Editor’s note: A newbie and a veteran spent the day at GeekGirlCon in Seattle this weekend, one to discover her inner geek and the other to revel in a community she’s been a part of since childhood. The newbie, Ashley Walls, and her long-time geek friend, Izumi Hansen, share their experiences from this year’s conference at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
They attended panels on comic books, explored tech careers and hung out with people who are breaking down gender barriers in the geek community. GeekGirlCon started out as the “Geek Girls Exist” panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2010 with the goal of celebrating the female presence in the geek and fan worlds.
Why we came: Ashley Walls
I’m not a geek. I didn’t grow up with video games or comic books. The most advanced gaming system I ever owned was a blue Gameboy Color, accompanied by a handful of games to the likeness of Mario Kart and Donkey Kong.
My parents believed that video games contributed to social ineptness and a conditioning to violence. Society reinforced these beliefs, always presenting the “geek” as a lesser, weird counterpart to the popular kids. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that “geek” culture was something that I was genuinely missing out on.
So why start now? Why would someone like me, who previously never had an even remote interest to attend an event like this, decide to go now?
Geek culture is diverse and constantly evolving. It’s rooted in classic games and comics, and is moving forward with new gaming technology and techniques.
When my best friend offered to take me to the convention with her, I couldn’t turn her offer down. I’ve always been a fan of geekiness in popular culture forms — Marvel superhero movies and Harry Potter — but I never sought out anything more than a superficial comprehension of the characters and storylines.
I wanted to dive in headfirst to GeekGirlCon and discover my inner geek.
The oddity and the underdog are what I always appreciated. This likely drew me to the worlds of fandom nine years ago. And I won’t look back. It started with Harry Potter until he fell to peripheral when anime and manga piqued my interest. Eventually my niche within this large community became costumes.
Geekery has been a large part of my life, particularly connecting with a community to share the experience. GeekGirlCon is my 11th fan convention, having previously attended other anime and video gaming conventions. Generally I attend the local anime convention, but this year I decided to attend GeekGirlCon instead because I’ve experienced the geek girl in desperate need of support.
Before college, I didn’t acknowledge realize there were underlying diversity problems within geek and fan communities.
In my upper division astronomy, math, and physics classes, women make-up around 10 percent of the students. That’s a dismal percentage compared to the lower division classes, where about a third of the class are women.
At conventions in costume, I’ve had instances where I felt uncomfortable interacting with other attendees. Often comments or request for photo shoots are of a sexualized nature. Other women have had scarier experiences than me with this problem. It’s uncommon, but most female cosplayers have similar experiences.
What we discovered: Izumi Hansen
You can feel something different walking around GeekGirlCon. Kayla Mayer, an artist in the vendor’s hall, summed it up best.
Mayer described GeekGirlCon as the “perfect spot” between “focused and pro” comic conventions, and “crazy” anime conventions.
“It’s very welcoming. It’s a much more mixed group,” she said.
The mixed nature of the convention is visibly evident in the dealer’s hall. I found products ranging from fan art to original comics to licensed merchandise of series from America, Britain, Japan and other countries. Merchandise at an anime convention would be limited to official merchandise of anime series from Japan and the United States companies.
“Since it’s celebrating the women in geek culture I think it’s more relatable for us,” said Jen Kraft, who attended GeekGirlCon with her friend Kate Karlson. “The environment is warm and positive.”
The technological side of the convention contains the same sentiments.
Sonia Randhawa, an incident manager at F5 Neworks Inc, attended GeekGirlCon with F5 Networks Inc. to speak about employment opportunities. F5 Networks Inc. maintained a booth in the GeekGirlConnections area of the convention, where attendees could meet representatives from the University of Washington’s Information School to Girl Scouts of America to Amazon.
“When I joined the tech industry, the sciences weren’t promoted [to women] like they are now,” Randhawa said. “They will not be alone. They need to know that.”
Attendees, some of whom were children, learned about careers n the tech industry and that the opportunities are available to them.
The geek girl can be one aspect, some, or all of that person’s identity, and GeekGirlCon created a space for acceptance of that person without limitations.
Before even walking into the Convention Center, I was instantly aware that I was in for an all-encompassing experience by attending GeekGirlCon.
Many convention attendees were dressed in sophisticated cosplay, casually walking down the streets. Cosplay is a huge part of these types of events and they varied in level of complexity — from elf ears to a fully functional Dalek model from Doctor Who.
Rob Doran, a teacher at Newport High School, spent five months working on his Iron Man cosplay.
“My wife and I moved here from the East Coast and this is one of the best conventions in Seattle,” he said. “I wanted to be able to inspire my students, and empower them to be active in the things they’re passionate about.”
GeekGirlCon included author signings, expo halls, an artist alley, console rooms, panels and a tabletop gaming section.
Alejandro Rodriguez, a recruiter from AreaNet, the creator and developer of the Guild Wars games, said that they attend the GeekGirlCon to remind female geeks that their ideas are just as important to the future of gaming.
“It’s silly to think that only one group could have good ideas for gaming. It’s narrow-minded, because everyone has something unique to bring to the table. Everyone has dreams and talents, and we want to help people achieve theirs.”
After exploring the convention floor, I attended a panel on learning more about comic books, which turned out to be a great decision.
Panelist Kara O’Conner discussed how she got started in comic books, saying, “I didn’t know that other comics besides the typical superhero ones were out there.” She recommended seeking out free comic book days and hitting social media to find out what other enthusiasts suggest.
O’Conner and also addressed sexism among other readers or comic store patrons.
“If you love something and are passionate about it, then you have to go for it and ignore the talk,” she said. “Be a strong person and be who you are – if a guy says that you can’t enjoy comic books because you’re a girl, they don’t matter.”
GeekGirlCon and others like it aren’t just for fans to come and interact with each other, it’s also a platform for game developers to interact with potential players.
That’s what “Food Porn” makers Carrie Seaberg and Jon Lavigne came to GeekGirlCon to do. With a similar premise to “Apples to Apples,” their game has a situation that you must cook in — for example, a spouse coming home in 20 minutes — and food cards, which have different ingredients that you can use with recipes.
A roll of the dice tells you how many ingredients you are allocated, and players compete to have the best thrown-together meal. Seaberg and Lavigne came to GGC with their company, Geek Vs Life Studios to showcase several of their games and to build a fanbase before launching a Kickstarter fundraising effort.
While exploring, I also realized how the entire gaming experience has evolved into being a cinematic one.
Sitting in the Ubisoft console room, I scrolled through games on the Playstation 3 until I stumbled upon “The Journey.” Although I didn’t quite understand what my task was at first, the visual effects of the game were absolutely stunning. Having no previous extensive knowledge about video games, I quickly understood how much of an art form this type of entertainment is.
It’s clear that female fan bases are growing — nearly half of all game players are female. Conventions like this one are popping up all over the country, demonstrating the growth of a truly female-friendly geek culture.
Ashley Walls and Izumi Hansen are journalism students at The University of Washington.