At a staff meeting in the pilot episode of the comedy series Apple TV Plus Mythic Quest, Poppy Li – the lead game designer for the fictional multiplayer role-playing game company the series is built around – announces, “I don’t want to brag here, but my team and I have built something remarkable.” From the smug look on her face, it’s obvious that she Is want to brag. She’s so ridiculously sure of herself. She closes her eyes and mimes while playing the trumpet, then describes her new addition, a basic shovel, as “providing a whole new game mechanic: digging.” Then she explains that this brilliant new dynamic “will change the landscape of the game”.
As the lead developer of the blockbuster video game Mythic Quest, and its upcoming extension Raven banquet, Poppy more than paid her dues. She totally deserves the respect of the whole industry. Yet the way she brags about her own contributions in such grandiose terms goes beyond socially acceptable pride. It’s downright arrogant, and I love every song.
As a fellow software engineer and a person of Asian descent like Poppy, I find her arrogance particularly refreshing as it is a rarity among women in tech. In our circles, the common theme is that women suffer from impostor syndrome and find it difficult to recognize our talents and self-esteem. It’s an exaggerated narrative, and I’ve experienced it myself so many times that it’s no longer fun to see fictional characters playing it. Typically, I’m a fan of portraying a wide variety of human experiences on screen, but watching another character endure impostor syndrome at this point feels like it just perpetuates it. a damaging myth.
The truth is, it’s hard to keep pace with technology, and in a profession that challenges you to learn new skills and paradigms every day, it’s impossible to keep all uncertainty at bay. Mythic Quest‘s Poppy is admirable because she doesn’t question her technical skills for a single minute. For her, the question is never whether she knows how to code, but how and what to build. Poppy, played by Australian actress Charlotte Nicdao, struts around her office, handing out orders and bickering with other company executives, but she never doubts her abilities or her worth. While self-doubt would be a common narrative for this kind of character, Mythic Questthe creators of went above and beyond.
That’s not to say they made Poppy a brilliant role model. She’s the main developer of the game, but she’s not a good teammate. She is whiny and irritable, impulsive and stubborn. She’s usually a little sloppy, donning a variation of the quintessential programmer’s uniform: zip-up hoodie, tortoiseshell glasses, Converse shoes. She can’t delegate – when the game’s non-playable character, the Masked Man, starts giving away free loot, she takes it upon herself to fix the bug rather than looping her team. Under pressure, she bursts into stressful hives, spends a sleepless night and wakes up the next morning, greasy hair strewn over a keyboard in the coder room.
And she’s not a good manager either. She also barely knows the names of her teammates. When one of the programmers, Paul, draws her attention to a bug, she condescendingly exclaims, “Yeah, that’s bad, Zak.” When Paul corrects her about her name, she replies, “I don’t care.”
Poppy’s relationship with the show’s only other female developer, Michelle, is no better. In all fairness, Michelle barely does her job and often rearranges her resume for everyone to see, but Poppy doesn’t encourage or motivate her either. In one episode, Poppy pushes Michelle from her chair to resume writing a feature film. “She’s terrible at her job,” Poppy says in front of everyone, taking control of the keyboard, while Michelle selflessly stands to the side, typing on her phone.
But even that rudeness is an invigorating step away from the norm for a character. It’s amazing that Poppy cares so much about her own success and so little about how she is viewed. It goes against every tenet that I’ve been conditioned to believe is important: being kind, even tempered, and supporting other women. Anyone would hate to work with Poppy in real life, but for sheer entertainment it’s exciting to see a woman of color act like a rude, attention-seeking, titled teenager for once – and not just s ‘derive from it, but also prosper.
Poppy might be obnoxious if it weren’t so carefully crafted. Nicdao gives her an alchemical concoction of exaggerated facial expressions, weary sarcasm, harmless angst, and childish enthusiasm for her creative vision, and they all help make her accessible. Poppy is almost always scowling or frowning. Prone to ego battles with Creative Director Ian Grimm (series co-creator Rob McElhenney), who is even more self-centered, Poppy quickly grows angry, her voice growling in cartoonish rage that solidifies for a moment. , then wears off quickly. Poppy is cynical and skeptical. She’s cute, but not overly sexualized, with her black hair cut in practical layers, a simple bare face, and eyes so manic they remind me of Invader Zim, from the 2000s Nickelodeon show. The jumpsuit makes Poppy enjoyable. at first taste, and finally delicious.
Poppy struggles to be taken seriously as a decision maker and equal, overcompensating with an artificial recklessness that ends up crumbling because, unlike Ian, she’s always humble enough to recognize when others are right. In the pilot, when Ian criticizes Poppy’s shovel, she eventually gives in and helps make the changes, for the good of the game. “You’re that brilliant painter, and I’m your favorite brush … I’m just that. a tool that you use to create your masterpiece, âshe told him, capturing the existential dilemma many programmers face – whether we are masons or creative. Poppy wants to be more, and it’s thanks to her arrogance that she stands a chance against Ian’s inordinate ego.
Perhaps it is Poppy’s lack of charisma and leadership that I admire the most. For women in tech, there is a lot of unspoken pressure to behave well – to be kind, mentor others, and be well-expressed role models as well as knowledgeable programmers, because we can fix the culture of brogrammers by pure. force of kindness. While these responsibilities may ultimately make the industry more welcoming, it is another form of emotional labor and another unfair burden disproportionately placed on women and people of color.
Often times, we not only have to defend our work against closer scrutiny, but we must do all we can to defend ourselves within and outside organizations. When we are promoted, we are unofficially expected to attract more diverse talent. It’s exhausting to constantly moderate, to be the default role model for others like you, while constantly being outnumbered by people doing the same job with looser expectations and looser rules. The beauty of Poppy is that she doesn’t care. She is aware of her flaws, but doesn’t try to hide them or apologize.
At a âWomen in the Gameâ luncheon in Season 2, Poppy gives a speech that basically shows her lack of executive presence. Wearing an uncomfortably tight black sequin dress, she stumbles across the stage and squints at a teleprompter. After rummaging through her bag for her glasses, dropping candy and unbuttoning her dress so that the back band floats in the wind, she begins to ramble: “I can’t promise that I will always live up to the standards of the expectations of the people. others, but I can promise that I will lead with all that I amâ¦ Why did you let me do this speech? I shouldn’t have a platform. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t know what women want. I do not know what I want.
By normal standards this speech would be a disaster, but it is so relevant to me that it could have been taken from my own inner monologues. He was apparently designed the same way for many of the women in Poppy’s audience, who gave him a standing ovation. In a weird way, this is the kind of horrible, honest, unfiltered reality that I wanted to see portrayed in a fictional world. To me, Poppy’s “breakdown” is the antidote to both institutionalized impostor syndrome and the hyper-polite “genuine” leadership that we are often peddled. She doesn’t suffer from doubt, or pretend until she does. She sincerely admits that she doesn’t know something, doesn’t let it get in the way of her work and moves on. It’s admirable in a way that few women on television are allowed to be.
But there’s another twist – after the speech, we learn that the sniffles and buzzes were intentional, scripted by Ian as part of Poppy’s plan to get a new team of developers approved. The gambit showcases Poppy’s genius even more. She’s an imperfect leader, barely ambitious, free from the burden of caring about being either, and she always gets what she wants. For me, Mythic Quest‘s Poppy Li offers a rare glimpse of what it would be like to be free from expectations, to indulge in being strategic, rambling, arrogant, and unabashedly yourself in tech. She’s not a role model, but maybe she still teaches us a lesson: arrogance can be a necessary weapon to be successful, because if you don’t believe in yourself boldly, who will?
The two seasons of Mythic Quest stream on Apple TV Plus.