The A Plus Interview

First She Admired Indiana Jones. Now This Gamer Embraces Her Inner Lara Croft.

"The overall perception that a gamer looks a certain way is a huge misconception."

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others. Visit on the last Thursday of each month for the latest installment.

Mari Takahashi has always been a big Doctor Who fan, but the arrival of the first-ever female Time Lord means something different to her.

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"I don't think it needs to be this statement where it has to be women, but I think it's more of a statement that it can be a woman and it doesn't have to be jarring," the prominent female gamer and founding member of SMOSH Games perhaps best known as Atomic Mari, told A Plus at this year's New York Comic Con

"I think I'd rather see the conversation go in a way where it's more fluid rather than it has to be one way or another," she added. "I'd love to continue seeing that happen in multiple industries — whether it's Hollywood, video games, or beyond."

As a woman in an industry dominated by men, Takahashi — an ex-ballerina who competed on Survivor — has achieved quite a bit and turned a passion for all things geeky and nerdy into a full-fledged career. We caught up with Takahashi at NYCC to discuss what video games have influenced her the most, who she looked up to when she was growing up, what it is like to be a woman — and a woman of color, at that — in this industry, and much more.

If you could pinpoint one game that has had the biggest impact on you, what would it be and why?

There have been so many games! When I was a kid, Mortal Kombat is definitely a game that I adhere to as my game. Growing up playing the Tomb Raider series, I realized [Lara Croft] is who I want to emulate in real life: an adventurous, curious, and intelligent badass. I think, without really knowing it, as a teenager I really started to want to craft my life that way. It wasn't really until my mid-20s that I actually started to actually live that out when I realized that the career of being a professional ballerina put me in a box. In 2010, funny enough a few months before I started working for SMOSH, I went on adventures. I spent a month in Africa, a couple months in South America. I ice-climbed, I rock-climbed, I mountaineered, and I camped. I think that was the first time I realized I had control over my own life and it put me on this path that I am walking now.

So you're kind of the IRL version of Lara Croft, huh?

Yeah! I think it was something that was always sitting around in my head and I didn't take any action until I really got the guts to do it. It took until I was 25, but I continue to sort of emulate her and her way of living life.

You’ve been a figure in the gaming world for quite some time now. What has been the most rewarding part?

I think the most rewarding part is realizing that this job didn't exist a decade ago. Being in a position where I'm actively changing this industry and beyond, and I'm involved in creating this tipping point. I don't know where it's going, I'm just very excited to be involved in any way. I think it's rewarding to realize I've made some sort of impact in an industry I absolutely love and never expected to have any part in.

I can just imagine that by seeing you and others like you — women and specifically women of color — it has inspired others. What has it been like to be that kind of role model when you probably didn't have one like yourself when you were growing up?

It's absolutely mind-blowing and you're absolutely right in the fact that I didn't have a role model like that growing up. I remember very, very early on when I was like 7 years old, my role model was Indiana Jones. Even though Short Round existed and Short Round looks a lot more like I do, my role model was Indiana Jones. To think that now there are influencers around like me and now seeping into Hollywood as well, there are people who represent viewers and audience members and people who are taking in this content. It's extremely humbling and I don't think I'll ever really grasp the gravity of what that impact is, but I always try to remember that it exists and that I'm extremely fortunate to have any part in it.

What does being an influencer mean to you? Is there a responsibility that comes with it?

I'm so glad that you mention the word responsibility because I think the social responsibility that influencers have is not emphasized enough. Pretty much anyone can be an influencer these days, which is what makes it so enticing and one of the reasons why it's so beautiful is because it's this underdog story that we get from everyone who quote-unquote makes it. But, at the same time, I think it's really important to remember that "with great power comes great responsibility" to borrow a phrase from Uncle Ben from Spider-Man. It is so true and I think it's not emphasized enough.

I feel a great amount of responsibility for having these followers. It's interesting how followers are now this form of currency, this form of showing that you are successful. It's very strange to me but that is the reality that we live in. I just try to always remember that, deep down, I'm just a regular person who just happened to get in early into YouTube and has been extremely fortunate in their career.

How have you seen the perception of women in gaming change throughout your career?

I think it has always changed for the positive. I think there's micro things that happen, but in the macro, I think it has always moved forward. The real movers and shakers of this industry — the companies behind the video games, the programmers, the developers — those are the ones that we should be really focusing on as creators and they have always been advocates and in my personal experience they have always had our backs as women. Instead of focusing on conversations that happen among trolls on the internet, I think it's always been very important for me personally and in my career to focus on the people that are going to get me to the next step.

What is the biggest misconception people have about gaming and how would you clear it up?

I think the overall perception that a gamer looks a certain way is a huge misconception. For women specifically, gaming has a very vile reputation, and women are told the story that it's scary in here and it's violent and it's aggressive and it's terrible, but I would so much rather tell the narrative that it's amazing. There should be more women in this industry, and I implore more women to be in this industry because it's the only way that we're going to shift the status quo and shift what the perception has always been. I implore women to use the things that make them unique to their advantage. Use that to corner a market, use that to be a niche in a market, and go about it strategically because there's so much room for so many people in this industry and the more it grows the better it is for all of us. So I implore people to jump right in.

What is your biggest hope for the future of the gaming world?

I honestly don't know about the industry. More than the industry, though, I hope that for players, for the community, for those of us who spend 140 hours in Spider-Man, I hope it remains fun and that it always breeds community and it brings people together. I hope that the gaming industry continues to keep gaming the No. 1 focus.

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