Meet Dani Babiak.
Not only does she share a nickname with a certain Mother of Dragons, she was recently married in a elegant, subtly geeky ceremony that featured Portal cake toppers and music from Jurassic Park, Legend of Zelda, and The Lord of the Rings.
She and her partner for life in nerdy crime, Todd, got engaged at Disney World and consider holding the highest score for the cheesy arcade game “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks to be their greatest achievement so far. Clearly, the geek gods have smiled upon this romance.
Dani’s gateway drug into Star Wars was the infamous prequels, but she’s since come to love the original trilogy and has a compelling defense of the much-reviled “The Last Jedi.” She was particularly devastated by the passing of iconic Star Wars princess/general Carrie Fisher.
Below, she reveals what it’s like to be a woman who just wants to talk about video games, how a childhood theft led to an enduring love of Harry Potter, and why every young girl should have an inspiring geek mentor to look up to.
So, apparently you and your husband, Todd, recently had the geekiest wedding ever. I would like to hear all the details. Please describe the big day!
It was a really, really great day and it went by too fast. We had all of our friends and family there — literally everyone that we wanted there was able to make it. We had it at this barn in Huntington Beach where they help rehabilitate horses (I’m a big animal rescue person) and it was all just so gorgeous and perfect. Lots of greenery, lots of succulents, great food, and great company.
Why did you decide to go full geek on your wedding day?
It’s really funny to me how you watch these wedding TV shows and hear people talk about “my big day this/my big day that” because it’s really, really not like that. Maybe it’s because Todd and I are both family people but we really cared and listened to our family’s opinions about everything and definitely in a sense wanted to have those traditional themes … we just wanted the traditional themes carried out in a non-traditional way.
So we had our DJ play fun jazz music during dinner … but it was a jazz version of the Pokemon theme song. We had very light and airy music playing while our guests arrived … but it was “The Song of the Shire” from Lord of the Rings. I walked down to a really pretty violin cover of “Zelda’s Lullaby” from the Legend of Zelda series. We had cake toppers; but they were two robots from one of our favorite video games, dressed up in bride and groom garb. We had to put our touch somewhere in the traditional scene.
What did the guests think?
The ones who got it REALLY got it and loved it. At one point during dinner, our DJ had played the main theme song from “Jurassic Park” and it ended up being a game for Todd and I to pick out the faces that were trying to place the song and then realize exactly where it was from.
So, I’m assuming your marriage is one built on a love of mutual geekdom. Tell me about the relationship.
It absolutely is. I think a lot of it is us just indulging each other’s geekiness in a sense too — we don’t necessarily have all of the same fandoms but we do enjoy a lot of things together too. I’ve brought him into quite a few of mine just as time goes on. We game together, watch (and pick apart) movies together, and Disney together. He’s kind of my best friend — he’s pretty cool.
I heard you got engaged at Disneyland, so you’re obviously a Disney fan. Tell me about the proposal.
It was pretty amazing. We decided to plan a trip to Disney World after we had realized that in the all of the time that we had been together we had only taken vacations to go visit family or to go on family trips and hadn’t really just done something for him and I.
It was our first day on vacation and we (obviously) chose to go to the Magic Kingdom first. Literally, I had hardly made it through the turnstile before I started tearing up because we were finally there. By the time we had made it to the castle, I was in full-blown sob mode. I was just taking it all in and he leaned down and said, “Can I ask you a question?” Annoyed, I turned to him and asked, “What?”
(Side note: I say “annoyed” because this is the guy that will literally put on a sad puppy video because he wants to see how fast I’ll tear up. It’s a game between us and I thought that he was going to make fun of me for crying). He then got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone! It was one of the greatest days of my life.
Do you visit the Disney theme parks often?
Yes. Our friends all have passes too, so we are frequently going. I’m not even going to lie to you, as I’m answering these I’m waiting for Todd to wake up so that we can decide if we’re going today or not.
How did your love of Disney begin and what specific movies, characters, properties, and attractions are you most into?
I’m honestly not sure where the love even began because it was always just kind of there. My Mom told me that the first movie she ever took me to was “Aladdin” when it was in theaters; we always went to see the newest Disney movie whenever it came to theaters.
My favorite movies have always been “Beauty and the Beast” and “Lilo & Stitch.” I loved the story behind “Beauty and the Beast” and the message behind the story. “Lilo & Stitch” always had a HUGE place in my heart because of the relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani. I have two younger sisters so this really hit close to home for me.
You’re a pretty dedicated gamer, specifically into Portal and Legend of Zelda. What do you like about gaming? Does this passion go back to childhood or is it a more recent thing?
Some of the greatest memories that I have from my childhood are from watching my dad play “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” when I was younger. We would spend hours in our living room play and I would just be completely mesmerized by the story and the game play. In the beginning I was actually so afraid of playing because I didn’t want to die in the game and the story to be over, but finally I got over this fear and I have replayed “Ocarina of Time” each year for as long as I can remember.
Gaming as a whole is just an amazing escape — I love getting so invested in the characters and storyline that hours go by without you even realizing it. For me, it’s just the same as if you’re super invested in a book but it’s almost like you’re living the story that you could be reading.
I’d like more details about your Portal obsession. How many hours do you spend playing? What do you love about this game?
I have an extremely difficult love/hate obsession with Portal. What drives me crazy is that there is absolutely no way that you can sit down and play this game for 20 minutes. I have tried several times. It’s like a jawbreaker; once you start you’re in for the long haul.
Especially with “Portal 2,” this amazing story starts to unfold and you begin thinking to yourself, “Well, wait, this doesn’t make any sense –maybe if I keep playing … .” Then all of a sudden you’re fighting the last boss. You get this amazing end cutscene. Then it is over and you have been left without any new Portal games since 2011 (I’m looking at you, Valve.)
What I love the most about Portal and what I believe is probably one of the most brilliant things ever is that they have created such a very basic, simple thing and made it so elaborate, complicated, and clever.
The entire game is one huge puzzle that requires you to think five steps ahead because it’s not laid out very clearly. You have to put so much effort into it and I think that’s why it’s one of my favorite games ever.
You’re an enthusiast of “anything Nintendo.” Why Nintendo? Which games are your favorite?
It’s 100% the nostalgia for me. Nintendo was a big deal in my house growing up and my sisters and I played everything from “Yoshi’s Story” to “Donkey Kong 64” to “Super Mario 64” and we loved it all.
What other video games are you into?
I’m really open to just about any type of game. I love the platform games, they’re always fun to navigate through. I haven’t been too into the Call of Duty games or other shooters of the like — they just get so repetitive and there usually isn’t that great of a storyline that goes with them.
What has your experience as a girl gamer been like?
Honestly, it has had its ups and downs. There have definitely been the judgmental looks when I talk about how excited I am for a video game to come out — but I feel like primarily I surround myself with people who are like-minded so it has definitely been easier lately than it had been in the past. I will say, I do still get a sense of relief when I’m talking to someone or introducing myself to them and they talk about what video games they play before I do.
You also enjoy arcade games. What’s the appeal of this “old-school” form of gaming?
I love the older ones and I love the newer ones too. I feel like what’s so great about arcades is that there is literally something for everyone there and also the general buzz of excitement when you go into one. They’re refreshing from the home consoles because they’re just very quick games that (usually) you don’t have to invest too much time into.
I understand you and Todd hold the highest score of “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks and that this is your “biggest accomplishment.” What did it take to earn this score?
We do! We need to go do a status check soon and regain our throne if anyone has taken our title (but I honestly don’t think they would as the game was in the saddest corner of Castle Park). For weeks, Todd was taking classes at community college and in the three-hour gap after class/before work we would go and play a few rounds of “Deadstorm Pirates.” We would sometimes be late to work, emotionally drained, and always invested about $20 each trip to Castle Park.
For those of us who don’t know, what exactly is “Deadstorm Pirates”?
“Deadstorm Pirates” is an extremely cheesy pirate shooting game. The game itself makes absolutely no sense from the start because ours at least had the blue gun assigned to the girl and the pink gun assigned to the boy. (Don’t get me wrong, all the power to fighting gender stereotypes but Todd was very upset the first time we played and he was the girl.) Some of the targets you are supposed to shoot: Grim Reapers, Bats, Attacking Clams, and a giant crab. If you find this game in your local arcade; sit down and play a few rounds. You will be left extremely confused but with an odd new obsession.
What other arcade games do you indulge in? Is Castle Park pretty much your stomping ground or do you have other locales for arcading?
I wish that Castle Park was still our stomping grounds. We have since moved to the South Bay and our trips to Castle Park have been fewer and fewer. Right now we’re really into Dave & Busters, which is a more modern arcade but is still a lot of fun. We’re getting ready to go try out a “family fun center” called Mulligan in South Bay that looks like they have a promising, cheesy arcade.
You worked at a major cosmetics retailer and you’re a geek when it comes to skin care. Can you draw any parallels between the geek life and the beauty biz?
I did and I absolutely am! For me, finding good skin care products and taking care of my skin just gives me the same kind of good feels that reading a good book or finding a great movie does. Especially when I worked in skin care, one of the things I really loved was helping find someone something that made them feel comfortable in their skin and happy with the changes that they were making. I think the biggest parallel is overall how complete it makes you feel. I feel like it’s easy for me to get as excited over a comic book as it is to get excited over a face mask.
Do you think some people would be surprised to find that a geek might be into beauty stuff as well? What would you say to that?
It honestly cracks me up because I feel like people treat them like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum! There are so many stereotypes of the “gamer girl/boy” vs. “makeup girl,” “preppy guy” and that kind of thing. I really wish that those kinds of stereotypes would just go away and people could feel free to like and enjoy whatever they want to like!
You’re also into DIY. Have you done any geeky DIY projects?
Yes! We’ve done a few. My most proud geeky DIY was our cake toppers for our wedding. We didn’t come up with this ourselves, but we saw on Reddit that someone had turned two turrets (from Portal) into a bride and groom turret. I remember when Todd and I found it, we both turned to each other and I’m pretty sure the first thing we said was, “Our parents are going to hate this.” But we did it and it was so wonderful and our families were so confused.
You’re interested in quite an array of fandoms, including “Rick and Morty” and “Bob’s Burgers.” What’s the big deal with these shows?
They’re just fun! I relate way too hard to Linda Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.” Overall, I think both shows are just really, really smart. “Rick and Morty” has taken “Back to the Future” and turned it into this complete other thing that I think is so clever and so fun to watch.
You’re also a Star Wars fan. Tell me your personal Star Wars saga and how you were introduced to George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away.
I feel like I can already feel people cringing but I actually started with the prequels first! They came out when I was younger and started going out and seeing movies. I just really, really enjoyed them so much and thought the originals were old and boring … and now I watch the prequels and cringe just a tiny bit and absolutely live by the original trilogy. I think I was 12 or 13 when I first really sat down and watched the originals and that was when everything kind of clicked for me. I had a huge crush on Han and wanted to be Leia when I grew up.
What are your thoughts on all the hate “The Last Jedi” is getting?
In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any hate. Did I think it was the best movie in the saga? No. But I feel like there are so many people saying, “Oh they should have stopped with the original three,” and I just couldn’t disagree more. This part of the story isn’t really for the people who experienced the original trilogy or the prequels when they were first introduced — it’s for the younger generation. The same glee that we experienced when we first watched “The Empire Strikes Back” in theaters or in VHS is what this generation is experiencing right now and I honestly think it’s lame to bash on something in that way.
Porgs. Yes or no?
Yes! Despite popular opinion, I actually think the (*spoiler alert*) scene where Chewie roasts one of those obnoxious things was great.
Kylo Ren Challenge. Yes or no?
Yes. Black leggings will never be put on the same way again.
On a more serious note, I understand you were quite devastated by the passing of Carrie Fisher. Can you speak a little bit about that?
Not to be dramatic but I honestly had to save this one for last. It’s tough and it gets kind of silly because I just felt like someone I knew passed away but I NEVER met this person. I know she lived an extremely full life — she accomplished so much but I just wanted so much more of her. I wanted to see her in so many more movies and I wanted to hear her talk about rescuing dogs and not giving a crap about what people have to say about you. She was Princess Leia on and off the screen, you know? She just had the sass and the drive just like Leia did. I was crying in the most recent Star Wars movie when she was floating in the stars because I’d like to imagine that’s where she is right now.
You’re also a Potter-phile. When and how did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?
I stole “The Sorcerer’s Stone” from a garage sale when I was in elementary school. I didn’t understand the concept of a garage sale and thought it was just people giving away free stuff … turns out, that was not the case and my grandmother marched me back and made me pay for it and apologize. I am so, so happy that I made that mistake because it was a gateway into one of the several fantasy worlds I fell in love with as a child.
What do you love about it?
I loved the idea of Hogwarts first, honestly. I remember as a child really falling in love with the idea of this magical castle with these large hallways and going to school there to learn wonderful things. I wanted to sit in the Great Hall and study in the Gryffindor common room (I hadn’t yet discovered what it truly meant to be in which house yet, so Gryffindor was my default because in my head they were the “good guys”). I feel like as an adult I love how complex it is — over the years as I’ve re-read the series at different ages, I feel like I’ve experienced layers and different feelings with the story.
It’s not about the magic anymore — it’s about this boy who experienced so much sadness in his life and how he overcame it with an adopted family (which, I guess, in turn is a different type of magic, right?).
I remember HATING Snape when I was a child and now he has become one of my favorite characters simply because of how tragic he is. I think overall what I love so much about it is that it has successfully taken me to a completely different world for years.
Hufflepuff forever. We are ride or dies.
Oh, jeez. This is really a tough one — it’s like picking your favorite family member. Probably Hagrid … but Molly Weasley is an extremely close second.
Have you been to either of the Wizarding World theme parks?
Yes! I just visited the Universal Studios Hollywood location in 2016 and it was AMAZING. I was picked at Ollivander’s to have a wand choose me and I ended up in tears afterward, just because of how amazing it all was. The amount of detail that they have put into it was just stunning and is so magical.
You’re into several fantasy franchises, including Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. What did you think of that last GOT season?!?! (SPOILER ALERT)
I have honestly lost all ability to be cool, calm, and collected with this series. I was traumatized and emotionally distraught for days after what happened to Viserion. I had a whole different level of respect for Emilia Clake after this season because her acting (especially during the Viserion scene) was just so amazing. Game of Thrones is a drug and now we have to wait until 2019 to get our last, extremely short fix.
Do you feel as icky about Jon and Dany as I do? (But also strangely overjoyed?)
I am literally laughing so hard as I write this because I am so painfully conflicted. It’s so wrong and so gross … but also so right? Did I really just write that?
What about LOTR? Are you one of those cool people who periodically does LOTR marathons?
This cracks me up — I have successfully done one Lord of the Rings marathon in one sitting and by the end of it I was so exhausted I was trying to speak elvish. I was introduced to Lord of the Rings by my father. I watched the cartoon version of “The Hobbit” when I was younger and just really didn’t understand, so my Dad explained the whole story to be in great detail. I think I listened to him tell this amazing story for at least an hour and was just so invested in these characters I never met.
When the first live-action movie came out, he told me that he was going to see it first without me (violence check — I was little) and I was so upset because I was so excited to see more of the story. Finally, he took me to see it and I have been completely invested since.
Who’s your favorite member of the fellowship?
Gimli! He is the best, sassiest, rudest little dwarf and I strive every day to be just like him. The friendship between him and Legolas (especially in the movies) is one of my favorites.
Are you into the books or just the movies?
I love them both. I think the movies were absolutely amazing but I’m still a little grumpy that they didn’t even mention the battle for the Shire at the end. I’m super hopeful with the Amazon series that they will dive into the untold stories of the Fellowship! I just picked up “The Silmarillion” a week ago, which will be my newest Lord of the Rings read. I’ve heard it’s extremely dense and can be difficult to read through.
You also really like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Why is this your fave Marvel entry?
I love it because I am always rooting for each main character. It doesn’t take itself so seriously where it’s like, “This is the superhero. He is coming to save the day.” It’s just a bunch of fairly average beings that just save the galaxy accidentally. Also Groot. I am Groot.
Are you looking forward to seeing the Guardians in “Infinity War”?
I had an audible reaction the first time I saw the trailer. I honestly thought I was going to have to wait until “GOTG 3,” but I am pleasantly surprised that I will get a fix soon.
OK, a little birdie I know told me a few things about you. She said I should ask you about the time you went to a midnight Twilight book release with your English teacher. Do tell!
Yes! It was so much fun. In high school, my friend Katie and I were absolutely enamored with the Twilight series (as I think back on it now I’m cringing just a little bit). Our English teacher was also a Twilight fan and we decided that there would be no better way than celebrating the last Twilight book release by joining fellow “Twi-hards” in a midnight book release party. It was honestly so much fun and was a great time being that age and being surrounded by people that all shared the same fandom. If I remember correctly, there were a few Edward vs. Jacob spats that broke out.
She also said you might be into fanfiction. True or false?
I was! I haven’t been too much lately, but throughout middle school and high school years I was extremely into both reading and writing. I wrote a fanfiction for a popular anime called Naruto when I was in middle school that was actually “Top Trending” on fanfiction.net for a few months! Haven’t been too into it lately, but that’s not to say I won’t get back into it!
Apparently, you used to be one of young adult author John Green’s Nerdfighters. Is that still the case?
Do you ever stop being a Nerdfighter? I loved “Turtles All the Way Down.” There was so long that he hadn’t written anything (I think he was working on the movie for “Fault in our Stars”?) that I had thought that he stopped but then “Turtles” came out! One of my favorite things to do still is to wander into bookstores and see if I can find any notes left by other Nerdfighters in John Green books. I’ve left several and hope someone found mine!
Hiddlebatch. Is that still the best thing ever?
Benedict Cumberbatch will forever be everything and Hiddlebatch/SherLoki is just the greatest dynamic duo that has ever graced our world.
Ok, I think I’ve grilled you enough. What’s left on your geek bucket list?
Disney Shanghai, the Amazon web series for Lord of the Rings, and I’m praying that they’ll release some new DLC for the new Zelda game again soon because I’m starting to get the itch.
As a woman, is there anything you’d change about the world of geek culture or fandoms?
Yes! Let women (especially younger women) be geeks! It’s not just for guys! A woman’s place is in a comic book shop!
I was so fortunate enough to have the mentor that I had in high school (the previous little bird that you mentioned) because she really held my hand and led me into becoming a young adult who was also geeky. She taught me so many amazing things but ultimately showed me that it is okay to be an adult and to grow up and be passionate about things that other people might judge you on.
This was such a relief for me because I loved so many things that I had been made fun of for years and I was so scared that I would have to let them go or hide my fandoms and the things that truly made me happy. I really wish and hope that other girls have a mentor like that or that they develop in an environment that is accepting and not judgmental.
I feel like if they did this, the world would be a much more geeky and open place.