I am an unabashed lover of young adult fiction. I always have been; it was there for me when I was a kid, and as an adult it’s a breezy respite from the heaviness of the mature books I also read. The same is true of games, where “young adult” is a label that doesn’t quite exist. Instead of young adult, we label games as for kids—though, for adult audiences, kids’ games are seen as somewhat more acceptable than young adult fiction, given the number of us unabashedly sinking hours into Sonic Mania—or for adults, with little room for anything else. (more…)
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.
I like to think that if I were a teenager when Twilight came out that I would have had the wherewithal to outright reject it, buuuuut I am probably just kidding myself. I was a total nut for the brooding, Byronic vampires that Edward Cullen is just one in a long tradition of. Okay, the sparkling is new, but still brooding guilt over his vampirism — hello, Louie, Nick Knight, Angel, Spike, etc.
Even though Twilight wasn’t around when I was a tween, my vampire fiction options were not limited. Of course, there was Anne Rice, but that was always a bit dense for tweenage me. My young adult fiction of choice was L.J. Smith’s Night World. You may know L.J. Smith from that show on the CW — The Vampire Diaries? Originally published in 1991 through 1992 (the first four) and reissued in 2009 until a ghostwriter took over, The Vampire Diaries were some of the earliest works by L.J. Smith that I read. While I liked them, I didn’t love them the way I loved the Night World series. Night World was filled with a load of supernatural creatures spanning an epic arc of good vs. evil and FORBIDDEN LOVE! The stories all centered on teenage female characters who got to fight and save the world and either be supernatural creatures or fall in love with them — and this was a year before Buffy hit the small screen.
Night World ran from 1996 to 1998. Each book was about 150 pages or so and sat nicely next to my glorious Fear Street paperbacks. The 90’s cover awesomeness, seriously all that new Twilight shit can’t compete:
However, with the resurgence in popularity of young adult vampire fiction (due to Twilight, admittedly), Simon & Schuster began reissuing the series in 2008 which means a whole new crop of unpopular goth (is this even unpopular anymore?!) tweens and teens will be reading the series and wondering why their lives are just so damn dull in comparison. If you take a look at the banner for this post, you can see how the new editions have taken a design cue from Twilight. *Sigh.* I feel for today’s tweens and teens. They are really missing out on dramatic covers overloaded with occult symbolism.
Anyway, the series was meant to continue with a tenth book, but family illnesses prevented the author from completing the series. Smith is reportedly working on the final in the series, but after 16 years, I dunno. In order to satiate my fix, I turned to dial-up. Yes, this was still the day of “you’ve got mail,” where you signed on to the internet then went and fixed yourself a snack while you waited patiently to connect because if you sat there and waited you would become irrationally angry. Fandom was mostly limited to Geocities and Angelfire websites with black backgrounds and images of pixelated red roses. In fact, I think this website may be the one I stumbled across while impatiently waiting for the final book in the Night World series, Strange Fate, to be released.
I really had no idea what an RPG was, but I needed my Night World fix and this was it. This Night World RPG consisted of meeting in a chatroom under your character alias during specified times during the week. Prior to this, you emailed the webmaster letting them know what character you wanted to play. I really wanted to be the feisty Mary Lynette an aspirational astronomer from Daughters of Darkness (Night World #2) or adventurous Maggie from Black Dawn (Night World #8), but both characters ended up being taken. I opted for Thea, a good witch from Spellbinder (Night World #3). I really wasn’t that interested in being Thea. She was kind of a bore, but hey, what’s a fangurl to do?
The thing is – I had no idea how to even do this. I was past the age of socially acceptable make believe. I was an awkward, dorky teenager (weren’t we all!) who lacked the ability to just throw myself into this sort of make believe without a semblance of rules or structure. The days of when I was the little dictator making the rules up for everyone else during childhood make believe games long behind me.
So, I just showed up a few times in the chatroom and attempted to make character-relevant conversation with other RPGers who I imagine might have been as young and awkward as me. I think a part of me was hoping to meet my male vampire soulmate like Mary Lynette and Maggie met theirs, but this was not really the case. Conversations generally consisted of feeble attempts to come up with conversation that was Night World relevant, but this was hard to do without a plot (at least to me). I generally ended up lurking about hoping someone less self-conscious than me would just come up with a compelling plotline and go with it. Sessions were supposed to last 1-2 hours, but I don’t think I ever lasted that long. Either the awkwardness got too unbearable or I just got too bored.
Eventually, I found a niche in play-by-post games which were more about prose and creative writing than live interaction. These gave me space to plot and plan out plotlines. (I also did theatre for similar reasons). The fear of awkwardness was not quite so strong in these more controlled make believe scenarios. In college, I helped host a LARPing event and felt pretty much the exact same way I felt as a tween in the virtual Night World RPG. Age didn’t seem to help me in this scenario, but at least I got to wear a really cool costume.