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September 2015

Finding Strength in Unexpected Places: Video Games – A TED Talk you MUST know about

Today piece is all about sharing insights on Jane Mcgonigal’s amazing TED talk regarding how video games can increase your life span and be an incredible source of strength. Seems like some kind of nerd-scam, doesn’t it?

No funny business - promise!
No funny business – promise!

I assure you, there is no techno babble that attempts to convince non-gamers that they’re missing out. It’s pretty simple, actually – read on to find out!

I’ll be posting a link to the TED Talk video (which I discovered during one of my many late night TED Talk binge episodes…) at the end of this post – it’s just under 20 minutes long and well worth the watch.

Mcgonigal is a video game developer, which gives her a unique view of games, how they’re built, what their intent is, and the joy and purpose that can come from them. She begins her talk explaining how she often has to defend the nature of gaming since the popular perception is that games are a waste of time. That everyone that plays video games, undoubtedly, will regret spending so much time on them come the final hour on their death bed.

She explains that – believe it or not – some science has been performed on the topic. Based on a hospice survey, the most reported regret registered by patients is not, in fact, spending too much time playing games or on recreational activities – it is working too much.

Way better than video games, right? Wrong.
Way better than video games, right? Wrong.

Here are the remaining four of the top five regrets:

“I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.”

“I wish I’d let myself be happier.”

“I wish I had the courage to express my true self.”

“I wish I led a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.”

She goes onto explain how the regret of working too much is often associated with wishing they’d had more time with their family and kids. She points out that studies have shown parents who play games with their children have much stronger real life relationships with them.

Wanting to spend more time with friends can be directly correlated to more social-based games like Words with Friends and Farmville.

She points out that studies have also shown that video games often outpace the positive results of pharmaceuticals (although I have to imagine the addictive-ness of either may be the same).

Wishing to have the courage to express your true self can be easily associated with games like World of Warcraft where you can build your truest self for all to see.

I get to be who I want to be - the power is intoxicating!
I get to be who I want to be – the power is intoxicating!

The connections Mcgonigal makes are simple but profound – what we see as a waste of time seems to be all the things we wish we’d done when we get to the end of our lives. I don’t know about you, but this made me stop and think I’d been seeing the world upside-down all this time.

What comes next is equally as thought-provoking in my mind. She explains that a head injury had her bed-ridden for 3 months of her life, and in this time – limited in what she could do – suicidal ideation began to set in.

I believe this is a concept that most of us can identify with. Many people – not just us nerds – struggle with depression and anxiety that can turn into something big, scary and seemingly insurmountable. Mcgonigal takes a fascinating approach to a way we might be able to overcome these destructive feelings.

To overcome her own feelings of depression, she decided to start playing real-world games – since video games were off limits due to her condition. Her game worked on the same principle, however – that by performing tasks or behaviors, she would gain and unlock achievements.

She called this game, “Jane the Concussion Slayer”

She recalled from studying game psychology that when we play games, we tackle problems with more creativity, optimism and determination. In addition, it makes people more likely to reach out for help.

And in the spirit of reaching out for help, she asked her sister to join in on the game she was creating. They identified the triggers for her concussion symptoms – like bright lights or crowds – and created and collected ‘power-ups’. Power-ups could be as simple as cuddling her dog for 10 minutes or walking around the block just once. Once she put parameters around it, it all seemed easy:

Adopt a secret identity

Recruit allies

Battle the bad guys

Activate the power-ups

Within days, Mcgonigal felt the fog of her depression begin to dissipate. Though the physical symptoms of her condition persisted for another year, as she says, she wasn’t ‘suffering.’

Understanding her situation was unique, but wanting to spread the concept, Mcgonigal re-branded the ‘Concussion Slayer’ to ‘SuperBetter’ with the same rules. The response was incredible as people with all kinds of conditions reported their lives improved drastically due to adopting the practices of SuperBetter.

The game was allowing these people to experience something scientists call Post-Traumatic Growth. There are four kinds of strengths that contribute to scientific growth:

  1. Physical resilience – simply not sitting still.
  2. Mental resilience – will power gained through tackling and completing a challenge (even a small one!).
  3. Emotional resilience – actively trying to experience at least three positive emotions for every one negative. It dramatically improves your health and ability to tackle challenges!
  4. Social resilience – when you get more strength from your friends, family, community, via gratitude or physical touch – even through a long handshake!
    Pro-tip: long handshakes will increase the urge to help the person you shake hands with!

Mcgonical goes on to explain when these four types of resilience are exercised; science shows your life expectancy can increase significantly. It is these four principles that her real-life game is based on, which has all kinds of phenomenal side-effects such as happiness, longer life and fewer death bed regrets.

Consider the practical application of actively seeking to install these practices in your life via a never ending game like SuperBetter. Those with anxiety could boost their score by making eye contact with their friends or colleagues – made easier because it is an achievement to be unlocked instead of an awkward, painful necessity. Those with social nervousness could unlock an achievement by standing straighter in a crowd. Depression could be alleviated by seeking out positive experience like spending time with a pet or making their favorite tea.

When I was younger and trying to get through a tough transition in my life – I recall making up and playing a similar game. I was limited by my mental resources at the time, and as we all know by now, I am a huge Star Wars nerd. I would play the ‘Jedi’ game. This game consisted of always keeping my cool in anger and anxiety situations – in grocery stores, at home, at school. The objective of the game was to always look at things from the long view – to remove myself emotionally and evaluate things objectively. The results were pretty incredible! The little game got me through the transition and onto the next part of my life.

Sage advice, Master Yoda.
Sage advice, Master Yoda.

Until I watched Mcgonigal’s TED talk, I had completely forgotten about this game I played to get me through desperate times. Listening to her explain the psychology and science behind the methodology was a welcome and pleasant experience. Her view on how games can help us develop and live full lives is a refreshing one.

Now I think about the areas I struggle with at this time in my life – my occasional anxiety in crowds and the confidence in the way I look and move – and I think about the kind of game I can play with myself and others to gain where I am lacking. Instead of being nervous around strangers, I can project confidence because in doing so, I am winning the game and can go onto the next challenge.

So the next time someone questions your video game habit or a friend or family member is in a funk they just can’t shake, you send them straight to this TED Talk and know there is a power-up out there for the both of you!


Eve2Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.

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06 From Niece to Nerd, Attempt #1 – Some Nerd Girl Original Webcomic

Maybe I should just try a Jedi mind trick………. Or bribery. I bet bribery would work.


AlexAlex is our resident Webcomic creator. He grew up in Puerto Rico, but didn’t reach true Nerdom until he came state side when he was in middle school. He’s been drawing since he was five, but has only started posting Webcomics in the past year. You can check out his amazing and original work at tapastic.com/gomezalexj.

5 Reasons Roller Derby is (Surprisingly?) a Game for Nerds

There are a lot of sports out there, with different qualities that some find appealing, and others don’t. To be honest, I hated them all. When I was in the kid soccer league, I was the one sitting out in the field ripping daisies out of the ground and wondering what the snack would be at half time.

I had my priorities in order.
I had my priorities in order.

To this day, I haven’t made (or prevented) a single goal in soccer.  In High School I was part of the marching band. I went to every football game for four years… and I couldn’t tell you a single rule or strategy.

Do we want the blue or the green team to win??
Do we want the blue or the green team to win??

I managed to prevent one goal in a roller hockey game in high school, but was promptly intimidated into letting the Captain of the hockey team slip about 8 right past me. He decked a teammate right in front of me, and I was disinclined to be next. Sports? Sports are just not my thing.

Or so I thought.

One day, in college, a friend slammed into a seat in college, while simultaneously yanking up the leg of her jeans and revealing the gnarliest bruise and shouting “DUDE! I joined a ROLLER DERBY team!” Roller derby? Never heard of it before. But I did like to to skate… and that bruise looked pretty exciting.

What is this magical, mystical place?
What is this magical, mystical place?

It took me 8 years, 4 cities, and 2 near misses before I finally got a team of my own. Since then, I have learned a lot about sports, my own surprising athleticism, and above all, that roller derby is definitely for the nerds. Here’s 5 reasons why.

#1 – The Subculture

First, derby has a great subculture. Many teams are taking on more serious tones as the game struggles to be legitimized by the mainstream sports world, but even the most serious teams refuse to let go of some of the pageantry. Players are adorned in tattoos, stickered helmets, and a zydeco of brightly colored leggings.

Just another day at the office.
Just another day at the office.

Announcers may choose to wear more subdued attire, but the occasional viking helmet is to be expected. I’ve seen a male and female coach switch outfits at halftime- and that guy certainly knew how to work those heels! Not every team is going to feature glitter and tutus and torn up fishnets, and some reserve them for home-team games or scrimmages only…but you can usually tell a derby person by the stickers on their cars and their cultish love of cat-themed pants.

#2 – The Wordplay

Anyone even glancingly familiar with derby will tell you that the most satisfying part of derby is the kitschy names. From the beginning of the sport (in the 70s! Wow!) players have had great monikers like Luna Shovegood, Chewblocka, and my personal hero- Snot Rocket Science. A derby player recently got the chance to be a real-life hero and chase down a purse snatcher; unfortunately the thief heeded her threat, (“I can outrun you. Give it up.”) and robbed the world of the chance to see her live up to her namesake – Ima B.Choazz.

We also can't get enough memes.
We also can’t get enough memes.

Player names aren’t the only great opportunity for word play. Some of the strategies get special treatment too. Coaches get to yell out plays with insane names like Eat The Baby, Soul Crush, and Bush Push. It can be confusing for the audience, but it’s also very confusing for opposing players too, which is kind of the point.  Teams can be named pretty much however you like – the best team in the world, New York’s team, bears the amazing name of the Gotham Girls. My team, the Flood City Sirens, pays homage to our city’s penchant for devastating floods, as well as a nice tip of the hat to the Greek Sirens that lead men to their deaths. What can I say? We like the imagery.

#3 – The Gearheads

Oh man, the GEAR. So many fun things! Skates! Helmets! Wheels! A rainbow of colors, hardness; all manner of heights and sizes and widths. Equipment to fit every budget, every uniform, customization in nearly every way. Check on a derby group online and you’ll see a myriad of people asking “Which skate is best for X” or “Can anyone recommend good wheels for…” and for every time that question is asked, a dozen gearheads will come out to discuss the pros and cons, in elaborate and helpful detail.

They're just... so... pretty!
They’re just… so… pretty!

Some gearheads are even lucky enough to own their own skateshops and write blogs about gear; and the companies who make that gear are usually generous enough to share freebies so that they’ll be reviewed. Hey Rollerbones… let’s talk, shall we?

#4 – The Stats

If you’re a math nerd, Derby can be a breeding ground for great stats. Personal and game stats are calculated for nearly every game played, including how many points scored, by whom, how long people spend in the penalty box, etc. It’s an insanely useful tool for players and teams to be able to see on paper how well they’re playing the game.

Team rankings are even more fascinating. There is a very interesting (and more than a little confounding) way that the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association ranks their teams. Wins are usually good things, but since the algorithm bases the ranking on points, a close win can have a similar effect to rankings as a huge loss. Websites like FlatTrackStats.com can even take the win history of two different teams and compare who will win and who will lose, even predicting how the point spread will come out. (We may only have a 6% chance of winning… but we have a 94% chance of having fun!)

There are even pretty, pretty charts and data graphics!
There are even pretty, pretty charts and data graphics!

#5 – A Culture of Strong Women   

The strength of the women in this sport is the most important part of all this madness. While higher level players and higher level teams may have their own trainers, the number of players who started out that way is basically zero. Skaters start out as “fresh meat” and have to build their skills from scratch. Every skater has to face their own inner demons and insecurities, and come out stronger.

Ever gym with your skates on? Yea, we're hardcore.
Ever gym with your skates on? Yea, we’re hardcore.

Every derby girl I met is a Buffy, a Princess Leia, a Hermione. Many of my teammates had never skated before, and watching them go through the journey of learning how to go backwards, of how to do lighting-fast stops and spins, it’s pretty amazing to watch.

Shit's about to go down.
Shit’s about to go down.

When I started derby, I couldn’t even run two miles in 20 minutes. I had never done a burpee or a squat. Now I go to the gym and lift heavy things, some heavier than my teammates. I found a strength in myself I never knew I had, and I am thrilled when I have the opportunity to help others find that strength too.  Out of all the cool and nerdy things about derby, the strength people can find in themselves is probably the most. Just like every superhero, every derby player has their own origination story.

Together we are unstoppable!
Together we are unstoppable!

There’s a lot of neat things about derby. Whether you like the glitz and glam, the ridiculous puns, or finding something inside that you didn’t know exist, there’s one thing I can say for sure – Roller Derby is where the cool kids, and the nerds, are one in the same!


Barb2Barbie O’Havoc has been considered a nerd since the first time she pissed someone off for having a weird opinion. Since then, she’s been spending her time indulging in the surprisingly expensive habits of reading trashy vampire novels and hitting people while playing roller derby. Both of her main hobbies have led to a love of terrible puns, much to everyone’s dismay.

Barbie O’ also loves coffee and local restaurants, and occasionally rambles about both on the Johnstown Food Blog.

Flood City Sirens photography courtesy of Neil Briggs Photography, and Fausey Photo.

9 reasons why Lost Girl is one of the best shows out there for ladies and all others in need of empowering

Lost Girl is a 5-season long Canadian-made urban fantasy TV show about a Succubus and her rag-tag gang of friends and lovers. I realize that sentence may have made you either glaze over or become super curious. For those of you glazing; please hear me out… there will be pictures! For the never-even-heard-of-this-show crowd, this piece is going to be as big-plot-line-spoiler-free as possible.

#1 – The Premise

The premise of Lost Girl is the first thing that makes it wonderful. Basically, it’s this: our protagonist Bo doesn’t know what she is when at the age of 18, fooling around in the back of a car somewhere in the mid-west, she accidentally kills her boyfriend. The show picks up 10 years later where she is discovered by local Fae after saving her soon-to-be sidekick Kenzi from a roofie-using creeper (and subsequently killing him – whoops?).

ItsBo

This is when Bo discovers she’s a Succubus and she belongs to this whole secret culture of differently-evolved beings.

Things get interesting when the locals try to make her choose a side – Dark or Light. It’s worth nothing that in this show, these are kind of just labels and don’t wholly represent ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Think of Demons and Angels a la Supernatural. The Light are still big douche bags who don’t care about humans and the Dark are pretty much the same.

You do not want to mess with this.
You do not want to mess with this.

I digress. Bo bucks the system by not choosing a side – and thus begins the recurring theme of not having to be defined by society. All that matters is who you are, and who you choose to be. This is a lovely theme that does not go away in this show. More to come!

#2 – Gender Fluidity

In the show, Bo takes many lovers – but the real sparks are between she, Dyson – (a Fae Werewolf ) and Lauren (a human doctor working for the Light Fae).

Sparks. Sparks everywhere as far as the eye can see.
Sparks. Sparks everywhere as far as the eye can see.

What I love most about this love-triangle (and there are oh-so-many things to love), is that Bo never, ever compares Dyson and Lauren from a gender perspective. There’s never angst about what Lauren can’t give her because she’s a woman, or if Dyson being a dude factors into her feelings. Gender is so not an issue here – it’s all about love, trust, loyalty and affection. It’s a fresh, refreshing take on sexuality – in other words, gender is not a big deal. This is an attitude I long for in the ‘real world’. It should be about the person themselves, not their private bits.

Not to mention, neither of them can ever seem to find the toothpaste. (It's in the footlocker)
Not to mention, neither of them can ever seem to find the toothpaste (It’s in the footlocker).

#3 – Friendship

The bond between Bo and Kenzi is strong, and anyone who isn’t friend-jealous of them is doing it wrong. Kenzi is a street-smart, con-artist by trade survivalist who originally latches onto Bo because of how strong she is. She figures teaming up with the biggest bad on the block would help her stay alive – Kenzi’s major goal in life until she finds Bo.

Robin

While Bo is resistant at first – covered more here shortly – she finally gives into Kenzi’s logic and the evolution from mutual survival to life-long friends is beautiful. Their bond grows and this relationship is the strongest throughout the series – proving that friendship is a hell of a lot stronger than romantic love. They forgive each other easily, can tell each other harsh truths

KenziSmack

and support one another – whether it be by powering through a whole gallon of ice cream together or swinging a sword on one another’s behalf.

KenziKiss

Kenzi also helps Bo to remain human, and teaches her about important things, like sexual rejection. One more memorable scenes in the series is Kenzi coaching Bo through taking a crowbar to an abandoned car to get out her frustrations about being rejected for the first time in her life. Best friend level 10!

Bo Smash!
Bo Smash!

#4 – Vulnerability

This show is not just about a badass Succubus, kicking ass and taking names. Everyone in this show has huge vulnerabilities that all of us – and I mean all of us – can relate to.

Bo was never taught about what she was and, as a result, had to live a lonely life on the run – always craving affection and love because she needed it to survive but never being able to see it fulfilled. When she meets Dyson and Lauren, you can see it is a relief to care about someone for the first time in her life – in the way she needed to care about someone. At the same time, you can see the fear and insecurities in her. You can see how badly the betrayals injure her because for the first time, people are close enough to her to hurt her in that way. Her quest to know her family, to know herself and to make a place for herself in the world is filled with a quiet vulnerability that she struggles with, but becomes a better, stronger person for as a result.

BoCrying2

Kenzi grew up on the street – never knowing such a thing as ‘loyalty’ or a ‘home.’ When she finds both of these things with Bo, the hard exterior melts and it’s clear that the front Kenzi puts up is a frail one. She takes shit from no one, but the things Bo, Dyson, Trick and Hale say to her absolutely make an impact. These are relationships she eventually fights for, desperately, and with each meaningful bond, she opens herself up to more potential loss. And loss there is – but she, like Bo, always comes out on the other side.

kenzi-dyson

Lauren – little is known about her for much of the series. We eventually learn her story but in the beginning, she is a human out of her own world, relying on nothing but her wit and intelligence to keep her place among the Fae. Her fascination drives much of her behavior, but at the end of the day, someone always seems to be in control of the things that she wants and needs. Her vulnerability is the lack of control she has over her own life – and yet she remains strong and defiant, resourceful and clever.

Lauren

#5 – Girl Power

It is not uncommon for Bo and Kenzi to kick down doors, interrogate leads, save the damsel, etc. all on their own. Bo pools her resources – calling in Dyson or Lauren or Trick as needed for the respective expertise – but her first instinct is to march into danger without a second thought. She fights her own fights, she often saves many of the lead men on the show, and does it all with a balance of compassion and ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think.’

She also really likes bladed weapons. Who needs guns??
She also really likes bladed weapons. Who needs guns??

Lauren is frequently the brains for major capers, often reminding Bo to use her head instead of her heart.

She also eventually learns to lighten up a little bit.
She also eventually learns to lighten up a little bit.

Kenzi always sees between the lines, and while she’s not much of a fighter, she often finds the solutions to problems with cleverness and snappy one-liners.

Speed dating to get intel on a case. Brilliant!
When asked what her favorite poetry is. Smooth, Kenzi.

#6 – Sexuality is NOT shameful

Bo uses her sexuality in a way that is empowering – and not demeaning to women. Her sexuality is often playing second fiddle to her overall smarts and attitude. Because being a Succubus gives her a leg up – har – when it comes to persuading people through their more base instincts, she often uses it to her advantage. When confronted with another Succubus in Season 1, the fact that Bo ‘works for a living’ is beyond astounding to the other woman – who originally asks Bo if she’s an escort or stripper. Bo is genuinely confused by this – she doesn’t see herself as only a sexual being, living off others. She is her own person, and sexuality is a part of her, not the only thing that she is. This continues the theme of not having to be something because it is expected of you – or because you were ‘born’ into it. Bo accepts her sexuality, embraces the beauty of it, and uses it in a way any lady could be proud of.

Ask yourself; Does it really matter what she's saying?
Ask yourself; Does it really matter what she’s saying?

#7 – It is very LGBT friendly

As someone who identifies as not-exactly-straight, this show was a godsend. I alluded to it before in terms of gender not being an issue. That’s wonderful. What is even more wonderful is we get to see portrayals of non-straight relationships and they are normal. Well, as normal as you can get in a super-charged urban fantasy setting. What I mean is, the relationships are taken at face value. There is no drama, or stereotypes that prop up Lauren and Bo, or even Lauren and Nadia’s relationship. It’s not the L Word – it’s just two people trying to make it work. There is no stigma or angst over being gay. There is nothing better I could say about this show, other than it makes who you love not a big deal.

And, you know, hot lesbian scenes. That’s a plus. For everyone. I assume.

BoandLauren1

BoandLauren2

BoandLauren3

BoandLauren4

Ahem. Please know that last section could probably go on forever. But I stopped. You’re welcome. I think.

#8 – Respect

There is a lot of mutual respect in Lost Girl – and to keep with the theme, I want to focus on Dyson’s respect for Bo. He doesn’t treat her like a frail princess in need of protection. He recognizes her strength and respects it – I think even envies it at times. Bo had the balls to not choose a side and still survive. This is a concept that is very foreign to Dyson – having always been part of a pack – but he continues to support and care for her. Similarly, Lauren enjoys unfettered respect for her brilliance as a doctor and somewhat know-it-all (just imagine Hermione in a lab coat), her gender factoring in none.

And somehow doesn't get her hand bitten off for this.
And somehow doesn’t get her hand bitten off for this.

#9 – Acceptance

Remember the whole rag-tag comment from before? This is what Lost Girl is all about. This show puts together a motley crew of outcasts – Fae, human, rich, poor, young, ancient, good, evil –and makes it work. This show makes you see the grey area no one wants to operate in. It flaunts the teachings of togetherness, strength in numbers and unfailing loyalty. In other words, this is a show only Canadians could have created.

LostGirlCast

LostGirlCast4

LostgirlCast2

Lost-Girl-dancing

lost girl funny face

In all seriousness, Anna Silk – who plays our main gal Bo – was recently asked what she hopes the legacy of Lost Girl will be years from now. Her answer was that she hopes the most prevailing memory of the show is the concept of acceptance for who you are and those you care about.

That’s pretty deep for a 5 season long Canadian-produced urban fantasy show about a Succubus.

And that is why I love Lost Girl.

Check Lost Girl out the first four seasons on NetFlix, or pick up the DVD sets and join the rest of the misfits!


Eve2Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.

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