Aug 1, 2012

What Does a Nerd Look Like?

A Game Designer's take on Booth Babes, Frag Dolls, and those pretender nerds at events.

I'm not going to start this article by defending my nerd roots,  I'll just leave this picture of little nerd me at Christmas here. This is why I have an NES controller tattoo - not so everyone can be original and do the Konami code on my arm. 
If you're reading this, you probably have already read "Booth Babes Need not Apply" on CNN.com and John Scalzi's response concerning the validity of many women's presence at geek culture events such as comic cons. I felt like I had to write a response as well because, I agree with both! I hear both sides here. 


The thing is, there ARE women and men out there who think their good looks will make them a star in the nerd-world. There are also dates of nerds who will show up to things and secretly or openly judge your culture. The problem is, you can't judge a nerd book by its cover - and that is what the CNN author is doing.

The Bad: I was horrified to find a guy at an EVE Online community event that had never even heard of EVE, he had snuck in there for the open bar. I have also gone to the guest list table at a PAX party and asked "What is SHE doing here?!" pointing at an uninvited guest who had confided in me that she wanted nothing to do with video games. I had one of the best Lara Croft cosplayers I'd ever seen approach me at a Halloween party once and asked me what I was, when I was dressed as Chell, from Portal.  I told her who I was in a "you should know this!" tone. She told me she doesn't play games in a snooty tone. "But you're dressed as a video game character!" I protested. "Oh, this? This is from a movie."  Owwwwwwwwwww. My nerd soul, crushed under her perfect tomb raiding boots. Was she there JUST to turn my nerd soul to dust? No, but she did.

A little bit about me: I'm a professional game designer, a lifelong nerd, and sometimes a professional model. It is not a full time job for me, (obviously since I make games) but I have print-ad, runway, commercial, fashion, and fine art in my modeling portfolio. I might look at someone like me and think, "No way that person belongs at my nerd-only events."

Before I made games, I owned a clothing boutique called Unchained. (The name was changed shortly after this flyer was printed) That means writing a business plan and securing start-up funds, finding the clothes, making clothes if that's what you're into, marketing, events, accounting, everything. I was a business woman; I was never treated unfairly or with prejudice by those in my field or my customers.  I also modeled for my own flyers and ads - it's just easier.
Enter the Games Industry: I'm suddenly being told what not  to wear and how not  to act, so that I can defend myself from stereotypes I hadn't even been subjected to... yet. I had the honor of being the subject of a gamer spotlight on Xbox LIVE with the unfortunate addition of my actual photo; something they since replaced with Avatars. Guys obviously confused this "view profile" button with a catch all "Send your nutsack pics, marriage proposals, how do I design games?, and Are you Real?" button. As an Xbox MVP, I dutifully sent along all the offending sack-senders Gamertags to enforcement.

Booth Boys: Before I talk about booth babes, I'd like to put the guys in the hot seat for just a moment. These are Booth Boys. I'm making a face because he thinks he is in character and is telling me "stupid girl" get away from the zombie or I'll be infected. I tried to argue that I was inoculated with Zombrex and therefore could not be infected. Just look at his expression, he was giving me a hard time. Little did he know, those inoculations were done at GDC earlier in the year by the same company promoting the same game, yet his lore was so full of holes that he thought I was being dumb; when according to their own in-character argument I should have been fine. I'll be honest, I judged them as Zoolander wannabe non-nerds, but this was E3, that is usually - but not always - par for the course for hired help. (Read one Booth Babe's perspective here.)


Booth Babes: Here they are! Actually these are one step up the "oh the horror" scale as they are Suicide Girls hired as booth babes. I worked on the game they are promoting here, APB. As others have pointed out, these women and men are being paid, to do a job - not to fool you or torment you if you're an unadjusted social wreck. I have been falsely accused of being a Suicide Girl and Booth Babe both, and while I don't know what it's like to be either of those things; I know it's not a positive association to most. Emilie Autumn's song, "Thank God I'm Pretty",  sums up the issue at hand perfectly.
Car Show Eye Candy: These are those infamous so-called lesser quality car show girls CNN dude mentioned. I visited the Scottish Modified Car Show tagging along with the APB community team to see the sights and get some content for the video dev blog. The blonde one actually gave me her business card, and she's one of a handful of models/modellers that I have since met. As in, a sexy model who's into 3D modeling, oh yeah, and she happened to be a huge gamer that I met while she was working a car show. They aren't huge car nerds and neither was I, yet no one booed us out for being "fake car lovers".

Frag Dolls: This brings me to the Frag Dolls. I was not surprised to hear someone bitching about how the Frag Dolls are a paid promotions team, and after all, they ARE a promotions team hired by Ubisoft to promote their games and liven the community around them. The thing is, Ubisoft would not hire a model that doesn't play video games. I know this because I was in a Frag Doll casting call, and as far as I can tell I didn't win because I had my ass handed to me in Quake - a game I'd never played before. I think a major issue with my performance in the competition was I was never a PC FPS gamer, and Dell was the new sponsor at the time. Some of you will stop reading now because I just lost some nerd credit. I wanted to join the Frag Dolls because they were kind, funny, and liked shoe shopping and Gwen Stefani just like I did. At that time, I found it hard to find other women who were as feminine and hardcore gamer as these were. If I hadn't met them at a Women in Games conference and instead found them surrounded by a gaggle of guys at PAX, I might have assumed the same as the CNN author.

 The moral of my story is, what seems like one of the important life lessons we should all work at more, even me - Stop being prejudiced, stop labeling people you don't know, and don't assume you know someone's intentions for doing anything they happen to be doing. 

Keep in mind those pretty guys or gals MAY be doing the things you think they are, but you don't know until you talk to them.

 So what does a real nerd look like? It totally depends! I'll illustrate some examples, though color variation, shape, and markings differ between types of awesome nerd-men and nerd-women.

What nerds can look like while making games at the Global Game Jam:

What nerds can look like on Halloween at their office parties: Extra nerdy points for me, because this was both Halloween 2010. (I have a lot of costumes)

What nerds can look like at a convention:
What nerds can look like in the UK:
What nerds look like when they play sports:

Any Questions?