It has been an interesting month to be a Geek. D&D 5th edition surged into the spotlight, leading a large number of luminaries to out themselves as D&D players in various new publications. Gencon, a convention that revolves around RPGs and other very geeky pursuits set record attendance yet again this year. The international, a tournament for DOTA2 boasted an prize pool of over a million dollars this week, while its competitor, League of Legends apparently averages a daily user base of over 65 million people. Oh, and did I mention how almost all of this year’s blockbusters will be based on Geeky fare such as Comic Books, Fantasy Books, and Kaiju?
Geek Culture in all its myriad forms seems to be on the rise in our times. It is a little baffling for someone whose hobbies were a bit of a stigma growing up to see billion dollar fantasy movies competing with comic book franchises to crowd out old school action flicks. That discussion has been done to death, however, and is something that I hope the new generation of geeks, gamers, and fiction fans can avoid.
Sadly this month also saw the whole “Social Justice Warriors” vs. “Men’s Rights Advocates” debate in the gaming community, triggered by an Indy game developer possibly using sex to influence some game journalists. True or not, the whole debate became a colossal flame war that spread out of control and led to a lot of hurt feelings. Geek culture has always had a problem with women and inclusiveness. Geeks are intelligent, but often obsessive about their particular domains. I still remember the vicious wars that erupted in my University Games Club pitting D&D against World of Darkness or Tabletop versus Larp. Don’t even get me started on the Gamist, Naritivists, Simulationist flame wars. The trekkies versus star wars fans are perhaps the most famous example. Today these debates are mostly settled, and thankfully incomprehensible to outsiders, but the reflex that triggered them remains.
Geeks are very protective of their little piece of culture, even if that piece of culture is an enormous multi-billion dollar industry with millions of fans. This leads to vitriolic clashes as passionate gamers defend anyone and anything who tries to force what they love to change. This may seem reactionary to outsiders who want to try something new or developers who want to put a new spin on an old game, but I still remember when D&D had to change Demons and Devils to Tanar’ri and Baatezu to avoid frantic associations with satanism in the Reagan years. Hell, some of the newer players tell me that D&D still gets banned in some of the local high schools. You would have trouble finding a less harmful past-time, but some people still feel the need to persecute what they see as weird. That these are increasingly in the minority as Geek Chic takes off does not erase the years having to defend our hobbies that many of us lived through. Here are a few cogent examples:
Mazes and monsters: A movie about a group of kids who take their game-playing too far. One of them goes insane and causes a great deal of trouble. Sounds pretty silly… but it stars Tom Hanks…
Mass Shooting, Must be Video Games!: This still goes on. Instead of talking about mental health, or limiting the access of dangerous people to dangerous weapons, even a little, almost every time there is a mass shooting in the US, someone brings up video games. It is an ongoing controversy, manufactured by the same fearmongers who gave us the Iraq War.
Some of these are very recent, especially concerns leveled against video games. This creates a defensive mentality in the group and causes them to lash out against perceived threats.
This becomes a huge problem when the reaction extends to an expansion of the medium. We have all seen how a strong core group that resists outside influence vehemently can rot from the inside, becoming increasingly frantic and vitriolic as they man the walls against those who would taint the purity of what they love. New people and new ideas are required to keep geek culture fresh and interesting. The problem is that the worst proponents of these new ideas, even something as benign as gender inclusiveness, frame their criticism as an attack. Fans who are already wary of their beloved medium being beaten up on Fox News often react… stupidly.
What Geek Culture needs now is confidence. The confidence to grow, confidence to include everyone and covert new people, and most of all the confidence to face criticism with an open mind. Everyone will benefit as our space grows more inclusive and incorporates better ideas, aside from a very few to whom any sort of progress is seen as anathema. Here are a few things that need to change.
- Fake Geek Girl shaming (and Fake Geek Guy shaming): This is just juvenile. It reminds me of the idiotic purity tests that some political organizations adopt to protect themselves from dirty, dirty outsiders. Not to mention that many, many women are very fluent in geek culture, and contributors to geek culture these days. Assuming that women, especially “attractive” women are automatically faking their interest in geek stuff is not only sexist and rude, it demonstrates a frightening lack of confidence in the allure of the culture you love. It reflects poorly on Geek Culture when we hound/chase people away because of their gender, appearance, or identity.
- Flame Wars and Trolling spiraling out of control: I don’t support Aneeta Sarkesian. I do think she deserves to be heard. I think threatening her with rape, dismemberment, and death is rather crazy. Language that is used to taunt your opponents after a game seems insane to outsiders. It reflects very poorly on Geek Culture as a whole when a woman receives ranting threats and has to leave her house. When you disagree with someone, put your brain power to use and attack their ideas instead of posting where they live or threatening them.
- Sub-Point: We need to be nicer to each other in general. The communities in most games, especially the forums, have a distressing habit of becoming toxic these days. Riot has done some interesting research on how to stop the viciousness in some games, but we need to be more sportsman-like.
- Mentor, don’t act superior: In general I find that Geeks tend to use their knowledge as a way of finding their place on the social ladder of geek culture. Instead of sharing and educating a few of us will hoard knowledge and then use it to show our superiority over people who know less than us about our area of interest. This is silly. Why not impress people with your lore and skills by helping them instead? The thing is as geek culture grows, there will be a steady supply of new fans who want to learn what you know. Think of them as your students…