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A case for inclusive geekdom

author: kristian ferguson  | news editor 


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Those who know me might be surprised to know that I wasn’t always the level of geeky I maintain right now. There was a time in my young life in which I was not “King of Dorks” and was in fact a regular, albeit slightly bookish, young lad. 

I played hockey, I watched the cartoons my friends at school watched, ran around in the park that was near my childhood home on the weekends, you know, the usual. At that point in my development, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I would have a significant amount of fun in pretending to be a character, rolling dice, and doing math of all things, for leisure. Especially not when there was a whole wide world for me to explore, yet, here I am. 

I’m not one hundred percent sure that I would have become the walking, talking, caricature of geekdom that I am today if it weren’t for certain people’s willingness to teach me, welcome me, and foster a growing fascination with geeky things. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely wouldn’t have my life any other way. I have a deep love and appreciation for all things Star Wars, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, etc. etc. 

What pains me to think, however, is that there are some people who aren’t able to be welcomed and supported in a lot of the hobbies and interests I take joy in. I was a quiet kid with a general fear of other people and a deeply personal fear of failure. I hated not knowing what I was doing or feeling like I had failed at something. 

I remember being taught how to play Dungeons and Dragons when my half-orc barbarian, Thunk, was killed in combat. I was mortified. “I lost,” I thought. “Now they are going to kick me out of the club and make fun of me for being so dumb as to have charged into combat like that. They must think so little of me.” 

Contrary to what I thought about myself, the session ended and the other players came over and slapped me on the back and cheered me on for having distracted the bandits for everyone else to get away, how I was in character even if it was to my detriment, and for how much they enjoyed playing alongside Thunk. Not to be dramatic, but D&D taught me that it was okay to lose. 

I was able to explore and examine my own gender and sexual identity by playing an elf named Briar that the D&D Player’s Handbook explicitly described as “androgynous.” I was able to play as men who were more feminine, women who were more masculine, and Briar, who was neither of those things.  

These are such closely personal and formative experiences that they have never really left my memory. I very legitimately made concrete steps to becoming a less anxious and more self-realized person because of organized make-believe with some other kids around my age. It was from then on that I made the leap into a lot of other geeky hobbies, even if I knew little about them or there were other people who could be considered “better” than me at those things.  

This couldn’t have happened if a teacher at my elementary school didn’t dedicate every other Saturday to helping me and a bunch of other kids stumble our way through D&D or whatever other card/board/role-playing game he thought we would be into. 

It’s because of this that I get so heated when I see people, online or otherwise, guarding or gate-keeping their communities from people who are interested or don’t simply “know enough” about a hobby or a fandom.  

The most apparent one is men constantly quizzing and testing women in these communities. Who gives a shit if she can’t name every god in the Silmarillion – does reading the Lord of the Rings make her happy? It makes me happy too! I am beyond stoked to find out other people enjoy the same things as me because that means we have a common connection. It doesn’t matter if they enjoy it in a different way than I do, we still have a unifying experience with it. 

Similarly, there is often a lot of exclusion for 2SLGBTQ+ communities and people of colour. In a game like D&D, which is often advertised as “collective storytelling,” why wouldn’t people who have a different outlook and worldview from white men not be welcomed? Why are people so averse to including others and growing their hobby/fandom? More often than not, it seems to be from a place of ownership or elitism. I’m not sure when it was that a bunch of men decided that, somehow, fantasy and sci-fi were completely exclusive of anyone who didn’t look like themselves, but it’s silly as hell. 

This isn’t to mention the exceptional amount of work that women and 2SLGBTQ+ communities put into maintaining and upholding geekdom. It was women and 2SLGBTQ+ people who organized the first Star Trek conventions, which worked as the model for the bevy of anime/comic/fan conventions we have today. It was women and 2SLGBTQ+ people that were writing letters, writing fanfiction, and drawing fan art that showed that there was interest and love left in “dead” fandoms. It was a woman, specifically Mary Shelley, who is often credited with founding modern science fiction with Frankenstein. 

To bring a little bit of structure back to what I am trying to say, if you are someone who enjoys geeky things, take a step back and re-evaluate your position within those communities. Is it your place to determine who is “fan enough?” How often are women and other minorities represented in the media you consume? How often do you play alongside people who don’t look like yourself? 

If you are someone who is interested in geeky things but might be afraid of gate-keepers, make that shit your own. Run your own D&D campaign that doesn’t revolve around frail women being rescued by heroic men. Write your own fanfiction that confirms relationships that might not otherwise be represented in mass media. Once you start, you may find that there are a lot of us out there who are ready to welcome you with open arms. 

About Kristian Ferguson

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