Anyone who grew up with an interest in Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons or cosplay can probably relate to the loneliness that young geeks may feel. Child and adolescent psychologist Soffía Elín Sigurðardóttir understands this too, in part from personal experience. It’s for that reason that she embarked upon the project of creating Nexus Noobs three years ago.
Nexus Noobs, located next to Reykjavík’s premiere hub for all things geek, Nexus, is a space where kids can gather twice-weekly to play D&D, Warhammer, Magic the Gathering and numerous other games. When we arrive one Thursday evening, kids ranging from early grade school to their early 20s are already squared off with their partners, ready to let the games begin.
“I mostly work with teenagers and young adults, and felt there was a great need for this kind of field, where younger kids and teens can meet other friends who have the same hobbies,” Soffía told us. “For me, I only focused on the social bonding aspect of this idea, because the imagination and creativity was already there in these kids, and I knew it. So I just had to give them a workfield to use it, to be inspired and to connect. That’s the most important factor to me in all of this: the connection, to see other kids and adults with the same hobbies.”
There’s no shame in Star Wars
Soffía tells us she grew up in a “sci-fi/fantasy family.” Her dad was enthusiastic about the genre, and her brothers played D&D and card games. Soffía was herself a big Star Wars fan as a kid, but peer pressure stifled this interest.
“My interest in science fiction and all this didn’t fit in during my teenage years. All of my friends, they did not understand this, that I loved Star Wars and Star Trek. So I’d say ‘Yeah, I don’t like that stuff either!’ and just watch it at home.”
One thing that’s immediately apparent when you walk into Nexus Noobs and see the group is how many boys there are. In fact, out of the approximately 30 or so kids there that evening, there was just one girl.
“This was my goal as well, to bring in girls,” Soffía says. “There are a lot of geeky girls, but it’s still not ‘appropriate.’ Everyone thinks only guys have these hobbies.” She mentions that even Nexus itself has changed, starting from one woman working there behind the scenes, to now many women behind the counter. “We need that. We need the role models for computer games, board games, cosplay and so on. Girls need to see that there are women with the same interests.”
Brought together by freedom
Another thing that is readily apparent about Nexus Noobs is the camaraderie you feel between the kids.
“These are all kids who met here, and they’ve been here since the beginning,” Soffía says. “Some of them were socially isolated, but some of them were also just isolated within their hobbies. They had friends, but with different interests.” She admits that upon arrival, some kids take a little time to warm up to what they do here. “When the kids show up for the first meeting, they look like we’re going to execute them. They’re terrified. That only lasts for about 10 or 15 minutes, depending on how early they arrive. I give them a project, tell them how this works, and they become very independent. Then they start to connect.”
The atmosphere is tangibly relaxed. The kids munch on pizza and candy, playing their games with a carefree air. Soffía says this is part and parcel with how she runs Nexus Noobs.
“I have a structure, but I allow them a lot of freedom,” she explains. “They can do what they want. I don’t want it to be a school-type environment.” Adding to this easy atmosphere is that Soffía insists the children respect each others’ interests. While the idea of fans of one interest respecting fans of a competing interest may seem unlikely (if not unheard of), this isn’t a problem Soffía has had to contend with. “That’s not really the case with this group. They all know that we’re all here to learn more about other people’s hobbies. It’s supposed to be about opening your mind.”
Parents are welcome, too
Soffía also has ambitions to expand Nexus Noobs beyond its current space. She’d like to get the programme into local schools, but she’d also like parents to get more involved.
“I want families to engage with games, or to start a D&D group with a parent as the game master, instead of sitting down and watching television,” she says. “I want to expand it a lot. All these super-geeky interests aren’t so geeky anymore. It’s becoming so mainstream. I would say LARPing [“live action roleplay,” which is cosplaying and acting out your character in-game] is probably the only extreme hobby that you would find amongst these hobbies, and even interest in that is growing.”
A grown-up geek with memories of social isolation and teasing due to their nerdy pursuits may feel a pang of envy for these kids. They all seem genuinely happy, reveling in real bonding around dice, maps and figurines.
“It looks like this because they know it’s a safe place,” Soffía says. “They know how this works, and this is how I wanted them to feel—to know the store, and the people who work at the store, and to feel comfortable in the game room. That is how it usually is. They get it, and it’s fine. I focus on very specific things, such as that we treat each other nicely, and don’t judge other people’s interests. These are my only two rules, and it’s never really a problem.”
Those interested in signing up for Nexus Noobs are advised to do so via their Facebook page.