Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Real Geeks

The idea that someone needs to have certain qualifications to be a real geek is at once fascinating and frustrating.  Fascinating because of the human psychology behind it.  Frustrating because of the negative attitudes it encourages.  I'll delve into the brain games behind it first, then tackle the frustration, and round off with some thoughts on change.

The brain games behind every statement of "You're not a real geek if you don't x" or "You're not a real geek if you haven't y" are complicated and I believe stem from a variety of different sources.  First off the grouping tendency.  Humans like to group items because it helps our monkey brains deal with large numbers.  Our relationships with others are no exception.  People group themselves and others by their politics, religious affiliations, sports teams, and all manner of social clubs.  In and of itself this is fairly harmless.  Even competition between these self regulated groups can be friendly and reasonable.  However when we group others into groups we consider inferior the troubles start.  You can see much of this in politics and religion.  The "geek" and "not geek" designations simply become an outgrowth of this phenomenon.  We want to be in the right group, or the superior group, or [insert adjective that indicates I'm better than you here] group.  This is fascinating because there are so many motivations behind it.  Some times we may not even be aware of the motivations.  Motivations of being accepted, being special, or being better than someone else.  Sadly therein lies a terrible illusion.  Designating yourself with a label doesn't make you smarter, more logical, more open minded, or more reasonable.  But so many people act like it does.  Saying you're a geek doesn't put you in an elite group, even if we like to think it does.  We make the label, the label does not make us. 

The whole frustration behind this grouping is that it causes so much exclusion, ostracizing, and negativity.  This strikes me as hypocritical of us as geeks since the idea of being a geek or a nerd has long been a negative term of ostracizing and exclusion.  And that straight up sucks.  If you've been at the place of being the unwanted one in a social circle it's that much worse when you become the force that makes others unwanted.  Especially on the internets and in the geek industries it has reached a point of many different people being told they're not wanted.  Or they're being treated poorly to the point they want to leave.  The follow up frustration is if the geeks doing the poor treating are called out on it they often get defensive.

So what can we do?  This is the part I feel is most important.  Analysis is all well and good but if there isn't any solution to the problem the information isn't useful.  The biggest pit trap to jump over is bringing the geeks who engage in this behavior from a state of defensiveness to a state of willingness to listen.  Patience and reasonableness are the prime weapons in this fight.  Patience is required because minds will not be changed overnight.  Reasonableness because it's super easy to get into flame wars where no one wants to back down and just wants to hurt the other side because they've been hurt.  Of important note is that some of us have the experience to win this mind battle.  If I'm hanging out or participating in a discussion with person A who declares "If you haven't played game X, you're not a real geek" and I happen to have played game X, I am the one who needs to wield patience and reasonableness against this statement.  Why?  Because like it or not if person B who hasn't played game X speaks up in disagreement person A will ignore what Person B has to say because they haven't played game X.  It simply won't matter how patience or reasonable that person B is, person A isn't going to listen.  This isn't going to be easy.  I'm not going to pretend otherwise.  Someone has to be the one to stand up for what's right and if it isn't you then someone else is going to be that hero.  And isn't being the hero one of our shared fantasies?  Let's bring some of our fantasies into reality.

I leave you with this.  We're all geeks here.  All of us.  It took all of us to change geek from derogatory to a badge of honor.  It's going to take all of us to change the geek community from what it is to a place where anyone is welcome no matter how weird (the weirder the better).  Can we all be geek enough to stand up for each other and say "We're all geeks here"?   

Art from GIS for "brony"
LooneyDM out


  1. I just give in on a lot of the elitist stuff and put it like this... "I don't care. I'm here to do my best to have fun regardless"
    Instead of saying you aren't 'one of us' because someone hasn't played, watched etc something, just give suggestions about things that may interest them?
    In geeky fun we trust! yours, Jess

  2. That's a good attitude to have. I just hope we can get more people to take it rather than them getting bent out of shape by people not like them being in geekdom.

  3. The problem you're describing is classic to any human society- upon reaching certain size it tries to build hierarchy, an ordered system of "goods" and "bads", of "ins" and "outs". It comes from basic needs- of acceptance, of self-esteem, of proving oneself better than others. This requires a scale and, of course, it won't be fair as the whole point of it is to prove that oneself is better than others. It also requires two other things: rules (generally, unwritten and irrational, in order to place any newcomers at a weaker position) and enemies (to prove himself a 'knight' must 'slay' a 'dragon'). So you get the classic social reaction- a tribe of troglodytes trying to devour a stranger.