EPISODE 1: Nancy Drew

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Nancy Drew and I… have a very deep history. 

Maybe not like Marianas Trench deep but like.. 5 AM existential talks with your s/o while the sun comes up deep.

That took me way too long to come up with and it doesn’t even make sense let’s just move on.

This is the first self-doc I’m trying out, and I think it’s pretty fitting, since ND—including books, games, movies, etc.—was pretty influential to me around middle and high school. And shE’S MAKIN’ A COMEBACK, TOO. 

But let me start at the beginning.

I got into Nancy Drew by way of the original Nancy Drew book series by Carolyn Keene (a name which I later found out to be a pseudonym and that many authors ghostwrote the series) and PC games by HerInteractive, and I got into the Nancy Drew book series by Carolyn Keene and PC games by HerInteractive by way of my cousin. The latter came first, though. At least, that’s how it stands out in my mind. Like, I distinctly remember the day, sitting in my cousin’s lap at her computer, playing this little point-and-click game. Whenever I visited my cousin’s, we’d play the cool computer games she had—most notably this wild American Girls game (Oh my god I just looked it up and I’m having visceral flashbacks.) called The American Girls Premiere.

 

One particular day, she brought out a couple games of the Nancy Drew series and said, “Pick one.” It was really as simple as that. I don’t remember any convincing or swaying that she did, but there was probably a “Do ya like mysteries, cuz? Puzzles? How ‘bout these? Promise they’re not scary.” (I think that was a thing with me. Couldn’t do Scary Things. HA, give it like 8-10 years, kid. You’ll get the appeal.)

Lemme take a minute to describe these games, though. They’re essentially point-and-click adventure games where you, the player, are Nancy Drew (meaning you never see her face, which is kind of a gag at this point) solving a mystery you somehow got roped into (be it ludicrously coincidental circumstance and she just Happens to be there or a character legit asking her for help—but that’s usually how ND goes).

Anyway, you meander around, finding clues and playing mini games and choosing dialogue options, and you learn a lot of stuff on the way. Like whether something is locked or stuck. (I tried finding a compilation on YouTube of how many times Nancy says “It’s locked” or “It’s stuck” and I am grossly disappointed to find none.) Here’s a screencap of what the game UI (User Interface) generally looks like:

ND_HC_UI.jpg

This one’s an oldie, though. The Haunted Carousel.  The interface has changed up in recent years. Liiiike this!

ND_WWA_UI.jpg

From Warnings at Waverly Academy. A mood. But also: a more recent depiction of what the games look like. In both, you got your inventory, your journal, your checklist (only available in the easier mode of the game, Junior Detective, while Senior Detective mode offers less help), your phone (where you can call your friends Bess and George, your boyfriend Ned, the Hardy Boys, etc. for help), and your dialogue box.

So. A story-based game with minor choices that, from what I recall, don’t necessarily affect the story itself too drastically, though you can get kicked out (or die—there are many ways to die, i.e., crushed by elevator, eaten by carnivorous plant, LAVA, impaled by carousel poles).

We have fun in this fandom.

The particular game I played with my cousin, though, was Danger on Deception Island, picked by 12-ish-year-old me because “orcas are cool” and “you said this one was the least scary of the 3 so—” I think we got through most if not all of DDI—(Jeez, the forum’s game title acronyms are all coming back to me. But more on that in a bit.)—that day and I immediately sought out more. My parents bought me a few games, I got more for holidays, ended up buying ones myself once I had relative financial autonomy…

Bruh. It went from 0 to 100 real quick.

Long story short, I fell in love. I’d already been into PC games—both educational (LET’S GO JUMPSTART) and not so much (HARRY POTTER PC GAMERS RISE)—and these were just… it. There was just. So much? Each game had a different setting, looked into different histories and cultures—appreciatively, as far as I can remember, fingers crossed—and I ate ‘em up, man. They were so fun, and it was like a secondary form of education for me, too. Problem solving was a given, considering they were puzzle/mystery games, but the amount of alternate things I looked into as a result of ND…

Do you know how obsessed I got with Marie Antoinette because of Treasure in the Royal Tower? And how much more into the history of alchemy (as well what not to feed a parrot) because of Curse of Blackmoor Manor? And don’t get me started over how hype I was about the ones that took place in Italy (The Phantom of Venice), Ireland (The Haunting of Castle Malloy), Japan (Shadow at the Water's Edge), and New Jersey (The Haunted Carousel). Do Not.

And Secret of Shadow Ranch needs no point of interest for me to promote. It’s just Good. And I could say the same for others, as well. There’s just so much stuff in them that sticks with you, makes you want to know more about things—not just in the game, either, but in real life.

(Let’s be real, though, most if not all games do that. You get some skill out of it. Hell, a gacha otome game—stan A3!, y’all—I’m playing has me working on my resource management skills.)

You play enough as Nancy Drew—this analytical, intelligent, open-minded, resourceful woman—and you end up taking her with you, incorporating those tactics of hers into your own thought processes and logic. You get her thirst for knowledge, her instinct to know more and maybe meddle just a bit more, even for the smallest things, and they become yours.

That’s how I think it happened for me, at least. These games got me thinking more, got me to learn more about an array of cultures to the point that some concepts have stuck with me all these years later, even with a hiatus in playing.

Ha. One big thing I remember is a code used in Secret of Shadow Ranch—it was simple for a 7th grade mind, so I taught it to my friends. One day we were messing around and decided to use the code on our names. Thus was born my nickname that has lasted me over a decade.

So… yeah! Fascinating games.

And frustrating.

God, could they be frustrating.

Come to think of it, Henry Jenkins says something about this fascination/frustration relationship in Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. In a discussion of participation and resistance, he claims that “[f]andom is born out of fascination and some frustration. If you weren’t fascinated, you wouldn’t continue to engage as a fan. If you weren’t frustrated, you often wouldn’t continue to rewrite and reinvent” (14). He ain’t wrong, but there has to be a balance, y'know? Too much fascination and little frustration could lead to obsession and blind belief in perfection of the content, while too much frustration and little fascination could just lead to loss of interest and abandoning the content.

But anyway. It took a bit of fumbling and upset and many a call to my cousin for puzzle help for me to eventually stumble upon the HerInteractive community forums. I’d never been on anything like them before. The transition is a little fuzzy, but after a while of being on the receiving end of game advice and How-To’s and hints, I wanted to be the one giving that information. So I spent hours on a profile and signature, detailing what games I’d played, what I knew most about, what other things I was into (pretty sure it was my House, M.D. and Poptropica era)... Doing so, wanting to have a nice looking signature—with different colored text and fancy fonts—led me to learn HTML. I’m no savant, but I learned the logic behind it, some of the general coding language, and it’s progressed (somewhat) from there.

I mean somewhat. I went to an IT high school but I learned more from googling for gradient text. What does that tell you?

...

Was that too mean?

...

Actually, I don't think so.

School today is… I don’t wanna say garbage, but… Lemme specify: The American Public Education System Is Garbage. There we go.

It’s all a means to an end, with public schooling. College, too, while we’re at it. Get the high scores on testing, get the highest grades, achieve this, achieve that, get that degree. We’re achieving, but what are we gaining? What are we learning?

Tablo of Korean hip hop group Epik High talked about this on the college level in several episodes (Episode 22 and Episode 25 specifically) of The Tablo Podcast. Basically, you can learn (mostly) anything outside of school, what with the internet these days. There are benefits of going through a college program, and there are benefits of not going through a college program. It really depends on your desired career path, though, as Tablo points out. If you wanna be a brain surgeon you better heckin’ go to medical school. But I digress.

With enough drive, you can learn practically anything on the internet, y’know? Just… use your best judgment.

Also subscribe to The Tablo Podcast. He’s a rad dude and the show’s insightful as heck.

(But he’s 100% wrong about the way to hang toilet paper.)

Let’s get back on track here. Regardless, tech prowess aside, the ND forums opened up that particular world for me, of interaction with other fans in a constructive manner, for support and collaboration.

For a while I thought that the forums were down, even mentioned it in one of my interviews, but with the revamp of the HerInteractive site in recent years, there are new message boards up in a similar format of the old community forums. One thing I don’t like is that the color scheme completely changed, from a dark teal texture to your basic white with these magenta-red accents. It’s jarring.

Aesthetics aside, I’m excited to have found it again. Maybe I’ll jump back into that fray at some point.

That reminds me, actually—Nancy Drew got me into Let’s Plays before I even knew what Let’s Plays were. Striking out on the forums—for one conundrum or another—led me to seek out more visual walkthroughs via YouTube. I’ll probably (definitely) go into Let’s Plays more in my YouTube Self-Doc, but discovering arglefumph was 100% for Nancy Drew. He is, after all, The Nancy Drew Dude. What started as a means to an end—find the puzzle answer—led to me watching his entire playthroughs just for his humor and accent attempts (bless him). He’s not how I got into YouTube, but he was one of the big ones I used to follow back in the day. Apparently he’s still posting stuff. Good on him. Here's one of his playthroughs from back in 2009.

Fast forward through years of playing these games (19 out of 33 to date) and reading those classic, brightass yellow, hardcover books (25 on my shelf out of ??? who even knows [Note: wikipedia does]), and sitting through attempted film and show adaptations of the girl detective… It was an interest that died out around the time my anime era hit, but their impact was never lost on me. So much so that, when I reconnected with old friends and made new friends that shared my interest in the game series, I realized I wanted to revisit this aspect of my life.

That sounds so serious, this aspect of my life.

tl;dr I wanna do Nancy Drew Let’s Plays. For all the games, especially the newer ones I haven’t played yet. (One actually just came out a few months back! Shout out to Midnight in Salem.) And I’d love to bring on friends to play them with me and talk about random stuff, ND or fandom or otherwise. I know it’s been done before, and I know there’s a whole podcast for the games (that I only just found and haven’t checked out yet), but… not to be cocky, but it’s never been done by me before. That sounds cocky. Bear with me. Every story’s been told, but change up who tells it and you get a whole different experience, know what I’m sayin’?

There’s so much more I could say about this series, about Nancy Drew in general, about how her character got fridged—aka killed for the progression of another, usually male (the Hardy Boys, in this case) character's storyline, which I can and hopefully will ffffffffrEAKING go off about some day—for her 90th anniversary like seriously who does that… But that could be a whole other project.

And it will be. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to come back and link that Let’s Play series for y’all.

Stay tuned (for Danger).

[You Are Here]

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