NJ sisters wrangle the wide world of geekdom with an eye toward representation, authenticity and fun

"Let me tell you something, it’s not a lie when people talk about how the media can almost hypnotize you into thinking a certain way. The more dark and edgy content you watch, it starts to impact your own life, not just your interests."

NJ sisters Katya and Tatiana Stec run a multi-platform production and streaming service, All Ages of Geek, which, as the name implies, caters to all things geek—games, anime, games, books, movies, comics… really, anything you can geek out on.

But as it turns out, the key to competing in a media landscape where everything feels available all the time—a landscape in which the Stec sisters are active participants—might be an appreciation for where it all began. For Katya and Tatiana, that was Pokemon. 

“Growing up, we loved Pokemon and roleplaying as the characters, which introduced us to writing and using prompts from Pokemon to create original characters,” says Katya. “The beauty of RPGs or games like Pokemon is they give the user the ability to name their character and Pokemon. Even if there are no customization options like the newer games have, giving a name to the character was enough for us. It was a form of escape as a kid, to create these characters that became almost like friends to us.”

“One of the most appealing aspects of RPGs is the ability to be creative while playing the game,” adds Tatiana. “Like Katya mentioned, you are able to name your characters, making it feel even more like your own. Gamers are able to insert their imagination into the story as they play just by the simple feature of changing their name in RPGs. This helped us expand our knowledge on world building from games like Pokemon and also gave us a way to learn more about the characters we created through video games.”

So, there’s a lot to cover when it comes to what All Ages of Geek does, and not much space. There are podcasts, videos, articles, visual novels and more on a variety of geeky subjects (from Dungeons and Dragons to Star Wars to anime franchises and everything in between, like mental health and music) that live on a variety of platforms like Discord, Twitch, YouTube, Spotify and more. They work with a team of producers, writers, content creators, podcast hosts, illustrators—in short, creators—to produce over 100 hours of this material every week. They fund it through Patreon, where they offer multiple tiers of support in exchange for escalating levels of the media they produce.

Whoof, that’s a lot to pack into a tidy paragraph, let alone to do in a week.

“The majority of work, plus all the videos uploaded onto Patreon, is run by Tat and myself,” Katya says. “ I always say that God gave us these talents and gifts to create a community-driven platform. […] God gave us these abilities and we’re utilizing all the resources He’s given us. We’re also Ukrainian and like our grandpa always told us, ‘Ukrainians work for the harvest’!” 

“We also work with amazing freelancers from around the world,” Tatiana says. “We utilize websites like Fiverr and Upwork to connect with talent. We work well together so it is a lot easier for us to get stuff done. Our Patrons also help us stay motivated as they love the content they receive. It definitely makes things worth the work.”

AAOG started as a small YouTube channel with picture book, manga and game reviews, and a website for writers to share their stories and accounts of how “geek culture helped them overcome life’s troubles,” Katya says. And though their current mission is rooted in spreading geek culture and producing media that enriches those experiences—which includes original content, which we’ll get to in a minute—the Stecs see an opportunity to provide a level of mindfulness to this melee of media in which we live.

“Let me tell you something, it’s not a lie when people talk about how the media can almost hypnotize you into thinking a certain way. The more dark and edgy content you watch, it starts to impact your own life, not just your interests,” says Katya. “It sounds weird, I know, but if you start absorbing all that content constantly, it becomes a habit and addictive. Netflix constantly pushes for that darker content, which at times can be enjoyable, but then you look deeper into the message and you’re like, ‘Yeah, what message are they trying to spread?’”

Recognizing that tendency influences what’s emphasized, or at least included, in AAOG media, Tatiana says.

“It’s incredibly important to have resources and solutions in all forms of media even if it is not a stereotypical ‘happy’ story,” Tatiana says. “Young minds consume media even if it is not marketed towards them. It is important to even have solutions for adults who consume media. No matter how you look at it, watching shows that have dark undertones will truly affect your personal mental health. That is why it is incredibly important to have those resources.”

It helps if you care about your audience, as the Stecs do, but also see the humanity in the characters and stories you create. The characters in their latest webcomic, “I Married a Monster on the Hill,” and forthcoming visual novel, have been in development for the 20 years the Stecs have roleplayed with them. That means the characters have evolved as Katya and Tatiana have. That not only leads to a care and deep understanding of the characters, but a richness of story.

“With this roleplay we also have several unpublished stories that have led to an enormous almost separate-like world, with lore galore,” Katya says. “We’ve got political systems set up, extreme backstories, family trees, creatures, almost everything that has entertained us for almost 20 years. They are all original characters who have constantly evolved like us since we’ve been kids.”

“I Married a Monster on the Hill” was co-created and co-produced, as well as beta-read, by LGBTQ+ creators and features two LGBTQ+ protagonists, Bevvy and August.

“The two main characters came to life during a rough time in our lives, which truly inspired us to create this project to help others get out of dark times,” Tatiana says. “The project is meant to bring smiles on our readers’ faces while showcasing important topics of the world.”

“Bevvy and August, while newer characters, are heavily inspired by the LGBTQ+ married couples in our lives. We also saw a need for more LGBTQ+ stories that focused on healthy relationships rather than the drama you see on Netflix, and WEBTOON comics,” Katya adds.

They’ll add a visual novel—think an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure computer game—and a dubbed version of the comic, which requires thoughtful casting.

“With hundreds of actors auditioning, it is a great feeling finding the right voice for the character. Representation is the biggest thing when it comes to casting the right actor along with their feel for the characters personality and morals,” Tatiana says.

As for the actual dialogue, the world in which Bevvy and August live and the type of people they are, the Stec sisters and their collaborators mine their own lives, rooting the story in reality.

“These characters can be forms of our own struggles giving us an outlet on how to handle certain situations, or they are simply just voices that pop up and say, ‘Put me into the story!’” Katya says. 

“The psychology of all of our characters definitely comes from what we have been through in our own lives, people we met in our own lives, or just our own imagination,” adds Tatiana. “Sometimes you don’t realize where the characters come from until years down the line where you have an ‘a-ha’ [moment] discovering where their inspiration comes from. Creating characters definitely helped us deal with our own personal struggles as we have the control over the world and characters we built.”

Suffice it to say, there are layers to the Stecs’ story—and the stories they create. And for their growing audience (144K YouTube subscribers), they’ve also provided opportunities to participate in the worlds they help create—they’ve had interns from Kean and Rutgers and are keen to add freelancers on board who are passionate—nay, geeky—about something. 

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