Nerd’s Eye View: the stupefying surge of mainstream geekery

Toronto Fan Expo 2015 geek guide
(Image: Paul Hillier)

Geek culture, that smorgasbord of sci-fi and fantasy fandoms, was, until recently, relegated to the fringes of society. Now the boundaries between the margins and the mainstream have all but vanished. The biggest show on TV is a sword-and-sorcery dragon epic. Comic book movies break box office records every weekend. And this month, more than 120,000 people will dress up like Klingons and Stormtroopers at Fan Expo Canada, the third-largest sci-fi convention in the world. Toronto is the ideal host city: we’re a dork’s paradise, brimming with indie gaming studios, addictive TV space operas and role-playing societies that let you channel your inner elf. Here, we break down why it’s so cool to be a geek in the city.

Costume Drama

Cosplay is exactly what it sounds like: fans dressing up as their favourite sci-fi characters. We asked three such enthusiasts how they created their looks


Name: Candace Leclercq, a 31-year-old artist The character: Lady Loki from The Avengers The costume: “I bought the corset online, and built the breastplate and crown from foam and Worbla (a thermoplastic designed for cosplay). My best friend made me the staff from plaster, cardboard and a bamboo rod. The whole thing cost around $200.”


Name: Roberto Arias, a 27-year-old welder The character: Iron Man The costume: “I relate to Tony Stark—he doesn’t have any superpowers, but he does have a cool suit. I made mine using a foam base from Canadian Tire and brass-aluminum sheet metal from Home Depot. It cost me between $500 and $600, plus countless hours of labour.”


Name: Vicky Chin, a 27-year-old social media co-ordinator The character: Dark Valkyrie Diana from the League of Legends video game The costume: “I sewed it from mesh and metallic spandex. The wings are dyed turkey feathers glued to a foam base and shaped with coat hangers. All in, it was about $350.”

Wicked Games

Six Toronto-made indie video games that put Super Mario World to shame


Out now for Xbox, Windows and OSX A gaming geek strives to become the ultimate champion by battling each of her favourite superheroes in a retro fantasy land.


Out now for PlayStation, Xbox and Wii A Mexican farmer is killed by an evil skeleton and reborn as a hulked-out luchador. Imagine WWE fighters at a Day of the Dead festival.


Out now for PlayStation A ninja dodges fire, missiles and droids. There are 2,000-plus levels of increasing difficulty; if you finish one per day, it will take more than six years to complete the game.


Super Time Force
Out now for Windows and Playstation A secret military troop is tasked with fixing the present by hopping between the dinosaur era, the Middle Ages and a Jetsonian future.


The Wizards of Trinity Bellwoods In development for iOS and Android Benevolent sorcerers roam Trinity Bellwoods Park and collect points for every beer can they collect.


Out later this year for Wii U Two blobby aliens named Hue and Val race through an art deco digital obstacle course of spikes and bumpers, compete in time trials, and win trophies.

The World According to LARP

Live-action role play is a real-world Dungeons and Dragons. Dave Ashby, owner of the LARPing society Underworld, explains how it works


So what exactly is Underworld? It’s a medieval live-action role-playing game, where players dress up as warriors or mystical creatures. We act out storylines at weekend camp-outs in the fields of southern Ontario. We set up the premise, but the players write the endings. They get to step out of their lives for a couple of days and become someone else—a cooler version of themselves.

Sounds intense. What kind of people play the game? We get up to 200 people at events—our members are lawyers, cops, nurses. About 40 per cent of our players are women, which is pretty good for a hobby that’s usually male-dominated. We try to empower female players—for example, the Savar, our feline race, is completely matriarchal.

LARP seems super-niche. Do you think it’s ever going to go mainstream? It’s already on the cusp. Ten years ago, we’d make weapons out of plumbing supplies from Canadian Tire. Now I can go to any website and buy beautiful latex weapons that look like ones from days of yore. You can even major in LARPing at a university in Finland.

Do you ever attract puzzled onlookers when you’re LARPing? All the time. Nobody really understands what we do at first, so we’re dealing with a lot of farmers who are like, “Are you guys worshipping the devil?”

You launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy your own gaming field. How’s that going? We got it! We raised $200,000 and bought 100 acres of forest and rolling hills in Fenelon Falls. It’s perfect for LARPing.

Fan Packs

A glossary of sci-fi subcultures


Whovians Devotees of Doctor Who, the alien who time travels in a police box. Fan Expo must-sees Ex–Who stars Karen Gillan and Billie Piper.


Whedonites Admirers of Joss Whedon, the overlord of Buffy and The Avengers. Fan Expo must-see
Agents of SHIELD star Ming-Na Wen.


Potterheads Harry Potter obsessives, of course. Fan Expo must-sees Bonnie Wright (Ginny) and Tom Felton (Malfoy).


Star Wars fans, and the archrivals of Trekkies everywhere. Fan Expo must-see Billy Dee Williams, the once and future Lando Calrissian.


Brotherhood without Banners
Game of Thrones acolytes. Fan Expo must-see Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo.

(Images: Illustrations by Anastasiya Milova)

Weird Science 

Given the right set dressing, Toronto can pass for anywhere in the galaxy. Our favourite locally shot sci-fi shows


The Space Opera
Dark Matter Six astronauts wake up from stasis in a far-flung quadrant of the galaxy, with no memory of who they are or why they’re there. That tantalizing mystery forms the spine of the show, which also features soapy intrigue, zippy fight scenes and menacing intergalactic megacorporations.


The Superhero Saga
Heroes Reborn Network TV is currently a wonderland of high-­concept miniseries and flashy superhero shows—which means it’s the perfect time to reboot the slick mid-aughties series about a disparate troop of hot, brooding everypeople who find themselves sacked with inconvenient magical powers.


The Dystopian Drama
Killjoys This swashbuckling series follows three bounty hunters—a muscle-ripped hunk, a techy geek and a femme fatale—conniving their way through the Quad, a star system in the throes of violent class warfare. It’s sharp and agile, with enough quippy quirks to satisfy the most devoted Joss Whedon fan.


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