I recently posted a personal account of how Dark Souls made me cry. People On the Internet were surprisingly nice, and several women shared their own similar experiences with me. Apparently I’m not the only one who has felt the crushing pressure to defy the Geek Girl Stereotype.
But a few people close to me in real life seemed puzzled. This account, this person they were reading about didn’t seem like the Confident Young Academic that they knew. What they really meant, was that this kind of post wasn’t “on brand.” And these people weren’t sure how to reconcile an honest account of vulnerability with the Confident Young Academic they knew me to be.
And besides, is this really how I want people to see me?
Building a brand is hard. All social media is performative, and when your persona exists too far from your self (or at least what you believe your self to be), it’s draining. On the other hand, performing yourself is harder than it sounds, like trying to blink normally when your blinking is brought to your attention. When running a netprov on Twitter, my students found it easier to play characters than to play themselves; maybe there’s something to that.
And besides, I find myself going through an interesting transitional period around my sense of self.
I don’t voice my opinions as loudly as I used to, not because I don’t have them, but because I’ve realized that outrage is the most contagious emotion, and I’m tired of it being the only currency games deal in. I don’t want to just spread outrage, I’m not interested in Twitter as a popularity contest, and I’m tired of the squabbling within Social Justice Circles.
Lately I’ve been wondering what I can contribute to the community and therefore wondering what role and persona will most effectively communicate that contribution. By default, I seem to have built a persona around Being an Academic, but after spending more time among industry folks, I realize how out of touch and Ivory Tower that persona feels. It doesn’t feel like me anymore, but I’m struggling to determine what does feel like me. And even if I knew, I’m not convinced I could perform it.
None of the conscious search for an online persona feels genuine. I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the myriad labels people use for me, because they feel reductive and I don’t feel like any one of those things. And so I’ve had to ask “what do I want out Twitter and more broadly, what do I want out of the Internet?”
The lights have come on at the Games Culture Club, and some people I previously admired, people I wanted to emulate, suddenly look very different. These days when I look around, I see people who write off entire branches of a medium because those creators hold different values or come from outside of the established cliques. I see people looking for boxes rather than looking for lenses, building walls rather than bridges. I see people who have cultivated personalities around being weird or different and don’t know how to cope when the mainstream accepts that weirdness. I see people who have internalized victimhood to the point that they perpetuate their own prison, while others feign victimhood to weaponize it. I see people publicly cutting others down for today’s tiny fame. Meanwhile, frustrated and out of breath, a few folks in the corner shout reason and sense into a room too distracted by a fresh celebrity to notice.
The people I still admire are the ones doing the work: the ones making things, writing honestly, encouraging discussion, teaching, fostering empathy, and sharing knowledge. It’s action, not persona, that I’ve come to admire, but maybe those are more intertwined than I give credit for.
So what persona do I want to build? One that captures as much of me as possible without having to feel like I’m performing. Part of that means writing pieces like this, ones that will contradict the Confident Young Academic. People are complex, and I’m no different.
“Games are too small for anyone to write honestly,” a friend complained over coffee. “But I suppose you’re welcome to try.”
I have to try. We all do.