Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unforgivable Geek Behaviors

As the duly-appointed final authority on all things, I have some announcements to make. I think it's high time that we, as a geek culture, had a talk. We have been letting some things slide, and it's high time that we laid down some ground rules that must be followed by all of us, for our own good.

Before we get too far into things, what's a geek? Consulting Merriam-Webster provides us with these definitions:

1 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2 : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3 : an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity

Now, I can't say that I've ever personally known someone conforming to definition #1, but I'd say that I more or less agree with definitions #2 and #3. My personal definition has always been that a geek is someone who is waaaaay into something that most people don't understand, or in which the general public has little interest.

Doesn't that describe everyone, in one way or another? With that established, I think we need to take a good, long look at ourselves, and do some soul-searching. Allow me to begin with a personal experience.

Man, this is SO AWESOME!

I once knew a gentleman who was very much into martial arts. Actually, he was pretty much into the Japanese culture, in general, including anime, Japanese pop music, the language, the food, and anything else you can imagine, but anything involving punching and kicking was his real passion. I many, many times witnessed people popping their head in to ask a question or relay a message, only to be pulled in, eyes rolling, for a video of his latest match or demonstration.

Now, these people caught in his web didn't know what they were watching. They couldn't have a discussion, or really even ask any questions, because watching a video of a coworker doing katas was not relatable. There was no common ground there, no shared experience to provide a frame of reference. To these poor people, forced to feign interest in footwork and form, they were watching ten minutes of a middle-aged white guy in a costume play-fighting.

This man was a geek for karate.

Despite his passion for something everyone else cared so little about, he, like so many geeks out there, couldn't recognize everyone else's disinterest. To him, karate was awesome! Who wouldn't want to know everything about it?

So, here we come to our first Unforgivable Geek Behavior: Lack of Self-Geek-Awareness.

It's important for anyone that is really into something to recognize that most people don't hold that same enthusiasm. There's not a person out there to which this does not apply; I'm looking at you, Fantasy Football Guy. And you, Loves Specific TV Program Lady. It's fine to mention that you're starting a new league or that a certain medical drama is back from hiatus. However, do everyone the courtesy of first actively gauging interest before launching into a twenty minute fast-talking speech about it, and please, please don't bring it up when everyone is captive at the break room table at lunch. You need to recognize your own geekness, and be aware that not everyone shares in your devotion.

Your favorite thing is stupid

This brings me to my second point. Since everyone is a geek for something, this sometimes puts one geek's interests at odds with another's. It wasn't too long ago that I was chatting with some friends about movies, and the subject of Harry Potter was raised. We discussed the films, what we enjoyed or didn't enjoy about them, whether or not we had read the books, and so on. After a few minutes, our conversation was overheard by another party who informed us that he actually hated Harry Potter, and that it was a stupid kid's book, and anyone that enjoyed anything related to the books or films must be an idiot.

I'd like to point out that this guy was an avid video gamer. He was a multi-console owner. He played MMOs. He never hesitated to engage anyone in conversation about the latest releases, whether they were interested or not (see UGB #1, above).

I would like to introduce you to Unforgivable Geek Behavior #2: Geek-On-Geek Hate.

We see this all the time in the gaming hobby, don't we? Everyone surely knows "that guy" that hates D20, or Palladium, or Vampire: The Masquerade, or whatever. Everyone knows the uppity PS3 elitist that can't have a conversation about the weather without ripping on Microsoft.

Turn that eye inward, my friends. If everyone's a geek for something, and they are, then what does it gain you to rip on somebody else's geekery? Can't they just turn around and do the same to you? Can someone's taste in books or movies or gaming systems or music be wrong? I thought this as I patiently awaited the end to the anti-Potter rant, that anyone in that room could remove "Harry Potter" from his tirade and insert "World of Warcraft" or "Fallout" or "Project Gotham Racing" and deliver the exact same argument back at him, otherwise unaltered.

I'm not saying that you have to like everything. Far from it, I encourage everyone to be discerning. I have the complete Harry Potter book set on a shelf right in front of me, and I really enjoy them for what they are. Is it high fiction, worthy of literary praise? I don't think so, but they're fun, and I enjoyed reading them, and will enjoy sharing them with my future hypothetical geekling children. On the other hand, I gave reading Twilight a try and couldn't get through a chapter, so repulsive to me was the prose and so weak the story. I did not like it, at all, and would never recommend it to anyone. But hey, if you want to read it, that doesn't bother me in the least. I'm sure I like lots of things that you don't, and that's okay. That acknowledgement is something sorely lacking within our noble geek ranks.

It used to be so much better

Rarely does UGB #2 present itself as fervently as when old and new collide. The "old school" is highly praised, particularly in the gaming community, and everything old tends to be viewed as a classic rather than outdated. We look back with our rose-colored 20/20 hindsight lenses and see the way it once was, and sigh.

Fond memories are great, but isn't innovation also great? Aren't games constantly evolving, like living entities that develop new wrinkles with each iteration? Many argue that it's all been downhill since some undefined time of yesteryear, and it's a damn shame.

This leads us to Unforgivable Geek Behavior #3: The Old School Is The Best School.

This is an extension of UGB #2, but worthy of breaking out on its own, and in my opinion may be the biggest challenge facing "traditional" gaming today, as we've discussed before here on Jason Richards cannot be trusted. Very often, it's beneficial to return to our roots. The classics have great lessons to teach us, especially when our latest attempts fall short of expectations. However, I don't understand opposition to innovation. We're not talking about religion, or family traditions, or ingrained cultural customs, but about games. And, for the record, we're not exactly discussing something with a history spanning generations. Role-playing has only been around since the 1960s, and that's being fairly generous. It's not like changing the way a knight moves in chess, which has existed as it is for hundreds of years. It seems misguided to me that we should constantly look backwards to recapture "glory days" that happened within our own lifetimes.

I would, as always, encourage gamers of all stripes to remember where our beloved hobby comes from, but to remain open to future possibilities.

And more

Next time, we'll discuss the pros and cons of biting the heads off of chickens for the entertainment of crowds. I need some time to mull that one over. In the meantime, what do you think?


Todd "Half-Windsor" Yoho said...

Wait, where did you get a picture of Marker in a bowtie?

Jason Richards said...

Right place, right time, Todd. Right place, right time.

Jason Marker said...

I'mma cut you, Yoho. I'mma cut you so bad, you'll wish I hadn't cut you so bad.

As for content, you want to talk about Geek-on-Geek hate/Let me tell you about my character shit. Imagine writing primary continuity for a game about dearly loved and highly contentious cartoon from the 80s for an RPG company who is equal parts loved and loathed. Can you imagine what my inbox looked like?

EvilTwinBrian said...

This is a great Geek Pride Day article. Love it!

I'm not biased or anything, but I loved what you did for said beloved 80's animated franchise. Especially since you brought some love (and quality) to a particular section of the timeline that most geeks (myself included) didn't really care for.

shotgunlo said...

You don't know anyone who conforms to #1 yet you went to Texas A&M. This doesn't add up.

A.L. said...

That sounds like a story I'd love to here Marker.

Good post in general Richards. I gotta agree about the "Let me tell you about my character" stuff for way into it, especially the "my char could kick your chars ass" debates that happen at times.

Swordgleam said...

I think #3 could easily just be a subcategory of #2, and the heading to #2, "Your favorite thing is stupid," would stop all three problems if used as a mantra.

Feel the need to spend half an hour telling an acquaintance about your favourite thing? Remind yourself that it's stupid. Get the overwhelming urge to bash someone else's favourite thing? Remember that yours is just as stupid.

Shini said...

While I normally agree with #2 Twilight is an exception for me. When an "Author" just throws every methos about Vampires out the window and makes them sparkle, that is cause for hating. As for the rest I agree and have seen and heard plenty of the "my character can beat your character" in my few short years as gaming geek.

Anonymous said...

Draw yourself a Venn Diagram.

Geek (primary characteristic == obsession)
Dork (primary characteristic == social ineptitude)
Nerd (primary characteristic == intelligence)

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