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.