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[Q & A] ‘That weird chick who plays RPGs’

- November 2nd, 2011


Katherine Curtis would like you to know that she was rocking the whole geek-girl shtick before geek-girls were cool.

She’s the Naked Nerd over at Naked News, a beloved speaker at cons, a dancer in Nerd Girl Burlesque, a mother-to-be, and every now and then, a bisexual warrior with a soft spot for mages. Oh, and she’s been kicking men’s asses in video games since she got a TurboGrafx-16 for her sixth birthday

Over at Naked News (the Internet news show aptly described as “the program with nothing to hide”), Curtis reviews video games, as well as writes, produces and, of course, stars in her own segment called The Naked Nerd, which covers all things geeky. You can check out some PG-13 clips on YouTube.

I recently chatted with Curtis about the state the video gaming industry, the rise of the geek-girl and why dudes can such be douches in MMOs.

When did you start gaming? Are you one of those people who’s owned every console since Atari, or did you get into the scene later in life like myself?

Every console since Atari? No. Since TurboGrafx-16? Yes. My Dad was pretty cool, and tended to buy me “toys” he wanted to play with. So I got my first console for my sixth birthday. My first games were a really violent hockey game called Hit The Ice (you could kick your opponents in the groin), and Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. Since then, I’ve owned a number of different consoles.

How did you go about turning your gaming prowess and complete nerdom into a media career?

I created the Naked Nerd because I am a nerd, and nerds love naked chicks. Even us femmegeeks. We grow up with scantily clad women gracing the covers of comic books, video games, fantasy and sci-fi novels. Barely-dressed women in impossible outfits in geek-lit has become a bit of a trope, and for good reason.

The thing is, though, people entrenched in fan culture can also tell when someone doesn’t know their stuff and is just pandering. That’s why there’s been such a backlash against the “hot nerd girl” type — because hot girls pretending to be “nerds” has become chic, somehow. I think that’s why I’ve been a bit more successful than most — because my passion for comics, gaming, sci-fi, and horror comes through in the segments that I write and produce.

Do you find, because of that, you have really go out of your way to prove you’re the real deal? Do people ever dismiss you as a woo-girl some producer slapped a pair of glasses onto?

Surprisingly, no. I expected it, but I haven’t really experienced that sort of backlash myself. Maybe it’s because I was going to conventions long before I started at Naked News, maybe it’s because my passion for comic books and video games shows through. I’m not sure why, but I’ve managed to avoid that label.

Of course, you and I both know that there is a thriving community of women and girl gamers out there, but the concept of a woman who games — especially an attractive woman such as yourself — still seems foreign to a lot of folks still stuck to old stereotypes. What’s been your experience with that type of attitude?

It was worse growing up. I have sob stories about getting picked on and beaten up, just like everyone else who was a nerd, or a dork, or something that wasn’t a bully. However, I’ve seen a massive shift in the prevalent attitude about gamer girls in recent years — gaming’s become cool. So I’ve suddenly gone from “that weird chick who plays RPGs” to “that weird chick that plays RPGs AND OH GOD THAT IS SO HOT.” I’m not sure when the shift happened, and I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that I am still not treated as an equal, but I suppose blind worship beats getting the crap kicked out of me.

In what way do you feel you’re not treated as an equal?

Because girl gamers aren’t treated as equals. When you’re raised on some pedestal just because of an activity you enjoy and no other good reason, that’s still not equality. When you’re constantly hit on while you’re trying to frag somebody, that’s not equality.

Do you tell people your gender when you play MMORPGs (assuming that you do, in fact, play MMORPGs), and if so, what’s the reaction like? Ever tell anyone you’re the Naked Nerd?

First off, I rarely play online. I game to get AWAY from people. I’d rather play against AI any day, given the chance, and a lot of my favorite games — the God of War series, Dragon Age — tend to be well-suited to single player. There are a few MMOs that I play, though, and while I’ll often play as a woman, I won’t necessarily disclose my ACTUAL gender — and I never tell other players that I’m the Naked Nerd. I’ve just seen guys act too weird when they know there’s a woman in the room.

How do they act?

Oh, some make the usual misogynistic jokes, or they’ll constantly hit on you, or they’ll work too hard to impress you. The dynamic totally shifts. And when I’m playing online, I’m not there to make friends or get dates. I’m there to kill things and collect loot.

I tend to prefer to play a female character if at all possible, but sadly, a lot of games feature male protagonists — and insufferably boring ones, too. Is that lack of female representation ever a source of frustration for you?

YES. Dear game companies, more female heroes, please. This is why I love BioWare — in games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, you have full control over the type of character you play, from looks to gender to personality — even down to your sexual preference. MORE GAMES SHOULD BE DOING THIS. It’s a more immersive experience, and a more relatable one.

I completely agree! I’m automatically more invested in a game if I get to spend a bunch of time making just the right character. So, tell me about the kind of characters you like to play. What’s your Dragon Age character like?

My Hawke is a sarcastic, good-hearted warrior class with a soft spot for mages, and she’s bisexual. I’ve had “relationships” with both Isabella and Anders. Oh, and she’s a redhead, of course.

Of course. You recently announced that you are pregnant, so congratulations are in order. As the coolest and nerdiest mom ever, are you going to be playing video games with your kid?

Thank you, and I definitely plan on gaming with my son. Video games are great tools for learning. Kids learn best by interaction, according to most studies, and what form of media is more interactive than a video game? Plus, there’s the hand-eye co-ordination element of it, and it’s a great way to bond.

However, as much as I loved kicking 16-bit hockey players in the groin at six years old, I’ll probably be starting my son off with more Super Mario Bros and less Grand Theft Auto. I’d rather hold off the “Mom, what’s a hooker?” talk for as long as I can.

What if you teach him so well, the apprentice surpasses the master and he starts kicking your ass?

That just means I’ve taught him well.

OK, let’s steer away from the gendered questions and just talk games. What’s your favourite genre of game to play and why?

It really depends on the game. I steer away from first-person shooters because the first-person camera tends to make me dizzy after a few hours of playing, but I like everything from DCU Online to Arkham City to God of War to Dragon Age to Mortal Kombat. For release after a tough day, I really like hack-and-slash or fighting games.

OK, so the kind of game you play depends on your mood. I’m going to name some scenarios, and you tell me what kind of game goes best with them. It’ll be like pairing meals with wine.

On a Date.

Portal 2 co-op. Nothing that puts you head to head — I’m too competitive.
At a party with friends.

Mortal Kombat.

Hungover on the couch.

Any bright, fun platformer. This is a good time to bust out the Wii.

Putting off some other responsibility.

Dragon Age 2.

Post-breakup.

God of War, or anything else that lets you eviscerate things with a minimum of weaponry.

With your best friend.

Any fighting game is great for this.

Stressed out and needing to get away from it all.

Catherine.

Nervous about something, like say, a job interview.

I can’t play when I’m nervous. That screws with my concentration.

Feeling great after a big accomplishment, like getting a job!

This is when you treat yourself to that new title you’ve been eyeing on the shelves — and you buy the collector’s edition.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry today?

Honestly? The gamers. It seems like, whenever anyone in the industry tries something new, they’re rewarded by entitled jerks who crap all over it, often with no good reason to. Look at the 3DS, for example. I thought it was a remarkable achievement. Was it perfect? No, but it was a great step in the right direction. I think it’s harder to impress anyone in the gaming community these days, and when you’re constantly under fire for new innovations, it kills creativity, and that’s why we get one million Call of Duty sequels instead of something original.

What’s the coolest change the video game industry is going through at the moment?

The move towards more immersive gaming — motion controls, touch screens, the ability to play full games on your smartphone or your iPad. The new Wii U looks really cool. Gaming is a completely different experience than it was even five years ago. The innovation and evolution that this industry has gone through is staggering.

What game(s) are you playing right now?

I’m picking up Arkham City tomorrow (Editor’s note: This interview is a month old), and I’ve been playing the new Dragon Age DLC featuring Felicia Day for the past week or so, and I occasionally still log onto my DCU account.

What games are you excited about for future?

I can’t wait to get Arkham City, and I’m excited for Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s a good thing that, come March, I won’t be leaving the house much.

If you could be any video game character, who would you be and why?

Mileena from Mortal Kombat. Three words: LEAPING. NECK. BITE.

What is your absolute, hands-down, stranded-on-a-desert-island favourite video game of all time, and why?

Blasto! For PSOne. Don’t judge me.

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