I would also be shaking at meeting Beyonce. None of this effusive praise is new; it’s just the format has changed, grown, and widened.

I was sixteen when I attended a reading featuring Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez, whose work I devoured, related to, found traces of my own family within, and from her work, even drew inspiration. I was a poor girl and didn’t have the money to buy a copy of her latest book, but I joined the line at the public event in the hope I could just get a moment with her. My turn arrived, so I approached the table, probably stumbled over some words or spoke too rapidly, forgot to inhale, communicating just what her work meant to me. She took my hands, a kind, steadying gesture, and one I won’t forget. She thanked me, and I told her I was also a writer, that I loved her work, and she asked about me too. Finally, she wished me luck and even signed notebook with “Suerte” and a heart.

This was before social media, but fangirling has been around far longer than widespread internet, if by other names. These moments may pass unregarded, sentiments tweeted or expressed in comments on Instagram or in a Tumblr reblog, may be ephemeral. Yet, being interested in someone’s work or having shared interests, especially if those interests elicit similar emotional responses, these are the types of connections that, with some degree of luck and circumstance, may last long term. For an artist, a show of support may be more meaningful than a fan will ever know directly, and there’s nothing lost in expressing it.

There’s nothing like meeting someone else who was a total stranger to you yesterday, then discussing a shared interest, fandom you both follow, your tears over a death or development in the series that made an impression on both of you. Sometimes that ends in a hug and staying in touch. Sometimes these very interactions expand your whole universe. Devaluing the rich variety of channels we have these days to connect with one another comes across as extremely shortsighted. Criticizing positivity and happy messages, even simple supportive posts and tweets of approval, which can be very gratifying, just seems like sour conduct. This isn’t a case of sycophants, but mostly seems like harmless positive expression and declaring someone or something they have done is valuable.

It’s certainly better than a slew of articles suggesting women hate one another. We’re individuals, and some of us like to express our positivity. Would I still be a writer had Julia Alvarez not been so kind to the awkward teenager before her? Yes, I think so, but that memory, the positivity of that experience stays with me. So does the support I received from some friends I met who, shortly after I joined a shared online group, listened to and helped me through an issue that took months of frustration to resolve. It was an unexpectedly strong treasure to find at that time in my life, and these friendships have lasted.

So, yes, I’m on the positivity train. If someone is hurting or going through something, I try to offer words, at minimum, but sometimes gushing openly about how awesome someone is could lift both of your days. Even tweeting to someone you respect, engaging with them, might lead somewhere. You never know. Being excited about things, feeling joy, gratitude, and inspiration, these are some of life’s finest moments. Should receiving them intersect with moments of despair, loneliness, or loss, there’s a special kind of hope in these connections that is likely as old as humanity.

Sometimes it feels like joy is looked down upon, shamed, or discouraged. When something is clearly meant to be enjoyable, it’s often disparaged as being of poor quality or not meaningful. Down with that. Meaningful doesn’t have to take huge effort and because of that, tell someone she’s awesome today. And tomorrow. And so on. It will feel great.

We Have Always Been Here

This anonymous Ask over on the Why I Need Diverse Games Tumblr has already received strong responses from many, but I felt strongly enough to add a short one of my own.

“Geekdom is the only place where socially shunned males can be save and be themselves [sic]”, it begins. Then, the asker attempts to utilize concepts like “safe space” in order to, ultimately, justify attacks and harassment with language that takes a militaristic tone. Couching the defensiveness of a growing mainstream audience in such language is a glimpse of how some folks feel – that broadening the reach of certain types of media belongs to some finite pool of attention that will be bestowed upon those who share their taste. “So when women,” the asker continues, “who exclude them outside geek culture, invade those save spaces and force the scene to conform to their wants and rules they leave the men with nowhere to go. Where can they flee?”

First of all, women have always been a part of geek spaces. A woman is considered the inventor of computer programming. A woman wrote what is regarded as the first sci-fi novel (Frankenstein). Women have been gaming and creating games for decades. One year, a comics shop opened next to my local movie theater. An afternoon matinee and time in the comics shop, especially if I had a few bucks from babysitting in my pocket, was a wonderful way to spend the day. Star Trek movies were even on the marquee at times. I attended dressed in a Starfleet Academy shirt as yes, a socially awkward teenage girl. I liked other awkward geeks, for friendship and romance. We had shared interests, just enough to make it interesting, and just different enough to learn from one another.

After a couple of decades playing video games, growing up with sci-fi and fantasy, and counting Star Trek as an influence on my life, I’m not seeking to ‘qualify’ or gain any sort of geek cred, but others in my life who also enjoyed many of these things were other girls. We have always been here. We’re not invaders, anonymous, and I understand the perception and socialization that leads to ostracism and feeling alone as a geeky person, but try stepping out and defining yourself outside of products you consume.

But anyone, regardless of gender, should have safe spaces, real ones, and using the idea of gatekeeping to attempt to justify harassment just falls apart in the doing. Gatekeeping is simply never okay. It’s a much richer experience to have broader, more inclusive, and more diverse options.You might discover something unexpected or even meet some good, kind, and talented folks with a more open mind. Might even surprise yourself.

There is also no limit on how much art can be created. Only so much of it is commercial. Seek out new experiences, enjoy the art, games, and writing created by other fans whose creative energy presses against their mind, fingers, or very selves, and must simply get out into the world and be born, shared, and lived.  Put down your weapons, including your pride.Art isn’t finite. No one is invading anything. The more variety and more choice we have is a good thing.

Sony’s Marketing Dept. Gets it Right in PS3 Ad

At the gym last night, I settled onto the elliptical with a magazine from the community rack. I’m not a regular People Magazine reader, but as I was flipping through this issue from late September, I saw a PS3 ad. The ad features a teen boy who looks to be enjoying himself and a middle-aged woman as his mother next to him, also looking to be enjoying herself. Both had controllers in their hands and looked to be having fun playing.

The tagline that accompanied the ad referred to the recent price drop but also served to be really inclusive. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the exact content, but I believe it was something about the PS3 being at a price that suits everyone.

People‘s demographics skew very female, and range through various age groups, so this was a pleasant surprise. To see gaming not only marketed as something women of any age do, but without the usual attention being called to her as a female playing games. (See the PSP’s recent lavender release with its ill-considered “Girlz Play Too!” tagline and obvious lineup of Hannah Montana and other similar games). Surely there would be some sort of division in the games, right?

Nope. The game selection at the bottom wasn’t even divided into obvious gender targets like so many other ads are. The games were titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum and others. Not a puzzle game or fitness coaching game in sight.

Even though that lavender PSP stuff is still fresh in our minds, kudos to Sony’s marketing department for this great ad!

“Get Your Significant Other into Gaming”

Note: This is a repost from another of
my blogs, which is sort of on hiatus and may undergo a design change
and relaunch shortly. I've decided to talk about video games on this
blog too, but that one is completely game focused.

Since this is now my main blog, I thought it would make sense to put it here as well.

January 1, 2007

I did a Google search for an unrelated issue I'm having with my browser, and came upon this article
from 2005. I'm sure someone, somewhere, has already discussed it, but
it's new to me. I generally don't go to Microsoft.com for gaming
articles, so I had to stumble upon it.

The article is written in
a gender neutral voice, but it seems that this is merely for
politically correct purposes, as the suggestions and style seem to
indicate that this is geared toward men looking to get their non-gamer
girlfriends or dates into games.

Part of the advice reads: "Do start slow.
Rather than opting for a date starring aliens or zombies, try picking a
title grounded in the real world." Most gamers are happy to show off
their games. They just jump right in and speak enthusiastically. If
it's a passion of ours, we're not necessarily going to tread slowly and
try not to startle our friends or romantic interests. We're going to
say, "Hey, I just got this great game, take a look!" and then proceed
to demonstrate. I'm not advocating intimidation, but you don't have to
treat your non gamer friends and lovers as if they're complete
neophytes that can't handle a little bit of imagination or something
not based in reality. That's like saying reading picture books full of
talking animals and trips to the moon to little children isn't a good
idea. It's all about the concepts and the presentation, not the
delivery method.

If I see something that looks fun to play, I'll
jump right in. Now, while I do enjoy casual games like one of the
titles Mr. Steinberg mentions, Bookworm, that doesn't mean that it's
exciting. Part of the reason why I've been gaming for so long is
because it remains fun and exciting. Now, not all games have to deliver
an intense adrenaline rush ( and plenty have, especially after a truly
arduous boss fight), but if you show me something that looks insanely
fun, I'll want to try it that much more.

Obviously, if we're
referring to a novice gamer, or someone who doesn't game at all, then
it's worth it to find out his or her tastes first. Does this person
enjoy sci-fi novels or movies? Then break out Halo. Is an adventurous
drama or mystery more his or her cup of tea? Then maybe go for
something like Broken Sword or Myst. Political intrigue? Try Beyond
Good & Evil. It's just too hard to try introducing someone to
gaming without looking into the person's interests at all. There are so
many good games within all genres that it's easy enough to recommend
something once you have a sense of what the person might enjoy more.

touched upon the PC qualities of this article earlier, but this is
where it irked me a little. If it was written as another "introduce
your wife/girlfriend/sister/mom to gaming" piece, and it is, then
Microsoft should have just let it be. It's obviously written with that
point of view and directed at a male audience. Look at the advice and
game suggestions:

  • "Don't show frustration or gloat over victories.
    As with any activity, beginners may lack confidence. Take the time to
    help them learn how to play and offer positive feedback. It also
    wouldn't hurt if you let your loved one win once in a while. And for
    heaven's sake, be gentle: poking fun at gaming newcomers is a great way
    to turn them off the hobby permanently."

In other
words, treat her like an incapable child who needs to be duped lest it
hurt her poor, fragile juvenile ego. I attempted to cheat at board
games and ask my mother if she'd let me win when I was around two. She
told me no, and that I had to play fairly and honestly or we couldn't
play at all. It was an important lesson. I knew if I won, that I'd
actually won. That does a hell of a lot more for someone's confidence
than letting them win.

  • Do choose colorful, non-threatening activities. Lean toward the type of title that evokes fond memories of childhood.

look! More advice to treat this new [female] gamer like a child.
Colorful and non-threatening? Give me a break. And while you're at it,
a BFG and a chain gun.

The last section is almost equally air headed, especially the blurb about the Frag Dolls:

  • Lonely
    hearts should check out the Frag Dolls, an all-female team of
    professional gamers. Members Brookelyn, Eekers, Jinx, Katscratch,
    Rhoulette, Seppuku, and Valkyrie update their pages frequently and
    offer news on personal appearances. Meet up with one at a LAN party,
    and you just may find love.

So this guy is
encouraging other guys to read their site, their profiles, and hit on
the women there? As if the FragDolls don't get enough flak and
adulation from lonely gamer guys for being attractive women.

familiar with gaming press and blogs, and articles like this don't
surprise me at all. I'm also quite familiar with both gamers and
non-gamers, male and female. You don't have to baby new gamers, just
get them excited and curious to learn and enjoy themselves. Learn who
they are and what interests them. Treat them like intelligent, fun
loving people, and you'll both enjoy gaming a lot more.

Edit, October 2007: The article linked above is no longer accessible at the original location. It is available here.