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Millennial Falcon

Multimedia maven Sam Maggs is the First Lady of Geek

by Jeffrey Renaud

maggs with dalek on head
Photo by Krissy Myers//Sam Maggs, BA'10, has become the funny feminist face of geekdom.

Sam Maggs earned her stripes as a ‘geek girl’ navigating the virtual worlds of Doom and Myst. But it was her Millennium Falcon-like maneuvering of the very real D. B. Weldon Library, as both student and alumna, that provided the pop culture authority with the skills she needed to turn her love of sensation fiction into a sensational career.

In just a few short years since completing her university studies, Maggs, BA’10, has become the funny feminist face of geekdom – no easy task when you consider fictional places like Westeros, Jakku and Osiris are so often dominated by males both in portrayal and creation.

Winner of Cineplex Entertainment’s Casting Call contest in 2014, Maggs – a lover of all things Jeff Goldblum – welcomed movie-goers as an on-screen, pre-show host for two years before moving to Edmonton earlier this year to start her dream job as a writer for best-selling video game developer, BioWare.

She was initially influenced by her mother and father, Nancy and Louis Magguilli, MSC’89, a Computer Science professor at Western – the couple saw the original Star Wars 20 times in the theatre – and, later, English and Writing Studies professor Christopher Keep.

“Having a professor and a mentor like Professor Keep, who believed in my writing even when I was not so confident in it, was really invaluable and gave me the skills and the confidence I needed to go on to a master’s degree and book publishing,” explained Maggs, who studied a rarely researched subgenre of Victorian literature known as ‘sensation fiction’ with Keep.

Maggs called sensation fiction an 1860s version of serialized television or comic books. And that’s what she still talks and writes about today, which is why she very much connects her time at Western with her current game-changing place at the (gaming) table.

Maggs has logged hundreds, if not thousands, of hours gaming since she was a tween. The chance to work for the company behind such mega-hits as Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Star Wars: The Old Republic was a no-brainer for the young woman considered by many as the living embodiment of ‘a strong female character.’

Making the geeky new gig particularly compelling is the fact the gaming industry has long been considered sexist by its critics – an assessment further fueled by the #GamerGate harassment controversy. But Maggs confirms the notion could not be further from the truth as BioWare is one of the, if not THE, most progressive of all video game companies.

“The fact the team at BioWare is so progressive is the main reason I wanted to work with them,” explained Maggs, whose left upper arm is emblazoned with a Mass Effect-inspired tattoo. “I feel incredibly lucky to be here (BioWare) and I’m just trying to learn how to make a video game. It’s just really cool to come to work every day to a place where you sit down in a writer’s room and talk about things like diversity and representation."

‘Diversity and representation’ are two words associated with Maggs, whether she’s being interviewed on CBC Radio’s flagship program Q or moderating a panel at San Diego Comic-Con.

“We still have a long way to go in terms of diversity and representation and a lot of work to do. But the amount of change I have seen, in even the last five years, is honestly extraordinary,” Maggs said. “That’s in large part because of the prominence of social media. Women have always been involved in geekdom; we’ve always liked sci-fi and TV and comic books. But we haven’t traditionally felt welcome in the spaces in which these things are discussed. We didn't really feel like we could go into comic book stores. We didn't feel that we could reveal our genders in online forums. But now with social media, there are so many of us. There is this influx and we have been able to form these communities and find each other online and speak out about the things that we don’t think represent us well.

“We’re about half of the people who buy comic books and video games and go see these kinds of movies, which makes sense. The ability to say that on social media directly to the people who are responsible for bringing us this media is really valuable. It’s made a huge difference in a really short amount of time.”

Maggs is sworn to secrecy about her current video game project at BioWare (“I cannot talk about it even one tiny little bit.”) but did say it’s going to be “really, really cool.” That’s two reallys for those counting at home.

And video games aren’t the only thing Maggs is writing. The author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, considered the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, Maggs’ next book from Quirk Books, titled Wonder Women, is slated for release in October.

In Wonder Women, Maggs profiles inventors and trailblazers who changed history without history taking notice – from Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered ‘highly dangerous’ to German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition.

“Honestly, I had so much fun writing this book because there are so many amazing women in history we just never learn about because – for some reason – they don’t make their way into our textbooks,” said Maggs, who conducted a lot of the research for the book at Western.

“So many women contributed to so many incredible discoveries and inventions through history that I feel very humbled to be able to bring their stories to the world and tell people about the really radical stuff that they did. I can't wait for people to learn about them.”

MUST READS FROM SAM MAGGS

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Planetfall by Emma Newman
Lightless by C. A. Higgins
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Tracked by Jenny Martin
The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Southern Cross by Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams (Marvel)
Batgirl of Burnside by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr (DC)
Jem and the Holograms by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell (IDW)
Zodiac Starforce by Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau (Dark Horse)
Captain Marvel by Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, and Kris Anka (Marvel)
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Jake Wyatt, and Adrian Alphona (Marvel)
InseXts by Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina (Aftershock)


This article appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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