Interview: McMaster G.E.E.K. Squad

William Lou
April 2, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

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Far from its once derogatory nature, identifying as a “geek” or a “nerd” has quickly grown into a cultural norm in society. Whether it’s superheroes dominating major motion pictures, leaders in technology becoming idolized celebrities, or conventions like Comic Con attracting over 150,000 people to one event, the growth of nerd culture is undeniable.

However, the “nerd community” is still far from perfect. Yes, nerd culture is becoming less stigmatized, and yes, people are embracing various forms of media that would once be labeled “lame” or “uncool,” but the community still remains largely dominated by the male half of the population.

Specifically, women in various “nerdy” fields have struggled to break into what has and continues to be, a male dominated scene. What’s worse, rather than fighting to fix this issue, some in the community seem more comfortable fighting against the inclusion of women in this scene, rather than embracing their interest with open arms.

These challenges are present across various groups, online and in person. For example, a recent controversial video by Twitch streamer Sky Williams, which criticized the behavior of female streamers on Twitch, erupted into a large discussion of women’s place in the world of gaming.

Filled with aggressive tweets and frustrated fans, this controversy is just one of many examples that reflects a culture still fighting the discrimination that women experience in male-dominated, “nerdy” fields.

Unsurprisingly, McMaster is subject to these same forces. While nerd culture has grown, many of the same challenges women face on a global scale are still experienced on campus. Thankfully, some organizations are hoping to change that.

Barbara Karpinski and Katrina Pullia are two of the founding members of the McMaster G.E.E.K. Squad, a club that’s worked to not only provide a hub for nerd culture at McMaster, but also helped break down the barriers that are holding back the community as a whole, including sexism.

After starting a small Facebook group between some like-minded friends, the club quickly took off. In a span of only two years, the club has grown from 10 members to over 600. This growth is something Pullia and Karpinski believe is due partially to the increasing presence of nerd culture in society.

“It’s definitely becoming less stigmatized,” said Karpinski. “It’s no longer something you have to hide or be afraid to show people. Instead it’s something you can use to connect with people and make friends.”

“Yeah, it used to be ‘you still do that? You still play video games? That’s so lame, you’re a loser,’ but it’s not like that anymore,” said Pullia. “It’s seen a big twist away from something ‘lame people do’ towards something that everyone can do to have fun.”

Still, Karpinski and Pullia admitted that the club has not been immune to sexism. In particular, some female members in the club have often found themselves at times, subject to intense skepticism regarding whether they are a “real” fan.

“We’ve definitely have had some issues for sure. I think the main issue is, if a guy doesn’t know a move from a game, or a character from a show, no one calls them out on it,” said Pullia. “However, if a girl doesn’t know, you hear: ‘do you even do this? Are you here just for the boys? Do you even game?’ We get that a lot, the ‘are you a real gamer?’”

“Right now our ratio [of members] is predominately boys. At some events we’ve had like eight or even ten boys to every girl,” said Pullia. “Because of that, we’re trying to work on bringing more women into the club, since it can definitely be intimidating for a girl to walk in a room with 30-40 boys, and have all the eyes turn … When a girl walks into a group like that, and they all stare at her and it goes silent, yeah, don’t do that. Girls tell us at times that [boys] just don’t know how to interact with them. Guys often come off as second guessing girls’ knowledge.”

However, Pullia doesn’t believe these kinds of judgements come from a bad place. “I really don’t think it’s anything malicious at this point; it’s more just ignorance unfortunately.”

For many women, however, these judgements can make these communities seem unwelcoming. When asked if she had any advice to give to women struggling with the challenges of being accepted in these various “nerdy” fields, Pullia said, “I like to remind people that their feelings are valid; you are who you say you are. If you’re a great gamer, you are a great gamer. There isn’t a quantitative scale that can tell you what you are, or what you enjoy. If you love anime, you love anime; nobody can take that away from you. Everyone here is here for a reason, so it should be an equal space. It can be frustrating when a lot of our [male] members say they want more girls to come to our events, but they don’t realize that it’s that kind of behavior that’s scaring them off. We’re trying to remind people that gender is irrelevant in the world of gaming.”

In spite of these challenges, Karpinski and Pullia believe the most important part of the G.E.E.K. Squad club is its ability to create a safe, judgment-free space. All of the challenges the club is facing right now are something that the founding members believe they can overcome in time.

“I think G.E.E.K. Squad is definitely something good that’s happening on campus and we’re proud to be a part of that,” said Pullia. “People dismiss it as ‘the video game club on campus,’ but it’s so much more than that. It gives people a safe place to share their interests, and to just hang out and have fun. It drops the stigma, and a lot of people don’t realize how much that means to our members.”

While the growth of nerd culture is still trying to iron out some of its kinks, it’s clear that groups like the McMaster G.E.E.K. Squad are trying to change that, one step at a time.

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