Narcissa signing off from one of her streams in late 2015.
My name is Winter Fae and I?d like to tell you a story about the importance of community.
It?s late 2015. Queer people are everywhere, in every community. But in gaming communities especially, the ?boys club? mentality meant that a lot of marginalized people ? women, people of color, queer people ? were being excluded. We met in twos and threes, being quietly queer on our own streams, watching GDQ with our close friends, but there was no real place for us to meet one another or feel safe from the elements of the community that wanted to silence us. This was the era of Gamergate, a reactionary anti-feminist and anti-queer movement begun just a year before that policed people like us out of public space. We had nowhere to enjoy our hobby without constantly fighting for our right to exist, and we definitely didn?t have an easy way to find one another. Enter Narcissa.
Narcissa Wright is a household name in the speedgaming world. She democratized speedrunning by co-creating SpeedRunsLive, where anyone of any skill level can find community and run games, then became perhaps the most famous speedrunner by absolutely destroying the Ocarina of Time record in a video that brought the intricacies of speedrunning to the masses. And on November 2nd, 2015, she posted an innocuous photo on Twitter of a couple pill bottles. A photo that sent a very clear message to a very small but very perceptive audience. To us, it read, ?I am a transgender woman.?
Narcissa?s coming out tweet. She holds a bottle of estradiol and a second of spironolactone, the two most common hormone replacement therapy medications for trans women in the US.
I?d been openly queer online and in private for many many years, but I had just taken my first steps to come out publicly that October. I?d started the process to change my name legally to one I was comfortable with, and I?d begun hormone therapy just one week before Narcissa did to align my body more closely with my self-image. A speedgaming giant like Narcissa coming out so soon after I?d begun the process myself was incredible to me. It felt like we were taking this journey together, and whatever we faced, we could face it together.
Narci?s first stream after coming out was a few days later. She?d set her chat on twitch to be subscriber-only in an attempt to keep out the trolls. (this meant you had to donate $5 for the ability to post messages others could read). That first stream had about 20 or 30 curious queer people like me who bought in to chat, plus a few dozen long-time subscribers who stopped by to congratulate her and show that their support wasn?t going anywhere. There were a couple hundred viewers total. It was active, vibrant, wonderful, and supportive, just the thing I?m sure we both needed during those scary first steps into the public eye. As time went on, total viewership dropped, with six hundred becoming five hundred becoming four hundred? Narci took things in stride, memeing about how many followers on twitch and twitter she?d lost, but it was obvious she was taking the exodus of some of her former fans pretty hard. But along with that shedding of portions of her old audience, the queer whisper network that permeated the gaming scene online gradually spread the word: The most famous speedrunner alive was one of us! Even as Narcissa?s total viewership dropped, the number of subscribers and donors rose, and every time she streamed ? nearly every day ? a core group of regulars was there to chat with her and each other.
Narcissa Rankings was an online leaderboard Narcissa created to track who held the world record speedrun times for each of her Mario Maker levels. Community members competed with one another to take the records of certain levels or hold the most records overall.
At the same time, Narcissa?s streams were changing. While she was still a speedrunner first and foremost, still exploring bugs and glitches in different games, still attempting to route Castlevania 64, a repetitive stress injury that make it difficult to use her hands for long periods of time meant that her days of grinding times down by a handful of seconds over dozens or hundreds of attempts were over. She could no longer play Smash Brothers for hours, could no longer optimize a route she?d discovered. Her streams in these days were much less directed. She turned towards more creative pursuits, like Super Mario Maker, painting, ZZT, and programming, and cultivated audience participation with multiplayer games like Worms, or just time spent chatting or watching things together. This shift in her streaming style and content drove more casual viewers away even as it intensified the core community she was creating. With more downtime and more chances to interact directly with Narcissa and each other, our group of thirty or forty people became very close. I met many people in those months who are still friends today. And one of those people became a little bit more than a friend.
Aisling, who uses the handle @transfaerie, was one of the first people I befriended in Narci?s streams. She and I were both present nearly every day, and both of us took on the faerie godmother role of opening our DMs to non-subscriber viewers, fielding trolls, answering trans 101 questions for people who didn?t understand what was going on with Narcissa, and conveying messages of love and support from those who couldn?t afford the buy-in. We also got to talking ourselves and became regulars in each other?s streams, mutuals on twitter and on mastodon, and, gradually, close friends and confidants. We shared our difficulties and our triumphs, our personal histories, and talked about what a future together might look like. And, eventually, in March of 2019, we got married.
Aisling (left) and I getting married. We overcame a distance of over 4,000 miles to be together.
Our story isn?t an uncommon one. When Narci took a hiatus from streaming in 2016, part of that core community left, too, to form our own queer speedrunning spaces. Out of that came people like Lizstar, doublegearsys, the Power Up With Pride marathon, and the influx of openly queer and trans people in GDQ and other marathons. Those spaces and others sheltered and grew the queer community that Narcissa proved existed and created a rallying point for. And wherever people who share interests can gather safely, romance will develop. I?ve seen multiple relationships and at least one other wedding come out of the queer speedgaming spaces that Narcissa was instrumental in founding.
Narci?s courage to transition as a public figure gave many other people that courage, too. She fostered a community space, letting people of all ages and experience levels come together and grow. The shape of speedgaming itself has been altered forever by her work in creating a community.
My wife and I celebrating the Friday the 13th full moon a couple days ago.
My story with Narci ends there, but hers is still ongoing. The upcoming documentary Break the Game concentrates on the next step in her journey, when she attempted to break back into the world of speedgaming with Breath of the Wild. I?m a proud supporter of its Kickstarter campaign, and if this story has touched you, or if you?ve benefited from the queer spaces within speedgaming that she helped create, you should consider becoming one too. The campaign ends in just three days, and you can back it here: BreakTheGameMovie.com
Break the Game tells the story of Narcissa from the height of her fame through her transition and to her recent struggles to recapture the magic with Breath of the Wild. It?s currently on Kickstarter.