Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), by Felicia Day

August 14, 2015

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)I’ve never read a celebrity memoir before. I have a general disinterest in knowing most celebrities outside the context of their work, and generally prefer to express my appreciation for their talents by just buying more of whatever it is they make. Felicia Day is an exception. I’ve been following her since my childhood best friend told me I had to watch this hilarious web-series called The Guild. I’ve been bowled over by the way that she has pioneered the creation of a whole new audience for independent web content built by creators who make their own stage on which to share their geekiest passions with a direct connection to their viewership. She essentially took the parts of herself rejected by society at large, or at least typically rejected by the society at large of a decade ago, and built a successful and innovative career out of sharing them with all the far-flung geeks around the globe. And she did it while remaining authentic, down to earth, funny, and extremely friendly and accessible to everyone her work spoke to — no matter how much shit certain corners of the internet flung at her for being a highly visible woman who wouldn’t stop sitting at ‘their’ gaming table. So hell yeah, I was excited for this book.

In reading the opening chapters, I came to the conclusion that Felicia must be my spirit animal. She, like me, was home-educated from a young age for non-religious reasons, and ended up gradually shifting from a more structured curriculum to one largely powered by her own reading choices. She, like me, forged her social connections not with local kids, but on the internet back when the internet was regarded by the population at large as something for scientists and serial killers. (CompuServe RPGames, represent.) We both got our PC gaming start with Ultima games. And so on. On a deeper note, her struggles with anxiety and depression, and her over-investment in a video game to deal with them and with a lack of direction are also familiar ground for me. So this made her narrative really relatable. I think one of the many reasons why The Guild was such a tearaway success is because there are more of us out there who fit this kind of mould than we ever tend to think, and it’s cathartic to see that addressed in a humorous way. I expect anyone who found a piece of themselves in the series would find a lot to empathise with in Felicia’s own story.

She is really candid about her struggles and keeps a gentle sense of humour about the whole thing, which makes it even more inspiring when the book turns to her successes. Because she really didn’t get handed anything. It seems like a lot of the time when people who have had any kind of runaway success share how they did it, their ‘You can do this too!’ attitude comes off a bit phony because they don’t see how many privileges they enjoyed along the way. That’s not the case here. She’s not one of those people who had great contacts or money or family history to fall back on. There weren’t any massive strokes of luck. There was a lot of hard work and disheartenment. There were a lot of those inner ‘Why did I think I could do this? I’m a phony’ conversations that most of us neurotic types have had with ourselves whenever we try to do, well, anything. She just kept going, and when told there wasn’t an audience for the kind of thing she wanted to do, she made one. And as a part of that audience since the early days, I find that she continues to make it over and over again each time she rolls with a new idea — when her Vaginal Fantasy book club started, I thought ‘Why did no one ever do something like this before?!’ Reflecting on it after having read this book, I can hazard a guess at the answer: Because they didn’t think there would be an audience. Perhaps one of the best lessons to take away from You’re Never Weird on the Internet is that there never is, until you create one; that audiences are made, not found.

I can’t imagine not walking away from this book feeling inspired. Not to create any specific thing, but just to create — to dig through your mental catalogue of ideas that have always made you go ‘I would love to do ____, but there’s no market/audience for it’ and just do it anyway, just build it no matter what it takes.

That said, even what might be termed the success story part of the book is not a feel-good fluff piece. She talks about the hardships too, about the impact of over-achieving on her health and her personal relationships, and the work it took to find a better balance, or the loss of privacy and security and the fears that come along with being a really engaged public figure in an arena that’s traditionally very hostile to women (and as much as it’s improved in some areas, it’s deteriorated in others). There’s no magic wand to cure these things — she’ll probably continue to battle them throughout her career, just as she acknowledges towards the end of the book that her remarks about things like GamerGate are probably going to earn her some renewed backlash when it’s published. Yes, unfortunately they probably will. But she’s been a huge part of creating safer spaces for so many women in the gaming world, and in normalising the image of the female gamer.

If you know who Felicia Day is, I probably don’t have to sell you too hard on reading this book. And if you’re part of the sphere of geekdom that prizes everything from World of Warcraft to Star Wars, you probably know who Felicia Day is, at least a little bit. So to that group I’ll just say: Get it, it’s a keeper. But I think this is also an excellent introduction to Felicia for people whose only familiarity with an orc is watching Lord of the Rings that one time, but who could use a little dose of inspiration from a quirky, funny, and intelligent voice.

5 stars

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