Monday, July 23, 2007

Once a Nerd, Always a Nerd

I originally had this post wrapped up with the CraigCon 6 post, but I decided to break it out in its own separate space. I didn't want it to get mixed up with the great fun that was had there.

While hanging around outside discussing a game with some of the folks at CraigCon this year, some people drove by and actually screamed "NERDS!!!" out their window at us.

Now, being almost 29 at this point, I figured it wouldn't bother me.

But I saw some of the folks, old and young alike, clearly wince a bit. Obviously they laughed it off with some remarks, but you could kind of tell that it still stung to hear the word, to be called a name for no reason by somebody you didn't know.

It would actually happen a few more times during the weekend, including one tirade that was checkered with plenty of profanity.

I continued to maintain it didn't bother me until I started writing this.

One of the things that makes tabletop gaming fun for me is the idea of crafting stories, keeping your imagination in shape. When you're a kid it's very easy and natural to use your imagination, but as you grow older it really takes some work. I like tabletop games because the rules exist to help put you in that space mentally, the same sort of space you need to be in for any creative endeavor.

However using your imagination to "play" starts to go out of style at a certain age. Playing real sports starts to take the place of playing Cops and Robbers. Hanging out at the mall (or whatever it is kids do) takes the place of getting together and pretending to slay dragons.

The moment you step onto a basketball court and don't say "I'm [insert favorite player]" is the moment you have irrevocably grown up, gone to a different headspace. And once that happens it can be hard to get back, to go from serious to play, from malls to spaceships, from offices to castles.

Somewhere along the line the pursuit of dragons changes you from just another kid to a "nerd". And when you're a kid it can really hurt to get made fun of for something you enjoy, because it's difficult to understand why it's happening.

Now of course we're older and wiser. Those old barbs don't hurt like they used to, don't open up fresh wounds.

But sometimes they can remind us of the old ones.

So let me conclude by saying this: I'm Michael Jordan.

Update: Almost uncanny in its timing, but Penny Arcade has a story today about entering a Pokemon tournament after intense preparation... and finding a bunch of little kids who just like to play. It's the post called Pokemon, second one down, and I encourage you to read it.


Andrew said...

I was outside for a few of those exchanges myself. At one point I even slung a few words back, which I'm sure they didn't hear driving away in their souped up Civic. For me it was more of a "whatever, who the hell do you think you are" reaction.

I have to agree about creativity. As you get older, it's looked down upon more and more. I think just as much as it's a "growing up" thing, it's just as much a human reaction to trivialize and downplay things that make us stand apart, be it intelligence, beauty, physical skill, technical aptitude, charisma, constitution, dexterity, hit points, etc... (I am a geek)

Chris Rock said it best when he described people's reactions to a friend who got their Masters Degree in a fictional account:

"Don't come aroun' here with all that learnin' s**t. Don't come around here wit all that readin' and countin' s**t. I can count too, see, one, two, four, five. Countin' these rocks, b***h!!!"

People's negative reaction to other's natural gifts can be viewed as an attempt to force conformity. When people see a beautiful woman, how many people point out her flaws or call her a tramp? How many people call gifted programmers or engineers geeks? How many people call musicians or writers bums who should get "real" jobs? How many rip the local sports star for what he does wrong instead of his amazing play? Of course certainly not everyone contributes to the negativity (especially in communities of like-minded people like a gaming group or engineering firm), but in this case, it's usually the loudest and most negative mouths which win.

When it comes down to it, I feel it's a matter of jealousy. "Who do you think you are to be more creative/pretty/skinny/talented/whatever than me?" In the specific case of creativity, those kids who like Dragons and being their favorite basketball player or taking a whole weekend to play RPGs with their friends are easy, obvious targets because they don't necessarily think the way others do. They can 'see' the dragons or Jordan blowing by them on a play, which many others can not (or won't try for fear of being teased or worse).

In all honesty, the more I think about it, the more I feel bad for those people who did try to tease us for being geeks. Who knows; if they opened up to it and put their fear of being ridiculed behind them they may really enjoy that aspect of themselves.

Holla Graz brothers...

And by the way, it those little pricks who yelled at us read this, stop the car next time you little smacks. I've got a +5 thundering fist of beat down for you. And anyway, I was probably 'cooler' than you ever will be about 5 years ago when 'cool' was really 'cool' and not 'cool' like a drive by insult from your mom's 92 purple Ford Escort which she's probably still paying off. Enjoy being average. I hear it pays well and you end up happy in 50 years.


heather said...

My husband and I were just commenting the other day that we were glad we'd managed never to grow out of all those things we were told we'd grow out of when we were kids. Here we are in our 30s, and we're still reading our genre books, playing video games, doing tabletop roleplaying, and on and on. Some of our d&d buddies are in their 40s and have very responsible jobs, full family lives, etc. It's nice to get to redefine "normal" and "adulthood" as you grow older, and to realize that you don't have to fit someone else's definition.