The internet can be a big and scary place for just about anyone who spends much time there, but especially so for a teenager who is trying to find her place in the world and her voice online.
Sonja Marcus is a 16-year-old geek, gamer and blogger from Woodinville, Wash, who has been running a website called Soultamer Gaming since she was 11. She also recently spoke at GeekGirlCon and she’s GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.
Marcus says geek culture has always been a part of her life, whether she was surrounding herself with sci-fi and fantasy books or playing Dungeons & Dragons and video games. She’s also involved with theater and robotics at Woodinville High School. But writing for her blog is one of her favorite current hobbies.
Even though she’s still young, Marcus says the reward in writing has shifted over time.
“In the beginning, I wanted a way to shout out to the world what I thought, and when I was 12 through 14, that worked out completely as expected,” Marcus said. “I made friends who thought like me, and I felt such a loving sense of community. As I got into high school and real life started getting more exciting for me, my blog became a source of immense pride.”
She said being regarded as “giant nerd” at school was easier to cope with at home, where the blog served as a place she could turn and find friends who would be there and listen.
“I gained confidence in myself and I’ve put myself out there a lot more,” Marcus said.
Her main fear with doing that early on was that she wouldn’t be taken seriously because of her age.
“What I try to keep in perspective is that most of my friends have been my friends since before I told the internet how old I was,” Marcus said. And that the experiences I share and have shared with them are all genuine no matter what.”
At only 16 it’s hard to imagine what five or 10 years from now looks like, but Marcus said she’ll “probably still be drowning in homework, except hopefully in college.”
“For the moment, I want to study biotechnology at UC Berkeley,” she said. “If things go my way, I still want to be writing my blog, and maybe I’ll continue to get cool opportunities like public speaking at that point.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Sonja Marcus:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I run a small website about “Indie Games, MMOs, and More” called Soultamer Gaming. I write about how games have impacted my life as I grow up in today’s culture, as well as indie game reviews and occasionally some of my cosplay. I started blogging when I was eleven, just because it looked kind of cool and I loved to write. Since then, it went from documenting my MMO (massively multiplayer online gaming) progression to connecting with all sorts of people and bringing to light some awesome games that don’t fit into the AAA circle. What blogging means to me is that I can broadcast what I have to say to the world, no matter who or where people are. As a teenager, it can be difficult sometimes to talk to a wide audience or be taken seriously, but through my blog and my social media, I’m able to reach out to more people than I could have done just on my own.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “This sounds absolutely cliche, but it’s too true: If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong. Something I’ve come into conflict with too often in my blogging experience is that I’ll put out something that I really enjoyed writing, but nobody read it. Other times, I’ll put out something that I put so little thought into, and my views will skyrocket! I spent some time a year or two ago just writing what people wanted to read, and while my views were fantastic, I dreaded writing new posts and thinking of something to put out. It was when I really dug deep and figured out what I wanted to write and what I wanted to play that I began loving to blog again, and though my views took a severe drop for almost a year, I found myself getting really excited to write and present, which wound up with me accepting speaking opportunities at GeekGirlCon and overall having a website that I’m really proud of.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “Whenever a game makes me smile or frown, I think to myself, “I bet someone else out there wants to hear about this.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My phone. I wish I could think of something much cooler, haha. Using Twitter to stay in touch with my friends both on and offline is something I really enjoy doing, especially when I can connect with someone across the country — or the world! — over gaming or something that I wrote about. Plus, it has all my music. For all the talking I do, I need my tunes when I choose to take some alone time.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Gosh darn it, you guys made me clean my room for this. This is the desk in my bedroom at which I play most of my games. The monitor for my PC sits on top, next to my (3-7 minutes fast) alarm clock and whatever notepapers or notebooks I have out. My PC is under the table on the bottom right, glowing blue. My friend showed me how to assemble it last January, and I love it so much. The USB ports are used for: My headset, my game controller, my phone charger, and sometimes a nicer microphone or my tiny drawing tablet. I love my workspace because it’s a little corner of the world that I can be 100 percent myself in while interacting online or goofing around in games.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I’m actually really bad at this. I’m the type that crams and crams and crams until I crash into the wall and refuse to get up for a couple of weeks. Lately, though, I’ve been trying really hard to sleep the same amount of sleep — and a healthy amount! — every night. If I can’t, apps like Sleepytime really help me regulate how much rest I’m getting. I’m working on staying realistic with myself and not overburdening myself. Getting the same amount of sleep every night helps me schedule out my day and prioritize what I plan to get done.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “I use both Mac and Windows. I adore my MacBook because it’s light, the updates don’t pull a “Windows 7 to Windows 8” on me, and it’s been doing exactly what I need it to do for at least three and a half years. My gorgeous PC does all the heavy-duty work for me, has more options to get things done, and has all of my games, video editing, and SolidWorks files. I’m looking forward to when we can develop a best of both worlds.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard. I should be more of a Trekkie than I am, but my friend got me hooked on Next Generation, and Picard is someone whose moral standards I’ve used in my every day life.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Cloak of Invisibility. Bad hair day? Need to get somewhere? You’re covered.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Probably look into biotechnology! Biotech is something I would love to do when I grow older.”
I once waited in line for … “Three hours on the sidewalk outside of Benaroya Hall in Seattle to see Acquisitions Incorporated at PAX. Totally worth it, I’d do it again.”
Your role models: “Sally Ride, Beverly Crusher, Bill Nye, and my sophomore year pre-calculus teacher. Sally Ride showed that intelligence and perseverance outweighed gender status, and I think of her whenever I feel like I have to do “be one of the guys” in the science fields I’m in or even in my gaming spaces. Doctor Crusher, also an intelligent, courageous woman, has a huge heart to go with having a strong presence whether she’s assisting patients in sick bay or challenging opinions of even the bridge command. Bill Nye makes me smile from his bow ties and sharp wit. He convinced me early on that science is cool and that I should feel cool for it. My pre-calculus teacher (Hi, Mr. K!) taught me to always keep my head up and to not let anything – especially myself – bring me down, and that I could do anything if I had the attitude to succeed. ”
Greatest game in history: “How am I supposed to answer this?! Videogames-wise, I can’t even begin. There are too many that I just couldn’t exist without. My current favorite is Crypt of the NecroDancer, though. As for anything else, Dungeons & Dragons, hands down. That game has shaped society and changed it forever. it surely has impacted my life for the better – I started out as a lonely pre-teen looking for geek friends when I first started to play, and the people I’ve gotten to adventure with since then have become some of my closest friends. I also DM now and take pride in sharing the experience of living in a fantasy world with others.”
Best gadget ever: “Does my microscope count as a gadget? Her name is Charlotte and I bought her for my birthday last year. I love taking water samples or leaf cuttings and looking at them.”
First computer: “We had this sad, old monitor that weighed more than my backpack on finals week last year. It was big and ugly and we had dial-up until I was just barely old enough to remember what the noise sounded like. ”
Current phone: “iPhone 5. When I upgrade, I’m going Google Pixel. Sorry, whatever is going on with the 7 just won’t catch on, and I prefer my phones not blowing up.”
Favorite app: “I don’t have a whole lot of apps on my phone, but I’m not about to say that Slack is my favorite. I’ve been playing Viridi for the past few months – It’s a free plant-growing simulator from a company in Seattle. It’s really soothing in its soundtrack and visuals, so when I need a short break from life, it’s there in my pocket. (I named all my plants after characters from Macbeth.)”
Most important technology of 2016: “SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The financial and environmental benefits of spacecraft that can land like that would be unimaginably significant.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Long-distance VR-integrated remote control. Imagine participating in some sort of research without having to pay for your ticket to the lab.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Don’t be afraid to be yourself!! Especially on the internet, there are people just like you sitting and waiting for people just like them (as in you!) to show themselves. Also, love each other. Geeks are a rare, incredibly special breed of human, and we all need to stick together, especially in times like these where some of us are really marginalized or face threats. Love each other to no ends, and be there for each other until time runs out.”
Website: Soultamer Gaming