The Convention Survivalist Guide
Talk Nerdy to Me - 2011 First Place

Fan Fiction
Snow Kiss
Maid to Love
Legend of Zelda

Soul Eater Review - 2011 Runner Up

Otaku Love at First Sight

Talk Nerdy to Me - 2011 First Place Winner

Sarah Woloschuk

Geekdom might be 'in vogue', but they still don't understand us.

Let's face it: nowadays, 'nerdy' has taken on a slightly new definition. You're no longer a nerd just for liking video games, anime, manga, or comic books - at least not when your knowledge about those things is restricted to the most common offerings. I was born in the early 90's, and fortunate enough to grow up with anime like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh playing on TV. Graphic Tees depicting Hello Kitty, Mario Bros, and even L.o.Z. references are trendy, showing up in BlueNotes as often as in your friendly neighbourhood comic store. Nerd culture has merged with the mainstream enough that in recent years extensive anime and manga collections have cropped up in local libraries for the general public to borrow and enjoy. To this, I raise my glass: my hobbies are identified in name and basic substance to most of my generation without much effort on my part, which I embrace gladly.

However, the luck of the otaku seems not to extend very much past this simple recognition. I imagine - and pardon the following comparison, all who have stuck with Math past Grade 11- it's akin to knowing what the word 'calculus' means, but going into slack-jawed glaze-eyed confusion whenever someone starts describing the various concepts and theories therein. If you've ever tried to tell someone that you watch 'Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni' or 'Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsuu', for instance, their reaction will likely be as follows:

It doesn't even have to be a Japanese series title. Try calling someone 'tsundere' in a regular conversation: "Oh, once you get to know her she's not so bad - she's a tsundere." Or, if you're up for a real challenge, explain what 'moe' entails. Even more simple - tell someone you're into cosplay or lolita. Aside from sounding like a huge weaboo, (Hey! Another word to play around with!) you'll see this face again -------- >

It's the one that screams, "WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" Yet such is the fate of our fandoms - video games, manga, anime, cosplay, J-pop, whatever - because geeking out over anime seem to attract a lot of ridicule.

In terms of those who dabble in nerd culture, I don't think this issue is too problematic. Japanese media started popping over in the 1980's, and with the internet being what it is, our fandoms and related information have become much more accessible... and thus more understandable, at least when people a) don't mind doing a little research or b) don't really care what's done in someone's spare time. But what're we teens supposed to do in our fledgling animu years, when we still rely on our parents for room, board, sometimes money, and permission to go hang out with friends? All of a sudden there are restrictions on what's "appropriate" -- perhaps a valid concern. More universally, we have to deal with friends and total strangers: this hobby is one where we tend to be apologetic when we must explain ourselves, feeling the strain between wanting to share our hobbies and not wanting to be mocked for them. I think all those tensions are most pronounced when talking about a convention.

Think about it: a convention is essentially a mass gathering of nerds, from the least involved to the most hardcore fans amongst us. We take our fandom from our parents' basements and crappy apartments to a public space; regardless of the extent to which Japanimation plays into our individual identities and leisure time, we're all lumped into one visible, "exposed" category. If anyone's ever been disallowed from or leery of taking public transit to a con due to a costume or outfit (Lolita, anyone?) because it's "too weird" you'll have a feeling as to how we try to reduce those stresses. For some people, harassment is a legitimate concern. And at Otafest in the past, there had always been a sports tourney of some kind - which makes for some rather amusing encounters with random-adult-citizens and co-ed jocks alike. Sometimes there's a conversation where someone is genuinely curious about what's going on; other times, the discussion is awfully one-sided, usually involving the word "freaks".

How are we supposed to respond to this? I mean, I can personally say this: these are my passions. I love the con scene, with all its highs and lows; I love cosplaying and panels and anime showings and contests; I adore gatherings and meet-ups, and Otafest is always the high point of my year. I've met some of my best friends in the world here. There are some who say that my hobby makes me immature, but I think if they're formulating that opinion of me, it better be based off my personality and actions - in which case I'm willing to alter behaviour. That doesn't mean I'll be ashamed of liking this media. I've found anime, manga, and video games that are incredibly emotive, meaningful, and thought-provoking, just as I've found some that are just plain silly and fun. Other aspects, like cosplay and Artists Alley, have shown me just how much personal growth and development of artistic skills can occur through this hobby. Are some of us obsessed? Absolutely. Is that negative? Not necessarily. I don't view this hobby as any more "dangerous" than collecting CD's or attending sports games would be.

Even so, we need to face it: anime is strange. After 5 years of immersion in this community, I'm still discovering things that cause me to scratch my head a little, although my friends and I generally laugh about it with a simple: "Oh, Japan!" Once you learn the language of Japanese media and conventions, you become accepting - and perhaps expectant - of oddities. It's part of what makes things so entertaining. But I'm going to argue that if we want to take on those squinty, confused-as-heck eyes of "outsiders" or newcomers in a positive manner, we need to first accept that we're a subculture - and one that requires a bit of getting used to. Still, if we present ourselves respectfully and honestly, I bet people will see that we're not unintelligible; nerdy's just another way of talking.

Otafest 2011 Schedule:


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When & where:

May 20-22, 2011
University of Calgary
2500 University Drive N.W.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada


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