The Geek That Was

arts-lead-1533-felicia-dayTech smarts trump Hollywood glam in Felicia Day’s memoir

To understand the tone of Felicia Day’s memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), it helps to hear her describe how she started the process of writing it.

“I actually read a lot of memoirs,” the actress tells me by phone as she prepares to catch a plane back to her adopted city of Los Angeles. “And I stopped reading them because I was doing too much comparison.”

Day’s new book is full of the same push and pull of precociousness and anxiety. (“I just wanted to channel my own voice,” she says of the free-for-all style she finally settled on.) Her self-deprecating humor is disarming—and genuinely funny—but all the Internet-speak in the world can’t cover her smarts.

With that in mind, the big secret truth of the book shouldn’t be as much of a surprise: this actress’ memoir isn’t the memoir of an actress. Which is to say, there is virtually nothing in it about her acting. No juicy gossip about behind-the-scenes goings-on during the filming of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. Nothing about her roles on two other Joss Whedon projects, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, and virtually nothing about Whedon himself. Which makes it extremely ironic, incidentally, when she mocks herself as a name-dropper—there is barely a name dropped in most of the book’s 250-plus pages.  

Instead, this is a book that features all kinds of geekery being geeked, which makes sense since geeks will be the most familiar with the projects described above. Day clearly sees herself as a geek first and an actress second, and she writes primarily about her early adoption of the Internet, and how it led her to create the rather pioneering Web series The Guild.

Ultimately, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) becomes a kind of memoir of technology as much as a memoir of Day’s life. She tells the tale of an awkward girl embracing that awkward time between the pre-Internet and Internet era—a time when AOL seemed like the next wonder of the world and email was just short of fire on the list of technological advances by mankind. She follows this thread of frontier tech through a number of phases that seem strange to look back on now, as if they had been pushed out of our collective unconscious to make room for more listicles.

But Day says she didn’t plan for her book to double as a kind of lost history of tech.

“That kind of emerged as I was telling the story,” she says.

One of the most interesting places this thread of her story takes the reader is headfirst into the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games, a realm which remains shadowy to the non-playing world despite the fact that it is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. This is partially because many people who played games like World of Warcraft hid it from people who didn’t play—there seemed to be a certain social shame attached to spending so much time sucked into a virtual world.

And certainly there were people going through real addiction problems around it. As in many other parts of the book, Day is not afraid to be honest about her own struggles, while still passionately aligning herself with geekdom.

“I think online games are an amazing way to fill your time,” says Day now. “I let it get a little bit out of hand in my life by playing too much … but that’s not inherent in video games. You have these outlier things that paint the outsider view of it.”

She made comedy out of her own addiction to them in her Internet show The Guild (initially on YouTube), which was set in the world of MMO gaming, and starred Day as a player who gets caught up in the weird politics of the game, both online and in real life. The affectionate tone of the satire is captured in the music video “(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar,” which featured the actors from The Guild and quickly went viral in 2009, elevating the show’s profile.

Day writes about some far more difficult things as well, like her struggles with depression, and the Dark Side of the Internet, especially attacks on her by certified misogynist creeps. She was even “doxxed” (that is, she had her personal information leaked by hackers) after speaking out against the “GamerGate” movement.

“You can’t let them rule the narrative,” she says of her run-ins with Internet bullies. “But it’s not as if it’s gone away. I’m experiencing it around the book as well.”

Still, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is all-around Internet-positive, and clearly written not just for geeks, but also anyone who wants a window into that world.

So maybe sometimes you are weird on the Internet, but Day’s point is that it can be liberating and exciting—and you might even make a career out of it.

“The ultimate message,” she says, “is to embrace your weirdness.”

Felicia Day will do a Q&A and book signing for ‘You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)’ at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 22, at Bookshop Santa Cruz; free.

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