Before we delve into this week's post, I wanted to give major kudos to the voters of Maine, who brushed aside a torrent of anti-gamer rhetoric and elected the first Orcish-American to their state senate on Tuesday. That, I promise, will be the extent of any political content on the blog.
So, to date we've discussed a handful of the somewhat thorny, occasionally misunderstood aspects of what makes up nerd life for many of us. These sorts of beliefs and behaviors not only color how we interact with one another, but are also often the basis for how we, as a subculture, are regarded by everyone else. What's interesting, if not actually surprising, is that the majority of both our communal self-regard and the opinions of those peering in from the outside are rooted in the same assumption: that we've all been geeks pretty much since birth.
Any number of nerd-based media, personal conversations with other geeks, and marketing tactics used to target and portray our subculture would have you believe that this is uniformly the case. Though we've begun to move away from the stereotype of the bespectacled, acne-ridden, painfully awkward individual encased in a full-headset retainer, a collective of new archetypes have risen to supplant it. These range from the overweight, basement dwelling troglodyte who aggressively trolls internet forums or the chat feeds of any given MMORPG/MOBA to an older version of that socially inept teenager (typically sans retainer and perhaps with better skin) now obsessing over Faster Than Light and rigorously dissecting the possibilities wrought by Disney's purchase of LucasFilm. You, as a geek, are assumed to fall somewhere in that spectrum.
We can roll our eyes and shake our heads, taking stock that, though there's some truth in those stereotypes, we know that we're more than a collective of self-possessed individuals who refuse to grow up. Furthermore, as we've discussed, it's extremely difficult to even put a definitive definition to 'nerd' or 'geek'. However, despite being fully cognizant of this, we then expect that everyone who self-identifies as a nerd/geek will likely possess a certain body of knowledge and said information often came at a high social cost during our formative years. These two elements are generally regarded as the foundation for your nerdy credentials. Hell, the construction of this base of learning is Nerd Commandment #1 according to Topless Robot founder Rob Bricken (who I wish all the best as he heads over to write for i09). But what if your geeky development didn't follow such a nice linear path? What if your parents didn't let you have comic books or gaming didn't appeal to you until undergrad? Or what if you partook of some things, but didn't have the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in that book series/game franchise/anime run?
The majority of these "late bloomers" possess a number of nerdy qualities but, due to any number of reasons, were not exposed to one or more of the major geeky arenas: gaming, fantasy/science fiction, anime, comic books, or the hard sciences during their formative years. Not gonna lie here guys; I was one of these. Though my youth was spent enthralled in fantasy/science fiction and the hard sciences, I didn't have the chance to experience comic books until I was nearly done with high school and didn't roll in my first RPG until nearly two years after I'd graduated university. Things like studying and working had an obnoxious tendency to encroach on the fun times (and still do <shakes fist>) and I found myself in my early-to-mid twenties wrestling with the absurd notion that I was hopelessly "behind" on nerdery as a whole.
|Must. Know. All..the things.|
That sensation may seem downright silly to some of us, especially since we've already established the enormous diversity that gets covered by the proverbial geeky umbrella, but it's not entirely without merit. Though we like to think of ourselves as a highly tolerant and welcoming collective, let's be real; sometimes we can be everything but. Our penchants for raging and territoriality don't scream "this is a welcome environment for self-expression" or "the learning curve is shallow and easily surmounted." This is especially so right now, in the midst of the Nerdaissance, when the introduction of so many beloved properties to mainstream audiences has made authenticity a rare and dicey thing. Trying to introduce yourself to something like the Song of Ice and Fire series now that HBO has made it a household name is likely to be met with something between skepticism and straight dismissal. Unless you actually take the time to read all five books currently in print, your love of the property is probably going to garner some distain.
The nerdy knowledge base is the proving ground. Your credibility as a geek stems entirely from your ability to recall from and continually add to that foundation. Ideally, you'll become "tapped in" to one or more of the major arenas to the point at which you can help keep your friends abreast of developments within that discipline.
Given this, it's a little more understandable that someone might not endeavor to fill the "gaps" in their nerdy repertoire or, for that matter, attempt to join the community. These misgivings are entirely needless and the conditions that foster such can be easily amended.
First off, Eleanor Roosevelt was spot-on when she stated that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Just because someone else has read all of Tolkien's works, or watched each episode of every incarnation of Star Trek, or has logged 151 hours on XCOM doesn't mean that they are a more legitimate geek than you. As competitive as we nerds sometimes are, being geeky in itself is NOT a contest. Seriously. We cannot utilize the basis of our authentic selves as the propellant for participation in some neurological track meet. With few exceptions, the vast majority of us cannot be wholly nerdy 100% of our daily lives. Finding your own Nerd-Life Ratio is key to getting comfy with your own knowledge base and recognizing this Ratio in others can go a long way to helping us relate to one another.
That being said, the best way to delve into/renew your connection with geeky arenas is to enlist one or more friends who are highly familiar with the subject matter to act as an ambassador and guide for you. If none of the people in your immediate social circle can fill this role, then seek out friends of friends or even supportive online communities (yes, they actually do exist). Be honest and forthright about A) your limited experience with [insert nerd forte here] and B) your genuine curiosity/willingness to learn. Coming straight out and saying how much you'd like to get into a given avocation goes a long way in smoothing relations, as you'll assume the mantle of a geeky apprentice rather than the hated visage of the wayward poser. Like any other hobby, this will be an investment of time and effort. Ideally, this process can turn into an exchange of skills or ideas rather than a unilateral outpouring of information.