The popular image of a gamer is typically a skinny kid in a hoodie hunched over a controller in a basement somewhere. In reality, anyone can be a fan of video games, or a LARPing enthusiast, or a Dungeon Master, and the characterization of these enthusiasts as anti-social loners is often far from the truth.
In fact, the very nature of games requires social cooperation, and in most cases, “the more, the merrier.” More importantly, gaming tends to attract players with vivid imaginations and a passionate creative spark. Far from preferring to toil alone in a dark room, many gamers actively seek like-minded peers to improve and expand their game experience.
I tend to be a pretty involved parent when it comes to current trends, shows, music, and fads. So when my 9 year-old son came to me three years ago and asked to make a “Half-Life Costume”, I was surprised I had no idea what that was or how to do it.
My husband always stumbles into these conversations, innocent in his observations. Surely he meant no harm. One comment that, for the first time in a long time, had me questioning myself, my history, and my own reality.
He made just one comment that, for the first time in a long time, had me questioning myself, my history, and my own reality.
I don’t need to prove my geek cred to anyone. Neither do you. In fact, the idea that we need to prove anything about how we self-identify is ridiculous. If I see myself as a geek because I like (insert topic here) then that should be good enough. It’s not like calling yourself a doctor because you think stethoscopes are neat and then attempting open heart surgery. No life hangs in the balance. It’s just an identifier, a description, something as easy to break out as saying you’re tall, or introverted or forgetful. So why does it garner such passionate debate when some who’ve embraced the label claim it is being used unfairly by others?
It happens every few months, usually because someone has written an article about geeks, or labeled themselves as a geek. There is intense Internet debate, usually a good bit of it leaning toward the nasty, as “real” geeks try to explain why the term was unfairly used, why it was undeserved, why it should be given back to those who own it. As if anyone can own a word. You can buy a vowel on Wheel of Fortune, but that’s a game show. You can’t own a word in the real world.
I have been calling myself a geek and a nerd for years. Yeah, comparing those two terms alone is probably a doctoral thesis in the making, but that’s not the point. I think I’m a geek. I think I’m a nerd. Not everyone I meet might agree with me. I don’t wear lots of geeky shirts. I don’t like argyle socks. I love games but am a terrible gamer. I don’t like Lord of the Rings. I am still a geek.
I think that some of the problem comes from what has defined the word geek for so many years. Not the guy biting the head off of a chicken in a circus freak show, but the way those of a certain age had the label applied to them in a none too complimentary way when they were younger. It still happens now. There are times when being called a geek or labeling yourself as one is just fine, and maybe even, dare I say it, cool. But there are still times when it’s used to call someone out as different and not fitting in with the crowd.
But the cool factor, the acceptability, the marketability of the word is still new. The guys who tinkered around with computers in the 80’s, who were aces at Tempest in the arcades and had scientific calculators in their back pockets lived through a time when geek was an insult and never, ever a compliment. This goes for women, too. It was not cool to hang out at the comic store, recite lines from Star Wars or read Tolkien. You were a geek, and by definition you were an outcast.
Clearly, the word has changed over the years. It’s come to mean many things to many people. It is still at times used as an insult, but just as often it’s used as a point of pride. Calling yourself a geek shows that you are proud of who you are and your passions. It shows you are part of a group that generally, is accepting of others because most geeks have at some time felt like an outcast. But, hasn’t everyone felt like an outcast at some time? Hasn’t everyone, from the football fanatic to the comic book collector wished that people understood them better? Yes, I’m going to have to say yes.
So, when someone you don’t think deserves the label geek uses it, just leave it alone. Articles like this one in Forbes calling out fake geek girls are just ridiculous. Sure, geek is having it’s heyday right now and people will use the word however they choose. Sometimes because they genuinely identify with it, and sometimes because they think it may garner them positive attention. Truly, it doesn’t matter. The meaning of the word will continue to change as how we identify ourselves changes.
Geek is just a word. It’s what you are that actually matters.
Nerds are different from the general population. We know this, because we live this. Many of us have tales of woe, how being nerdy has caused problems getting dates, or communicating with a significant other. But we nerds are special. Our unique qualities should be celebrated by those who love us.
Jules Sherred, of GeekMom fame—and fame from her countless other endeavors—and her partner Andrew are currently working on a book called Nerd Love, which will tackle the subject of nerd dating and nerd relationships. Even those of us already in nicely nerdy relationships still need help every once in a while. Nerd Love will be written by nerds, for nerds. It will be done in an interesting way, however. The edits for each chapter will be crowdsourced, posted on the Nerd Love site for people to copyedit, suggest ways to cut or expand on topics, etc. Any editors whose edits get used will be credited in the final book. When the book is complete, there will be an IndieGoGo campaign to help with the illustrations and publication.
In addition to book chapters, Nerd Love will also have podcasts, such as the recent fascinating one that Jules and Andrew did about sex. Feedback on those is also being solicited. And Jules and Andrew will blog on the Nerd Love website about love, sex, and relationships.
The only way this will all work is to get community involvement, so we’re asking all of you, and all of the nerds you know, to participate. A great place to get started is to visit the Ask Nerd Love site. It’s a safe place for nerds to ask any love, sex, or relationship questions. Though you do need to create an account to ask a question, you don’t have to give your real name, so this can be done anonymously. Anyone can then answer questions, giving their personal thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Some of the questions and answers that are posted on the site may be worked in the book. Again, if they are, the person will receive credit in the book, with their permission. But if the question is asked anonymously, the credit will go to “Anonymous” as well.
In addition to all of the above, Jules and Andrew really want to hear other people’s personal Nerd Love stories. How did you find your nerdy significant other? Did you have a nerdy marriage proposal? How have you found nerdy people to date?