This Debut Author Explores Teen Girl Gamers’ Experiences in ‘Don’t Hate the Player’ - Women’s Media Center

Nedd’s debut novel, Don’t Hate the Player, which will be released on June 15 by Bloomsbury Kids, draws a lot of inspiration from Nedd’s years as a young gamer and general gaming enthusiast.

6/10/2021 10:55:00 PM

“Nobody that I was playing with knew I was a person of color... I was always aware that discrimination could happen, just as it did in real life growing up in a predominantly white area... So I just didn’t tell anyone.” via WMC's the_fbomb

Nedd’s debut novel, Don’t Hate the Player, which will be released on June 15 by Bloomsbury Kids, draws a lot of inspiration from Nedd’s years as a young gamer and general gaming enthusiast.

Photo credit: Kim HoyosFor as long as she can remember, debut author Alexis Nedd eagerly followed video games, as she put it, “the way someone would follow professional baseball.” While she didn’t have a console growing up, which prohibited her from playing many famous games, that lack of access did not stop her from researching and reading about gaming culture on her own.

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Nedd’s debut novel,Don’t Hate the Player, which will be released on June 15 by Bloomsbury Kids, draws a lot of inspiration from Nedd’s years as a young gamer and general gaming enthusiast. The book centers on Emilia Romero, a teen girl in the suburbs who feels as if she is leading a double life. By day she is a popular field hockey player who is also a star student. By night, she is one of the only female esports players on one of the best teams around.

Because Emilia knows how rough it can be to be a teen girl in the world of games, she is careful to never let anyone know her real identity and goes out of her way to conceal her gender in particular. But when she is spotted by her former elementary school classmate Jake at a major tournament, she realizes that her carefully orchestrated cover may soon be blown. Jake and Emilia quickly decide to protect her secret together and get a lot closer in the process.

The FBomb had the chance to talk with Nedd about her new novel, the joys of gaming, and how she has navigated being a gamer of color for most of her life.I think a lot of readers will be surprised to learn that you weren’t allowed to play most video games as a kid. How did your interest in games begin despite that rule?

I had a neighbor down the street when I was in third or fourth grade and her family was probably sick of me because as a child I would just invite myself over after school. They had Nintendo, and they were playing Donkey Kong Country, and I would just sit on the couch and watch them play Donkey Kong Country for two hours after school every day. Later, I went to a public school and a lot of the boys were playing video games — not a lot of girls my age played video games — but just hearing them talk about Halo and all of this other stuff, I thought ‘This sounds really cool. I wish I could do that.’

I was obsessed with video games ... I was obsessed with the idea that there was a story that I could play through and be a part of. I’ve always been searching for immersive, escapist experiences. With a video game, you sit there, you are controlling it, and your brain kind of shuts off everything else. You are in Skyrim, you are in Stardew Valley, you’re on your island in Animal Crossing, and you change the world around you. It’s like a story that you’re writing over hours and hours and hours and hours, so it’s not surprising that I am a writer now as well.

You’re in your 20s now and have been navigating these issues for a long time. One of the reasons Emilia is so protective of her secret identity is because she knows that people can be really creepy to teen girls on the internet. What was it like writing those aspects of the story in particular?

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Even when I’m playing World of Warcraft, I’ve never played a female character in a multiplayer game. Because if you log in and you were a sexynight elf, you might get spammed by people who are just creepy and strange and they just don’t have good intentions. So my experiences testing those boundaries while I was growing up on the internet informed a lot of Emilia’s experiences in the book, even though she is younger than me.

Because I grew up on the internet, a lot of the weird mistakes that people make as teenagers, for me those happened online. So I definitely experienced what it was like to test boundaries on social media and what it was like figuring out how and when to block people when you needed to.

In addition to not wanting to play as a female character because of the unwanted attention you might get, it’s also awkward for many girls to play these games because the female characters are so hypersexual. Those avatars are not reflective of most teen girls.

Yes, the secondary reason that I always played male characters was because I didn’t want to have to stare at this idealized female form that some dude dreamed up while making the game. When you are growing up, you are thinking of your body and how people are perceiving you and what people might think if you say you are a gamer or what they might think when they hear your voice and realize that you are a girl online.

My instinct back then was to do whatever I could to cut as much of that out as possible because I was just trying to enjoy something. But the fact that I had to think about that and navigate that while trying to play a game, it’s such an additional burden on existing that other people don’t necessarily experience.

What has it been like navigating gaming as a person of color?For the most part, nobody that I was playing with knew I was a person of color. I think onRoomscapeI used a brown skin tone on my character. But I was always aware that discrimination could happen, just as it did in real life growing up in a predominantly white area in northern New Jersey. So I just didn’t tell anyone.

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You have one Puerto Rican parent and one Black American parent, and I know that while doing publicity for this book you’ve talked about how you are grateful that you’ve been able to create a book in which girls with your background can be seen. What has it been like seeing so many other Black and Latinx girls embrace gaming in recent years?

Whenever I see whatBlack Girl Gamersare doing on Twitter and Instagram and on Twitch or whenever I see Twitch streamers pop up with really good followings and I see that other people will protect them from harassment — I think that I never would have imagined seeing that when I was growing up. Like I said, I used to hide my ethnicity and my background when I played games, because it was either that I didn’t want them to care or I didn’t want them to know.

So the fact that people out there saying, ‘Hey, I’m a Black girl and I’m gaming,’ or ‘Hey, I’m a Puerto Rican girl and you can see me doing this because I enjoy it’ — it’s a level of visibility and representation that I could never have anticipated when I was a teen. I am so happy for girls coming up right now because they don’t feel like they have to hide and they know that they’re not alone.

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