Speak Out with your Geek Out

If you Google me, you find a number of websites and social media posts outlining my involvement with the games publishing industry. I’m open about my dorkier pastimes, but not everyone is or feels they can be. So when Monica Valentinelli, an author and game designer, responded to a recent online gamer-shaming kerfluffle with the idea of having a “geek pride” blogging week, I leapt at the chance to get involved. Though my plans went awry due to a cross-country move, I thought the subject worth pursuing.

We in the library field are pretty geeky ourselves (or nerdy, or dorky) and we have the luxury of being able to be open about our off-the-beaten-track passions without much fuss from our colleagues or patrons. Whether we’re knititng enthusiasts, balletomanes, comic book fans or even just diehard Twitterers, most if not all of us are geeks of some kind. We live in a world of information that offers us a universe of possibilities. We are smart and dedicated, and channel our passions in a myriad of ways.

In my first month as a reference intern during library school, I was approached by an undergraduate student doing work for a 200-level class on Slavic history. The assignment was a fairly simple book review, but she was having trouble translating the assignment into a set of criteria she could use to find something in the library. Fortunately or unfortunately, she got me at the reference desk. My last course as an undergraduate was an absolutely outstanding advanced history course on Byzantine history gave me a serious geek love of Slavic and Byzantine history. I’m pretty sure I overwhelmed her a bit with my suggestions (though my supervisor assured me that most new librarians do that at some point), but I was excited not only by the chance to share what I knew but also to introduce her to a field she’d barely been aware of before.

As a librarian, I am immensely lucky to be able to pursue that feeling of wonder and excitement in the world around me. Whether it’s the challenges of arts metadata, the intricacies of digital mapping projects, the vast promise of the semantic web or just the simple joy of learning something during a reference interview, the information universe is forever showing new vistas to me.

If that makes me a geek (and I’ve been assured it does), then so be it. I’m a geek.

And I’m proud of it.

My Secret Identity: The Editrix

Since I graduated from library school in May, I’ve been job hunting, working part-time (a situation I’ll explain in another post) and spending varying amounts of time on the best freelancing job ever – editing roleplaying game manuscripts for White Wolf Publishing.

A bit of background: I’ve been editing publications in some form or another most of my adult life. I was on the newspaper staff in high school. I helped found an undergraduate history journal in college, and I spent five years working for News & Information at Washington University, including working directly on the weekly newspaper the Record.

In 2004 I met one of my best friends, Eddy Webb, who was at that time an independent game designer and also working at WashU. I’d just recently discovered the world of pen-and-paper gaming, though I was a longtime computer gamer. Eddy had gotten the opportunity to write an RPG book for a licensed property and asked me if I wanted to edit the book. (He and I had had many grammar- and language-nerd chats in the months we’d known each other and he knew I was looking for something interesting to fill my free time.) Thus my career as a freelance editor began with the … quirky… RPG, Tomorrow Knights.

The experience was eye-opening. Editing prose is generally pretty easy – if you know the basic rules of English and have some kind of style guide, you just scan and look for errors and idiosyncrasies. Editing game rules, however, is trickier. There’s a bit of math-checking involved (does this number in this stat plus that number in that ability add up to the bonus indicated in this rule?); a bit of scenario-testing (if a character did this with this power, would it be likely to overpower other aspects of the game?); and a bit of flavor-tasting (does the supernatural effect described here fit in with the other pieces of the game world as written?). Some days it flows easier than others, but it’s always more of a challenge than any other kind of editing I’ve ever done.

Over the next few years, Eddy got more game work and often offered me the chance to edit. I got to work on his awesomely weird science fiction-noir game Midway City along with layout maestro Adam Jury. Eddy was eventually hired by White Wolf and in early 2008 (after some pestering on my part) gave me the opportunity to work for the company as a freelancer. I’d played WW’s games for about five years at that point and was familiar with their style and the semi-fantasy world of their World of Darkness game line (and to a lesser extent, their Exalted game). I had reference books and I was ready to go. My probationary job apparently went well, since I’ve been editing now for almost three years.

It’s not a thrilling job – there’s a lot of tiny nitpicks like fixing smart quotes or making sure “Willpower” is spelled out instead of abbreviated. I see a lot of really terrible purple prose (amateur romance novelists, you’ve got nothing on game writers). I’ve rewritten some manuscripts pretty heavily to remove evidence of poor English, close-minded attitudes, and concepts that are better suited to some other company’s games than White Wolf’s.

Despite all that, it’s a FUN job. Since the majority of projects I work on are set in the World of Darkness, an alternate reality that mirrors real life, I do a lot of fact-checking and research to make sure things have the ring of truth. I get to learn more about games that I enjoy playing. On one occasion I was even given the chance to write a chunk of an “in-character” religious text, drawing on my background in religious history.

While I continue the hunt for a library or education job, I’m glad I have the opportunity to keep my brain going with a deadline-driven, language- and research-heavy, deeply weird job. (Though I’m going to continue to use that Oxford comma on my blog, even if WW’s style guide won’t let me!)

Games in Libraries – Sort of

It’s the week of GenCon Indy, which means my Twitter feed is saturated with updates from colleagues in the gaming industry talking about the convention. For those who’ve never been to GenCon, it’s an impressive spectacle – about the size of ALA annual, but with a significant minority of attendees in some form of costume. Like ALA, GenCon Indy is the premiere professional event for the gaming industry, but unlike ALA, GenCon is also a huge entertainment event, with games run by and for fans of various gaming media.

The gaming community constitutes a small but growing subculture in many Western countries, with tabletop (think Dungeons and Dragons), LARP (live-action-role-play — similar to those mystery dinner party games), and video games for consoles, PCs, and portable devices proliferating. Unlike comics, which are finding increased footing in the academic world, gaming and its books and paraphernalia still have a significant stigma. Much as “genre fiction” (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, western, and romance) is still not taken seriously by many public and academic libraries, gaming books seem to be regarded as exotic yet frivolous ephemera. Of the nearly 200 WorldCat holdings of the most recent D&D Player’s Handbook (a major release from a leader in the field), only 5 were at American universities, though both Oxford and Cambridge universities have a copy in their collections.

Gaming is finding its footing as entertainment in our public libraries, but will we ever reach a point of cultural saturation where building a collection of gaming books as a part of our cultural heritage will be viable? These are usually bound books, far more capable of withstanding abuse than many of our pamphlets, flyers, and other ephemera of our archives and collections. They can serve a dual purpose – like popular literature collections – of source text for researchers and entertainment for laymen. Research in video gaming and its players is taking off, so why is “pen and paper” gaming still languishing in the basement?