Nerfing the Male Ego: Interview with Alyssa Dykstra, Creator of Threads and Thistles Inventory

by 
 | August 2, 2022

Those of us who are gamers–whether that be tabletop role-playing, board games, and/or video games–look up to so many big names in the industry. Neil Druckman, Hideo Kojima, Aya Kyogoku, and many more hold special places in our hearts. But we often don’t consider the people who are behind the scenes. This series is meant to highlight the people in the gaming industry that aren’t currently in the limelight, but should be because they're part of the group making our gaming experience the best it can be!

I’m here to make their voices heard and show their talents.

For the second part of the series, I’d like to introduce you to Alyssa Dykstra, the founder of Threads and Thistles Inventory!

I first found her shop on TikTok last year. My algorithm was treating me very well that day. I don’t remember exactly which video it was but I immediately gave the page a follow because it was some of the most beautiful, feminine, nerdy shirts I had ever seen.

I purchased my first two shirts a few weeks later. The first was “BRB Out of Inventory,” which is inspired by Animal Crossing™: New Horizons! And I definitely do not have over 800 hours in that game… (I most certainly do.) The other design was the "TTInventory Brand Logo,” which I’m actually wearing as I write this article!

My most recent purchase was the Snorlax “Take a nap?” shirt inspired by Pokemon. And yes, I did wear it for the interview with Alyssa! Cause why not?! I’m a huge fan of hers.

With that said, let’s get to the exciting part, shall we?

I first asked Alyssa, “What prompted you to create the business? And what was that whole process like?”

She replied that she’s very active in social politics, primarily feminist matters. Keep reading for a great Roe v. Wade discussion later on. What pushed her to start her business was, like so many others who started their shops, the current pandemic.

At the time, she was working three jobs and going to school to be a psychologist. But once she graduated, she lost her employment during the pandemic. Being the workaholic she is, her husband consoled her and recommended that she should probably learn to relax because the pandemic was the perfect time to do so. And like many others who played video games during that time, she bought Animal Crossing! What really drew her to the game was the ability to design homes, gardens, beaches–anything she could imagine. After seeing everyone else's designs and wanting to do the same thing, she bought the game!

Eventually, she got "bored, not with Animal Crossing, but just with life." And so, she decided to make an Instagram account for Animal Crossing. The account grew extremely fast, and she started to become a micro-influencer in the Animal Crossing community. As that community began to grow, so did her creative ideas. She thought, “Why not put them on shirts?” And funnily enough, the “BRB Out of Inventory” shirt, which is my favorite, was her first design!

The second design was “Support Your Local Lavender Farm,” which is from an inside joke in the Animal Crossing community where players use purple hyacinths in their fields as lavender farms! The third design was “Books & Sapling,” and it's "one of the most popular items of Animal Crossing, especially for those looking to decorate their libraries or cafés."

Before putting these three designs on her own website, she was functioning out of Etsy. There, she also sold preset photo filters for players to purchase to make their New Horizons photos look cool! Those presets were her first taste of starting her own business, and it went exceptionally well!

Once she found a manufacturer for the shirt designs, things quickly blew up–in a good way! Seeing how much of a success those designs were, she figured if these worked, then why not make more for other games, too?

She told her husband she didn’t want those other jobs back anymore. She loved what she was doing! But getting back into gaming came with the sexist and ugly side of the community. That fueled her with even more passion, but, more on that in a bit.

This led to me asking a little bit more about her husband, Thomas, whom she’d mentioned a few times. She explained that “Thomas helps [her] a lot and will be playing a larger role in the business soon!” She may be the owner and face of the business, but Thomas will always be a huge part of it. He assists her with the backend of the business, including finances and taxes, which he’s very talented and confident in. With Alyssa and Thomas’ strong feminist beliefs, talents, and passion, there’s no doubt they’re a power couple.

After our conversation about her supportive husband, I asked her if she had any advice she would give to anyone dreaming of starting their own business in the gaming community.

She told me there’s a lot more to starting a business than people realize. She’s seen people try to start their own businesses and tell her that it was a lot harder than they expected, especially with money matters.

Anyone starting a new business must be as prepared as possible beforehand and do their research. There’s a lot more to it than just making a cute design and putting it on a shirt. But sometimes, it just comes down to luck. Alyssa started her business when it was mid-pandemic and online shops and other things were gaining traction.

Having a partner who was able to support her morally and in the store was another huge aspect. Alyssa's biggest lesson from social media was having confidence! She gets hate comments and trolls constantly. When growing a community and business, trolls come with the territory, no matter the preparation you do for those comments. Stand your ground.

Then we began chatting about the merch that sparked the entire interview, “Nerf the Male Ego.” 

As a female in the gaming industry, I, too, have personally experienced hate from online gamers and on the internet in general. Female gamers are stalked, harassed, and bullied daily for simply playing a game. A fucking game. A place where we are all supposed to enjoy, create, and kill zombies simply because we want to, and it’s our hobby.

See here and below for Alyssa's post regarding the harassment she has received with screenshots.

negative comments received online

Alyssa wants to specifically support the voices of women because we are the group that is harassed and sexualized the most. She made the “Nerf the Male Ego'' design because she, like the rest of us, had enough of men dictating what we should do. Occasionally, she will also get some interesting comments from women who appear to struggle with internalized misogyny, which Alyssa handles with such grace and kindness.

Men have outright told her what game she should and shouldn’t play. As if they think they have the right to tell her and other people what hobbies they think they should have.

One day, she casually thought, “We should nerf the male ego… Oh, that would make a really cute hat.” Then, of course, came the backlash. She didn’t want people to think that she was–or is–attacking men. People regularly ask her, “What about women? Where’s the 'nerf the female ego' design?” This caused her to go back and forth on the design…  but she eventually realized it strikes the conversation in the way that she wants it to and in all spaces–not just gaming.

It gives her the opportunity to discuss toxic masculinity and its effects. Because the "male ego" phrasing doesn't mean she hates all men. She specifically wants to abolish the toxic masculinity which derives from the male ego. Some will understand, and some won't. Regardless, the clothing line gets people thinking about their behavior, and that’s the goal.

There are some women who have been greatly blessed in the fact that they’ve never experienced harassment. Women who have not experienced that often ask, “Why are you bashing men?” This again gives her the opportunity to discuss and educate that not everyone has the same experiences online, and their reality isn’t everyone else's.

And just because you don't experience sexual harassment doesn't mean the majority of us don’t. The sad fact is that the majority of women and fem presenting people experience sexual harassment of some kind. So if you don't want to advocate for the rest of women, that's fine. But don't tell women that they're wrong, what they're feeling is wrong, and/or what they're experiencing is incorrect because that is gaslighting.

We have all had some really great experiences gaming with non-toxic gamers, and we hope that continues. We all deserve to find our safe spaces and enjoy our hobbies together.

Alyssa wants to emphasize the voices of women in the gaming space and do her best to educate those who are willing to listen and not just scream for the sake of screaming.

I want to use this direct quote from her because it’s powerful: 

“Which is also why my husband's voice will be really important because unfortunately, men listen to other men. He actually said something to me the other day that really stuck out to me. He was telling me…  'I remember whenever you initially put the nerf the male ego design in the shop and… without meaning to be, I was initially really offended and hurt.' 

And he said, 'It didn't take me long after like a minute… feeling that way, I just thought about it. And I was like, you know what? She's right. This isn't about me. She's not attacking me. She's attacking society and toxic masculinity.' So I really appreciate the men who understand that and don't take it personally.”

We love a supportive partner. 

Huge thank you to Alyssa for this extremely enlightening interview, and here’s to the hate commenters. May they someday be educated and learn to be kind so we can all enjoy gaming together–no matter the game, system, or genre.

*Roe v. Wade was overturned post-interview. I reached back out to Alyssa to request her thoughts on the matter:

“I think all I can say on the matter is that my thoughts are like many other people who are affected (emphasizing people and not just women). To relate it to our topic… This is why the small things are not as small as we think. These sexist comments and threats we receive from men online, even just in video games, become ten times worse whenever things like Roe v. Wade happen, and they have now. Sexist men who get away with these comments in video games just wait for their moment, like Roe v. Wade, to continue the hate and further oppress women, and really anyone who is not a cis white man. Sexism in gaming is just a small portion of the sexism we deal with, and attacking sexism starts with you–whatever your gender may be–standing against it even in your video game online. 

It may also be important to add that I am working on two designs to add to the Feminist Gamer collection. You can see my post here for the designs: 

Feminist Gamer Collection

We will now be donating a large portion of our profits from the Feminist Gamer collection to organizations that will help people get the abortions they need because abortion is healthcare. We are still finalizing which organizations we will be donating to, and we are taking suggestions, but we are currently looking into organizations helping people get flights to states allowing abortions, as well as organizations helping POC get abortions.”

For those of you who are also looking for ways to take a stand in your online space, what are your go-to ways to support equality and respect within gaming? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!

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