I grew up near Oregon’s . I was fortunate that my mom washed all of our clothes at a laundromat our first summer in The Gorge, because there she discovered a bulletin for a local day camp that was less expensive (and infinitely more exciting) than daycare. While our parents worked, we of Riverside Day Camp happily explored waterfalls, caverns, museums, and fire lookouts from the discomforts of a foul-smelling but strangely endearing blue van.
Eventually my family moved into a 1926 craftsman-style house in a neighborhood that was home to a gaggle of kids. Together we built forts in the woods, caught frogs in the swamp, snuck into abandoned houses, and made lots and lots of treasure maps. Needless to say, when I got online in 1997, I brought a lot of Pacific Northwest and overactive imagination with me.
My sense of direction with technology and virtual community is a byproduct of my growing up in what I now recognize as Nintendo of America’s accidental online after school program. Here kids from the U.S. and Canada mingled for three hours each weekday with a team of chat hosts who doubled as Game Play Counselors (i.e., really cool call center reps). Our hosts, who chatted with us almost daily for years, became invested mentors who allowed us to set the tone of our community culture.
For me, Nintendo’s space was a social and creative haven. Meeting others in a mixed-age setting who enjoyed the same activities that I did inspired me to continue making even as my local peers moved onto other interests. We were given the freedom to both critique and celebrate Nintendo’s products and our life experiences, and we did so in the form of art, games, logos, chat bots, websites, stories, and general adolescent tomfoolery. In time, and in response to the rapidly changing nature of the so-called online “brand community,” we learned how to maintain our own community spaces. Later, under the tutelage of chip-hop rapper , I became one of Nintendo’s early volunteer moderators alongside good friends. Together we watched the community scale, take on new generations, and finally, retire. For many of us, the journey spanned ten years.
In recent years, I’ve taken my knowledge and experiences to informal learning communities, where I've tinkered with early community development and made a lot of humbling new friends.
If any of this account induces a positive heart flutter, drop me a line. I love meeting new people (or connecting with old faces) and hearing about your experiences. ♥ Also, I’m cooking up something a bit more substantial for this website. Mmm, cooking.