A week in the life of a geek

Armed with a nerdish aesthetic and mindset, Liam O’Brien finds that ‘geek’ isn’t just about ‘pwning n00bs’

Liam playing computer games

I have a confession to make: I was never particularly kind to the geek variety at secondary school. ‘Soap dodgers’ they were labelled; people who had a nasty habit of popping into Games Workshop, the home of Warhammer and what I perceived to be the bearded, spectacled troglodytes who played it. Perhaps this was self-denial. I had gone through a geek phase myself when younger, eagerly though clandestinely trading Pokemon via link cables and shamefully lusting after Final Fantasy characters.

I approached the task of geeking-out for a week with a technophobe’s sense of trepidation, and so started off with something universal: fashion. My new ensembles consisted of items that were individually unacceptable, but which together formed outfits that were crucifyingly bad. It is absolutely impossible to feel confident in outfits that lend no shape, and encourage the infamous vulture-like head position.

The stereotypical outfits that characterise most people’s idea of the geek are the visual side of an ideological problem with geek culture. From wearing ‘Dolorean’ branded T-shirts and cheap cult totems to displaying diehard fanboyism for Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft on the web, it felt as if I was forging an identity made up of arbitrary loyalties to what are essentially fantasy creations. Moreover, I wondered if the ‘Geek Manifesto’ that I?had adopted of gaming, manga, loathsome clothes and not consuming food unless under five feet away from a computer was both divisive and unrepresentative.

A browse of Slashdot.org dispelled these fears, and with blind, egotistical self-assurance that I was going about things the right way, I put on the same clothes that I had worn the previous two days and headed to town to buy some geek paraphernalia. Now armed with a DSlite, Pokemon Pearl, Mario and backdated copies of Edge magazine, I felt empowered. No longer self-conscious, I jumped on a booth at Game and ‘pwnd’ (absolutely beat down) some 10 year olds at Sonic Riders. Determined to show off my endeavours to the men loitering in the store (and their exasperated, nonplussed wives), I dispensed some advice to the admiring pre-pubescents that had gathered: “That game was easy; if you want a real game, get Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox.”

Gaming is still largely frowned upon in social circles, probably due to the images it brings up of spotty teenagers in dark rooms. I found playing Pokemon, something I hadn’t touched for a good few years, quite enjoyable. Though generally viewed as technological crack for kids, I was pleasantly surprised by the (sometimes disturbing) humour it contained. At one point it references the word ‘n00b’ as a nod to it’s online support. More dangerously, after beating a particularly emotional enemy, he exclaims, “I feel as if I’ve been meddled with.” Wandering into the minefield of child exploitation, a half-naked kid playing on the beach muses on the discomfort of his “inner tube”.

As my week of geek was quickly slipping by, I checked out VGChartz.com, the most popular website for finding game sale statistics. It is, however, tainted with the fanboy virus, making the forums an interesting prospect, if only for some of the most ingenious manipulations of numerical data that I have ever seen. I dreaded that online, the forums would be peppered with the kind of painful, esoteric ‘humour’ that led to t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘There’s no place like 127.0.0.1’. I was partially correct. Shadowing the forums, I noticed a disturbing trend. People appeared to take everything posted at absolute face value – if someone posts something humorous, they have to label it with a ‘sarcasm’ tag lest they face derision or confusion.

I started a thread about videogames as art, and the results did my geek-self proud. I posted that I was unconvinced as to whether “games, given that they provide an experience navigated and controlled by the user, could be classed as art. What I took from Ico and Shadow [two games often cited as ‘art’] was that though the games facilitated potential for such thought, it was the blankness of space… that provoked it from the user, rather the actual artistic experience.”

The responses showed real insight, even if, as expected, they were heavily biased in favour of games being classed as an art form. The discussion ended with me being authoritatively corrected by a user called ‘FaRmLaNd’ that such a definition was “restrictive” and did not take into account the most unique aspect of gaming: interactivity.

Back to real life. The last task of my geek week was to go to Games Workshop and see if I could fit in. As I enter, the staff are reasonably nice to me, suggesting that they actually believe a fellow uber-geek is in their presence. The fact the shop does not smell of death is a pleasant surprise, though I suspected that if I had gone in on a hot day I might have had a different experience. I tell one of the staff, who happens to look exactly like the comic book guy from The Simpsons, that I’m at university. He tells me that he was “too busy musicking to go” and tries to joke with me about “waking up with people you don’t know” in Freshers’ week. Cringe overload. I try not to run outside. I endure a bit more conversation about how one staff member has a Macbook Pro, an Ipod Touch, and uses Linux OS. I exit, confident that I passed the test with flying colours.

At the end of the week, I take off the clothes that singled me out as a geek, and I feel much more comfortable. Looking at myself is not a pretty sight. A sickening lack of daylight and fruit means that I look like Wednesday Adams, and the nerd posture has become my rigid default. Geek culture has lived up to the stereotypes I had previously imagined, although the intelligence and devotion of the various communities was impressive. Although I’ve lost the outfit, I’m keeping my DSlite, a subscription to Edge and a new found, though still comical, perspective on forum moderators and Games Workshop staff.

11 comments

  1. Well done Liam, I simply can’t wait for “a week in the life of a prententious and snobbish Guardian journalist-wannabe”… oops, guess that covers most of your colleagues too?

    (Oh, and I’m not a geek. And yes, I’m sure the article was intended to be harmless and innocent.)

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  2. The famous car brand from Back To The Future is Delorean

    As a geek, I think some of your stereotyping is fairly inaccurate, other than perhaps that of “People appeared to take everything posted at absolute face value” which is probably true, mainly due to the prevalence of Aspergers Syndrome in geeks.

    I also think you’ve completely missed the point. The geek culture isn’t just about the activities, it’s more about the whole frame of mind, the passion behind the beliefs, the fanboy-ism (as you put it), the political movement (you completely failed to mention Slashdot’s political activism), and everything else

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  3. Insulting on many different levels. Well done

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  4. I hardly think the suggestion that Games Workshop employees and 35 year olds, who play with miniature soldiers, form a sub-culture is insulting news.
    I think in many ways the article is quite accurate, especially about the rampant failure by people online to appreciate shades and textures of meaning, which is substantiated by a look at any discussion on the relative merits of Rose/Martha/Donna in Doctor Who.
    Oh, also, congratulations to the person who was brave enough to come out with such a witty insult and yet failed to put his own name down. Mine is James Taylor, not Tundrates for clarification.

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  5. I cannot quite grasp what would motivate a person to denigrate Liams’s superbly accurate reflection on the (indisputable) oddity of the characteristics of hardcore geeks. Utter neglect of the real world and a refusal to enjoy pursuits that weren’t designed in a Honshu studio are traits that really must be assailed, even if it is just a little bit.

    Anon, I was bowled over by the weight of substance in, and indeed the relevance of your jibe.

    Michael Felix kazich

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  6. “Geek culture has lived up to the stereotypes I had previously imagined.”

    Liam, isn’t that a pretty self-fulfiling conlclusion? There’s little to suggest you’ve gone out and met ‘geeks’ (of which I could be classed as one). All you’ve done is acted out the stereotype, without going out and engaging geeks (won’t an accurate report do that); of course your experiences are going to live up to those stereotypes…

    Chris Northwood’s post is pretty accurate; it has a much better understanding of ‘geek culture’.

    Rick Priestly, the creater of Warhammer recently was quoted in an article as describing wargaming as “Drinking beer [ok, not the younger players], talking rubbish and playing games.” From that quote, it doesn’t sound too much different from the football club’s Pro Evo nights; something I feel few would find ‘geeky’.

    As for the everything being taken at face value, you’ll find that doesn’t happen much with geeks meeting in person, only really on internet forums. I thought it was fairly widely known that only 10% of communication is down to the words; body language etc. are more important and often lost when writing in forums.

    Interviewing someone from a group you might consider ‘geeky’ by your definition, such as Sci-Fi & Fantasy soc would make for a much more thoughtful and understood article.

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  7. Mikhael, I find your grasp of what you consider a geek completely innaccurate.

    Aren’t all stereotypes the result of some sort of prejudice and lack of understanding of what a real cross-section of society is like?

    Your comments on utter neglect of anything in the real world is rubbish. As a self-confessed geek (you’ve gotta be pretty self-assured to admit that, after looking at the article and your post). I enjoy lots of things which aren’t “designed in a Honshu studio”. I play lots of sports, I like going to pubs, I like gigs; allsorts really. Most pastimes (‘geeky’ or not) are just forms of escaping from the everyday. Whether that’s going to the cinema (to see a ‘geeky’ or ‘non-geeky’ film – whatever those may be) to getting trolleyed in Ziggy’s on a Wednesday.

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  8. I don’t see why it matters *who* exactly the anonymous individual (that commented first) is. They raise a decent point about the way in which the writer has single-handedly otherised a wide variety of people by uniting them under a preconceived and false stereotype. Nonetheless, that is what ‘anon’ also does I feel. At any rate, I agree with the main implication of their point.

    Also, people take things at face value on the internet and in text messages because sarcasm is so much harder to detect in prose. An internet post does not have a tone of voice, so it is easier perhaps to speak plainly and assume that others are doing the same.

    Finally, I agree completely with Phil and George. I also feel that unless Liam set out to be insulting, he stuffed up this article a little. It still reads well, I just feel that his preconceived notions of geekdom (whatever it actually is) overtook everything else, and defeated the point of his week as an undercover geek.

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  9. I agree with the other commenters; you seem to have ‘otherised’ a large group of people that you don’t really have any proper knowledge of. Also, being a ‘geek’ can be anything from playing computer/playstation/whatever games to being a Buffy fan. Not all “geeks” as you put it, have a certain type of fashion: what is wrong with dressing how you want to? (whether this involves wearing Delorean t-shirts or whatever). They are not one collective group with all the same interests, they are individuals who may have similar interests (like most people may do!).

    I regard myself as a bit of a geek since I enjoy reading and watching sci fi and fantasy stuff (this includes buffy, firefly, charmed etc which, granted is quite ‘mainstream’ but still qualifies as geekery if you *love* it). I’m a woman and also love fashion and the like. I see no problem with aligning myself with the tag of ‘geek’!

    Also, your article seems a bit gendered (in favour of men). There are a lot of women and girls out there who get involved with fan-‘girl’ism, gaming, the internet, forums, sci fi and fantasy and so on. Personally, I would try and be a little less narrow minded.

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  10. Hmm. Not only does Liam prove here that geek culture lives up to its stereotypes through his noble portrayal (although, really, what geek plays Sonic with 10 year olds? That’s more paedophilia than geekery), but he also proves that:

    (1) University students that perform such biased, skewed and condescending anthropology are perhaps a bit insecure. For example, who has ever, at any time, and for no discernible reason, told anybody in a shop (let alone a “Games Work”shop) that they are at university. Why, man, why? In what context? And to what purpose? Does anybody here ever tell the counter staff in Boots where they live or work? Or that their new house has a medium sized patio? Thought not.

    (2) Males who even *think* along the lines of “…it is absolutely impossible to feel confident in outfits that lend no shape” are, judging by the overall piece, effete tossers.

    (3) Anybody, anywhere who complains of “…a sickening lack of daylight and fruit” is, again, an effete tosser.

    (4) University students named Liam, ergo, are effete tossers.

    Still, I look forward to the next pieces of self-congratulatory hate and condescension from Mr O’Brien, the Guardian Nazi: “Gay For A Day”, maybe, or “Down Amongst the Homies”. Although the very mention of such pieces is offensvie – and rightly so. But why, then, is Liam’s block of leaden (and strangely joyless) prose acceptable?

    Discuss.

    Lee

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  11. Textbook, lovely stuff ;)

    I would echo the sentiment that geek culture is not about who you are or what you wear or even WHAT your interests are. It is about the passion with which you pursue those interests, you can be a coffee geek, a bmx geek, a fashion geek, an IT geek or any other subject you care to mention.

    You singularly fail to get to the heart of the issue and float above the surface barely wetting your wings. In classic geek retort, FAIL.

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