Felicia Day wants to be your friend.
She might be an adorkable TV starlet -- she’s been on "Buffy," and appeared on SyFy’s "Eureka" -- but she’s also the founder of a geeky web series that emphasizes its community forums as much as its shows.
She wasn’t always so social. In her new memoir, You’re Never Weird On The Internet, she recalls her childhood in the Deep South, where she felt isolated from other kids no thanks to her nerdy interests. She mostly found company in book characters, her cherished diary and the fictional comrades she encountered while gaming. But during the burgeoning days of the Internet, that all changed.
We spoke with Day about online communities, #GamerGate and the moral choices you encounter while roleplaying.
On keeping a private diary as a kid:
"So I didn’t spend much time with other children as a kid. SURPRISE!," Day writes in You’re Never Weird On The Internet. "But it’s human instinct to connect, and I eventually found someone who would listen to me no matter how weird I was: my little pink diary." She goes on to relay her childhood and teenage musings about books, privacy and jelly shoes.
In our interview, I asked her how she thinks she would’ve fared if, instead of a diary, she grew up with the modern-day equivalent: a public blog. "I wouldn’t have known to keep things private," Day said. "And that anything you do can be used as ammunition against you. But at the same time, when you expose who you are, you grow from it."
On the Internet as a home for introverts:
As the founder of a web channel, Geek & Sundry, Felicia is a big supporter of the Internet as a safe house for those with no other social outlet to bond. I asked her whether the web’s role as a home for introverts makes other forms of connection -- such as reading books -- less necessary or relevant? Her response was a resounding "no."
"We congregate and create communities online, and those communities are based on our love for things, and the things we consume, fun or profound. Whereas before, you were confined to the people around you to influence what you consumed."
On struggling with video game addiction:
In a chapter titled, "Quirky Addiction = Still an Addiction," Day reveals the 12-hour days she’d devote to playing video games, damaging friendships all in the name of, "an alt-life as a level 60 warlock named Codex." In place of going to acting classes, she immersed herself in a roleplaying game, chatting often with fellow guild members. "It was like 'Cheers,'" she writes. "But where absolutely no one knew your name."
Of the experience, she said, "It’s not inherent to gaming," and claimed she’d have watched too much TV or found another distraction to cope with feelings of listlessness. "I’d go to bed unhappy," she said. "A whole day had passed. It was fun at the time, but I took it to the extreme. I felt an emptiness on top of a bandaid."
On the invaluable role video games have played in her life as an artist:
Though she struggled with allowing games to take over other valuable aspects of her life, Day believes they’ve shaped her personality for the better, too. "I’m most attracted to projecting myself into virtual worlds," she said. "And going on adventures I’d never have as a person."
While playing games that involve creating an avatar, Day enjoys confronting morality tests embedded within the stories. "I don’t need a psychologist to tell me that my love of role-playing games is linked to my childhood quest for self," writes Day, who says when presented with a moral dilemma in virtual worlds, she opts to be the good guy. "I like killing virtual monsters," she writes.
When asked about whether her love of gaming has influenced her other artistic endeavors, such as writing, Day excitedly said yes. "In gaming you have these equal but different possible outcomes that you don’t have in, say, movies," she said. "It’s the only medium in entertainment that has that participation element."
Day says the label "gamer" is one she identifies with strongly. So, naturally, she was wonderfully outspoken about the #GamerGate controversy, defending women gamers as an important part of the community. When asked whether she thinks we can solve the problem of sexism targeting woman gamers, she laughed, seemingly uncomfortable. "I wish there was a solution for negativity on the Internet," she said. "I don’t know how to solve it. And our virtual lives are as important as our real lives."
She added that the anonymity of forums contributes to the problem. "There are no repercussions for bad behavior, and a lot of kids are in environments where it’s cool [to be negative]," she said. "They don’t fear the consequences."
But, she added, anonymity can be beneficial, especially for marginalized groups. "I think it allows people to be more outspoken than they would be in real life, especially about politics," she said.
On intimacy online:
Day writes in her memoir about meeting a guy online, only to send physical snail-mail photos to each other. The anecdote seems like a relic of times past, but Day insists that intimacy found online can be as powerful as connections made in person -- especially if said connection is formed on an anonymous forum, rather than a more superficial outlet like Tinder.
"I think we have a lot of preconceived notions about what types are based on looks, and that’s really limiting. Especially coming from Hollywood -- I just think you should avoid unconscious bias. You can be surprised by who you’re attracted to.”
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Day would appear soon On SyFy's "Eureka." She appeared on the show in 2011.