Hello, everyone! Welcome to our blog series: #CreativeQueens! Every few weeks we interview and feature an up and coming female content creator(s) in the video game and animation industries!
This week we interviewed Video Game Blogger & Crochet Maker, Naja Beck aka @BlerdyOtome!
Hi Naja! Before we start can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and about “Blerdy Otome”?
Heya!! Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview! My name is Naja also known as Blerdy Otome! I’m a Black girl gamer currently living in the Washington DC area and I have a totally healthy obsession with otome games!
"Blerdy Otome is my tiny slice of the internet where I review otome games, indie visual novels and whatever else tickles my fancy!"
So, tell us your story! How did “Blerdy Otome” first come to life?
Ah, well this is actually a very funny story. I started Blerdy Otome as a way to procrastinate on my Graduate School Capstone Research Project. Back in 2015, I was in my last year of graduate school and midway through this huge research project on unintended injury rates in South America (trust me it’s not the most riveting topic) and I was getting burned out analyzing injury rates and researching health trends. So, rather than completely chucking my laptop out the window I decided to take a break from the project, but I knew that if I didn’t find something else to do in the interim it would be harder to get back on track once my “break” was over.
A year before I’d created a Wordpress account, but I never did anything with it… and I figured if I was going to procrastinate, I might as well be semi-productive. So I started my blog; only back then it was called “Nice Job Breaking It, Hero” after the TV Trope, and it didn’t quite have all that much focus. I kind of just wrote whatever popped into my head, so you’ll find that a lot of my early posts aren’t actually game related (please for the love of God don’t read my cringey early posts). The very first game I ever reviewed was Dramatical Murder, and I swear the internet will never let me forget that, because my highest viewed posts are almost always my Boys Love content.
It wasn’t until 2019, four years into my blogging journey, that I made the decision to change the name of my site. By that point I’d found my stride as a blogger and my content was almost exclusively game related. I’d outgrown my old domain and name, and it was time for a change—so I bit the bullet and rebranded to “Blerdy Otome”.
"It felt like a pretty good representation of me—“blerd” because I’m a Black nerd and “otome” served a dual purpose, one because I’m a “maiden” and two, I like otome games—I thought I was being clever… and that’s kinda the story of Blerdy Otome."
“Blerdy Otome” is a review site that features a lot more than just game reviews alone, but as far as manga, books, webtoons, dramas and even interviews with game developers go. What’s your favorite “review series” of all the ones you’ve created and why?
Melanin Monday, hands down, because it gives me the opportunity to discover so many unique and diverse games that I otherwise never would have known about! Most sites don’t even feature tags for “diverse games” and for a Black gamer like me it can be hard to find games featuring characters of color if you don’t already know where to look.
So, to be honest, Melanin Monday is largely for me and other gamers from underrepresented groups looking for games that speak to them.
"Games are for everyone and it shouldn’t be hard to find the right game for you."
Since starting the series, I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with so many great creative people in the gaming industry who like me are using their voices to tell their own stories through the content they create.
As someone who does her fair share of writing in consistently creating for “Blerdy Otome”, is writing or even creative writing, something you always had a passion for growing up or/and is it something you pursued academically in school? Where’d your love for writing start?
Ha, haha haha… So, the honest answer: I have a bachelor’s in psychology and a Master in Global and Community Health, two very STEMM heavy areas of study and aside from research papers, I didn’t do much creative writing in school. In fact, I did my best to AVOID writing when I had the chance. So, no.
"Creative writing was not a passion of mine per se. I just kind of stumbled into the blogging scene."
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? Could you give us a story in where you really felt this first-hand?
Oh, this is such a great question!
So, the most rewarding aspect of what I do with Blerdy Otome is the feedback, and I don’t just mean generic comments on my blog or my tweets—I mean, the DMs and private messages I get from readers who really resonate with my message and what I do.
Every so often I will get a message from a reader thanking me for creating a space where it’s okay to like games or anime or manga and still be unapologetically Black. I don’t have a specific “story” but many and each one validates me and what I do with my site.
Like the Black indie game developer who told me she teared up reading one of my reviews of her game because she felt that I truly I understood the message she was trying to get across with her story and characters.
Or the new reader who sent me a DM to tell me that she really admired what I do talking about otome games, because there are so few Black women out there talking about them.
Or even, the person who searched for “Black Girl Friendly Otome Games” and wound up on my site.
"There are so many little moments that make what I do worthwhile, because at the end of the day if I can convince one person to try a game or encourage another person of color to use their voice to talk about what they love then I’ve done my job."
What is the biggest and/or most challenging obstacle that you feel is in place for running and actively maintaining such a giant and popular review site?
Staying motivated. It is sooooo easy to get burned out running a blog—between keeping up with gaming news, playing games, and writing reviews it can be really overwhelming. There were quite a few times where I honestly wanted to quit, but I really love what I do and I always find my way back to it in the end.
"And a lot of that is because I have an unofficial rule—I will only keep running my site as long as it’s fun for me. The minute it becomes a chore, or I get to the point where I hate playing games, then I’ll stop."
Back in 2017, I was really at an impasse with my site and I was at a point where I dreaded new releases because it meant that I would have to write a review—I wasn’t playing for fun, I was solely playing for the purpose of writing reviews and it took me awhile to get back to a point where I enjoyed playing games. It was only after I wrote the blog post, I Date Hot Guys on My iPad: A Love Affair with Virtual Bishies, that I remembered why I fell in love with otome games in the first place. And whenever I feel discouraged or burned out I revisit that post to remind myself why I play games in the first place… because they’re fun.
What is your “dream goal” as a the creator of “Blerdy Otome”? Likewise, what is the main takeaway you’d like your readers to take from in their experience in visiting your site?
I suppose my goal is the same as most creative people, and that is to make an impact.
If my site puts the name of a game in front of someone that otherwise never would have played it than I’ve done something truly amazing. I would love to see Blerdy Otome become a go to source for gaming content, but if it doesn’t that’s okay too. I just want to create a space where folks can discover something new—whether that’s a game created by developer of color or an otome game—I just want every person that stops by my page to find something that speaks to them.
"Games ARE for everyone, and there’s always something new to discover at Blerdy Otome."
As a mega-fan of the otome genre, and as someone who has served as the gateway for so many others into not just the world of otome, but indie otomes and visual novels alike, where did your own love for otome games begin?
Oh, how I HATE this question. Truthfully, I can’t remember how I got into otome games (I suppose it wasn’t all that memorable LOL). I vaguely feel like a friend of mine from Howard turned me on to them, but at this point I can’t say I remember. Though, the first game I do remember playing was A Knight’s Devotion, one of the early Voltage Inc. games.
I bought every single route in the game and I distinctly remember playing it during my breaks at work. I was in LOVE with one of the love interests, Lute—he was just such the perfect gentleman and I still have fond memories of him… then it just kind of snowballed from there. I own at least one story in every Voltage Inc game there is (some of which I still haven’t played). I eventually moved on to games like Hakuoki, Yo Jin Bo, Sweet Fuse, Storm Lover Kai, and Starry Sky…and I just haven’t stopped since.
Of all the reviews, interviews and the like you’ve ever written, what would you personally say is your favorite piece? Whether it’s a review on a game you fell in love with or interview you felt inspired by—what is the (or one of the) articles that sticks out the most in your mind?
Oh, now that is a tough question, I now have over 900 posts and articles on my site and there are times when I have to check and see what all I’ve covered over the years.
But, if I had to pick a favorite review… I’d go with the review I wrote about Ren’s route in DRAMATical Murder: From Consciousness to Reality: DRAMAtical Murder-Ren Review & Final Thoughts on DRAMAtical Murder.
This was the last review in the series and the first time that I ever finished a game to completion and at the time it was such a huge accomplishment for me, because I tend to lose interest in games fairly easily. But, I STUCK with DMMD, heck I even live blogged my playthroughs on Tumblr. That game really left a HUGE impact on me and trust and believe I’m going to play the JAST BLUE localization when it’s released!!
Besides blogging and writing, what are some other creative outlets you’re passionate about? (We spotted some really cute Crochet works under the ‘Lifestyle’ tab, haha!)
Ah, you found those huh? Yes, I do crochet in my spare time, though I haven’t picked up a hook in a few months now… maybe I should give crocheting a go again sometime soon.
My mom taught me how to crochet when I was 11 and I mostly do it so I have something to do with my hands when I’m binging shows. The doll making is fairly recent, and I started it mostly just to see if I could do it and like most things it just kind of spiraled off from there. I mostly make dolls of anime and game characters, but I also have some cute sushi-bunny plushies and Pokemon plushies.
And when I’m really bored, I bring out my old Flute and toot out some of the old music from my high school days.
Apart from dedicating so much of yourself to maintaining “Blerdy Otome”, keeping up with the latest trends in the industries you follow and creating all of your content, you also have a day job to adhere to, correct? What does your day-to-day look like as a both heavily dedicated blogger and a working employee?
Oh, yes… my 9-5… I work at a non-profit and the work isn’t always the most stimulating so I tend to use my down time to bang out blog posts (or if I have an especially boring meeting, play a game or two).
There really isn’t a schedule per se, since I am the worst at keeping up with them. I kind of just fit gaming and blogging in after work or on the weekends, but now that I’m working from home it’s easier to squeeze in more gaming time while on the clock…
On a similar note, what are some time-management skills you’d pass onto others looking to start creative endeavors that worry they may not have enough time or energy because they work day/night jobs?
Ha, time-management, what’s that?
"Seriously though, my advice is to pace yourself. Go at your own speed and only add more on your plate when you’re comfortable. Maybe pick one big game to focus on for the month and spread your playthroughs out."
And lastly, what advice would you give for someone looking into starting their own blog or review site? What skills do you think would be essential to have in this process?
I always give the same advice: Have fun! Don’t do this because you want fame or likes, so it because it’s something you enjoy, that more than anything will keep your spirits up during some of the low points in your journey.
Also, my Dad used to say this, but don’t measure your success against someone else’s. Don’t compare yourself to other people, just do what you do and focus on that.
"It’s so easy to get discouraged when it appears that someone else is doing better than you that you miss seeing your own accomplishments."
As for essential skills, talking to other people is kind of a must. Make friends and build a community of people so you’re not really going at it alone. I have friends that I literally call up when I want to rant about a game, and bless them for always listening, because it really does help me get my thoughts in order.
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And visit Naja's website at BlerdyOtome.com