I am a mathematician, a physicist, a fan of fantasy and science fiction, an avid gamer, a fledgling game designer/artist, and an audiophile. I am also 23 years old, recently-single, and about to enter the professional world of secondary education. Some folks might not understand the ramifications of said hobbies and life situation, but if you yourself fall into one or more of these categories you might already see where this is going. As a newly coined young-adult I am expected to have a certain professional coolness that comes along with being a hip twenty-something; a sort of ‘adult’ set of interests. The problem I, and many older gamers/geeks/nerds, run into is that our hobbies are still largely thought of as childish, immature, or downright un-cool by most of our peers and potential employers.
Our first problem is obviously the social acceptance of our hobbies. But how do we go about changing the perception of the gamer, the otaku, and the intellect? Do we risk diluting our passions as to be palatable to the everyman, or do we hole up in our internet bunkers and hope we can live double-lives long enough to get hired and tenured? As a collective, I think we’ve taken the latter approach. That, to me, is more shameful than being thought of in less desirable regards by my peers and potential employers. Our collective cowardice has resulted in the curious online culture well-known to geeks across the world; the forum. It is my conjecture that because we are ashamed to speak publicly about our hobbies, we bottle it all up in a sort of geek-hobby social frustration, only to pour our passions, our hearts, and our souls out to any message board that will listen. I can attest that several members of boards I frequent have an honest and meaningful impact on my life in the real-world. Now, this is not necessarily the bad part of our conundrum, it might be a little bit strange; but to be fair, so is everything else we do. The problem is that the strategy lacks an endgame, more concisely; we aren’t fixing the problem. Finding the issue at hand is all well and fine, but what pray-tell is my solution to this set of variables?
What I propose is to further the movement of geek-chic. Essentially, make being uncool, cool. The objective we need to pursue is to shift our passion from the echo-chambers and out into the real world. People love passion; they want to see someone who is so enthralled with their hobby that they can easily join in. I suggest we all try and share our world with someone we know and help them understand what it is we love so much about sci-fi, video-gaming, tabletop games, or whatever your personal geek-hobby is. Maybe they won’t love it quite as much as you do, but at the very least they will have tried it and can have honest experience with your hobby before labeling you a man-boy. I’m not saying this will work across the board, in fact, most of the time it will probably fail to mint a new gamer, Battlestar fan, or what have you. But when it does work, it’s one more person who we don’t have to hide our true selves from. This is also the only way to move this man-boy niche culture out of our internet dual-lived closets and into the forefront where maybe someday the guy who builds super-fast computers will be just as cool as the guy who builds super fast sports cars. Finally, if we can move ourselves to be viewed as socially acceptable, the not-so-elder geek’s lives that will be out there in the future will not only be better, they might even wind up being the cool kids.
How else can we move ourselves into the spotlight? One such way in the world of video games, I feel, is to stop the elitist-indie mindset a lot of us gamers have. We should embrace more of the mainstream titles, faults and all, because it is these Trojan horses that will help the mainstream listen up. Get excited when your friend is playing Madden, talk to him about the controls and how they feel. This small step could very well be his first foray into deeper discussions about gaming. Don’t just sit there and try and convince him to play Shadow of the Colossus (not yet anyways…) if all he wants to do is just relax and play some football. Furthermore, is grandma lame because she’s on a Wii balance board only playing Wii Fit; Hell no she’s not! She’s our generation gap filler, bring some games to her that you like that support the balance board or hop on the damn thing and play Wii Fit with her. If she can view gaming as something that’ll bond her with her grandson/daughter you just netted yourself a double victory. How about Chad-gamer who plays Call of Duty and thinks everything else sucks? While there might not be a way to change that, at least he’s playing a game of high pedigree. Hop online with him and pwn some n00bs instead of scoffing at his mainstream preferences.
I know we (geeks) aren’t really great at this whole ‘social’ thing yet but we’ve got to become better at reading people and recommending games to them that they’d like based on that. Got an art student friend, show them Okami; History-buff, Civilization; CSI-fan, Hotel Dusk; Nurse, Trauma Center. There is literally at least a good game or two for every set of interests. Instead of just spouting off your top ten to anyone who is casually interested in our hobby, why not instead talk to them for a long time and make recommendations you know to be good, with content from their interests. Sure, they aren’t playing what you consider to be the best games ever, but they’re getting into the hobby. Just like every other medium we need to mature beyond our own rigid preferences. Recommend things to people because they’d like them, not because you like them. You know what else is a fringe benefit of giving newcomers what they like; you become the go-to-guy for recommendations. After you’ve fed them enough quality content they are interested in, they’re bound to want to see what else you’ve been playing.
We know the problem; I think we’ve got some solutions. Geeks and gamers I feel like our opportunity to move our hobby into the sunlight has nearly passed us by. Our social holdups coupled with societal misunderstanding netted us this situation, and it’s time to right the ship. We all want to move the art forward, but in order to do that we need to alter the perception of it first. My three ideas include taking non-Geeks with you to Geeky social situations, leaving your hardcore at home, and considering the interests outside of your own when sharing our hobbies. I don’t know if I’ve taken everything into account, but I definitely feel like these steps could help us take geek-hood from man-boy pariahs to regular folks. Might we dilute our culture in doing this? Perhaps, but it’s a chance we’ve got to take. That is of course if you’d like to talk about your hobbies in the real world in addition to forums on the net; I know I would.