Archive for January, 2009

Not Playing Dungeons and Dragons
January 30, 2009

Whenever a hack writer wants to demonstrate that a person is a conspiracy nut (or just a nut), he has them mention Elvis being alive. This is an immediate tip-off that the writer has no idea what he’s talking about, because those nuts don’t care about Elvis. These same types of writers will similarly try to shorthand “geek” by having the character mention or play Dungeons and Dragons (usually with large plastic models on a gameboard). Again, this reveals the writer’s poor hand, since geeks don’t play Dungeons and Dragons. They pride themselves on not playing it.

Obviously this is an exaggeration and some geeks play Dungeons and Dragons, because if they didn’t, then who is loudly declaiming the adventures of his warrior-thief in the game store right now? But they don’t play without some caveats. For example, no matter how long they’ve been playing or how much of it they’ve seen, they always hate the newest edition, which has always “dumbed down” the game and made it more “roll-play” instead of “role-play”. (Because mere dice are not enough to convey that their dark, haunted character is the most badass half-elf to ever wield dual scimitars.) Whatever the current version of the game is, it’s always a worthless disgrace when compared to either the previous edition (despite the geek initially declaring that edition a travesty) or, more frequently, whatever edition was current when the geek first started playing.

The argument about which previous edition of D&D was best has developed to the point where some claim that tiny vibrations emanating from the fetus that would become Gary Gygax described the quintessential edition of the game, and all others are mere shadows of this Platonic ideal. Rest assured that whatever the best version of D&D may be, it’s not whichever one is being played at the moment.

A lot of geeks pine for the heady days of first edition D&D, but to some, even that is not “old school” enough, and for them there is Hackmaster, which started out as a parody in a gamer comic strip, but now is an actual game. It is “older-school” D&D, or Dungeons and Dragons first edition if it were actually as “kewl” as geeks remember it being.

Every female Vampire character ever. Why yes, she IS a Malkavian!

Every female Vampire character ever. Why yes, she IS a Malkavian!

For other geeks, though, Dungeons and Dragons in any of its incarnations is too juvenile, and they prefer the more mature and sophisticated games of White Wolf, where they can pretend to be crazy vampires having gang wars. This system is referred to as the “Storyteller” system, which demonstrates why their games are so much more intricate than mere D&D could ever hope to be. After all, they are “telling stories” whereas D&D people are merely “playing a role”. They are crafting intricate and intellectual narratives and not just pretending to be superhuman beings fighting others for valuable prizes.

One advantage that Storyteller fans will never tire of telling you about is how their system doesn’t have “alignment”, which in D&D describes a character as Good or Evil. This means they are more free to explore the various shades of morality and motivation, even though everyone just plays their characters as sociopaths anyway.

The other major competitor against D&D is GURPS, which is a generic system. In theory this means that you can use the same rules to play a game about spies, space marines, Elizabethan nobility, cavemen, or sentient bees, thus putting no limits whatsoever on your gaming. The truth, however, is that even GURPS players hate the rules for GURPS and the sourcebooks for all these different possibilities offer little more than, “If you’re going to play as sentient bees, don’t forget to have beehives!” because it’s worth forty dollars to have a hardback book tell you that (not that anyone who buys any of the sourcebooks ever plays those settings anyway).

In addition to other third-string games like Shadowrun (which asks the question of how many cliches can be crammed into a single RPG) and Rifts (which makes Shadowrun seem like a Ph.D thesis) there are plenty of “rules-light” RPGs which again emphasize “shared narrative” over die-rolling and stats-comparing. Only geeks are willing to buy a rulebook on how to play “let’s pretend”.

What these games all have in common is this: they’re NOT Dungeons and Dragons. Because that’s what LOSERS play. Well, losers play a different version than what the geek plays. Well, they play the same version but without the awesome house rules that he plays. Well…look, quit arguing and listen to this awesome story of how I tricked Orcus into giving me his wand!

Playing D&D is the one cliche that geeks seem to wish to avoid, so geeks LOVE not playing Dungeons and Dragons!

Technology
January 27, 2009

Obviously, this entry is a no-brainer. Of course geeks love technology! You don’t need a website to tell you that! But let’s look at the ways geeks love technology and what it says about them.

For a geek, if there is a problem to be solved and two competing solutions, whichever solution uses the most technology is, without question, the better one. Technophiliac geek mainstays such as Wired magazine are incapable of discussing a problem with getting clean drinking water to thirsty Africans that doesn’t also involve them needing high-speed broadband and PDAs. Not too long ago the geek fetish site BoingBoing touted miraculous coasters that could detect whether the beverages on them were hot or cold, and illuminate themselves accordingly. This is an attempt to make up for the lack of useless plastic electronic crap in our society.

No other industry would be able to get away with what the technology industries get away with. Book publishers are not able to release a book with the understanding that despite some of the pages being missing readers will be able to grab them online when they’re eventually available. Shoe manufacturers don’t gradually release 6.1″, 6.2″, and 6.25″ shoes, claiming each one as the solution to people requiring a size 7. No mops fit into only certain buckets and eventually require you to buy a new bucket which will require a new mop in turn. Yet the technology industries thrive on such techniques because geeks happily allow them to. Disneyworld has brought fewer smiles to faces than has some landfill piled up with old cell phones, discarded in favor of newer models with slightly better headphone jacks.

A geek isn’t fully dressed unless he leaves the house with his cell phone, digital camera, mp3 player, thumb drive, laptop, and GPS receiver, even if he’s just going to go get a haircut. Because what if there’s a technological emergency on the way? What if a Very Important Twitter Message occurs while he’s there, and he can’t reply immediately? The consequences of such an event are too horrifying to contemplate. So he saddles himself up with all of this electronic gadgetry and heads out the door, knowing that he won’t run the chance of having to be alone with his own thoughts for even a second.

Okay, I'm ready to roll the garbage out to the curb!

Okay, I'm ready to roll the garbage out to the curb!

Technology is where the geek can really strut his stuff. Being a geek is already a class issue because of the enormous amounts of cash and free time it requires. Purchasing foolishness is central to the entire concept. In the sphere of technology, those costs are of course multiplied dramatically. Having the latest and greatest version of each of a dozen personal electronics gadgets, as well as a computer, videogame systems, television (and accessories), and whatever other bleeping junk BoingBoing and Gizmodo think you need to own requires some serious bank, and you’ll also need a large amount of time to get it all set up just right so that each device is able to communicate with all the others so that you can find out on your phone when your Tivo is finished playing your favorite mp3. This is not a job for the proletariat, though you may want a cool retro red star on the bag you use to haul all this foolishness around.

All of this is meant to enhance your life, but this is only true if your life is optimal when you’re constantly tethered both physically and emotionally to an army of glossy plastic doodads, each requiring some kind of regular attention. Many geeks opt out of having children but don’t have a problem feeding and raising whatever Apple’s latest cash cow is. The sad ultimate purpose to all of this is that, at a moment’s notice, the geek can be aware that a person he’s never met in Texas is eating Chinese food and has taken a picture of them doing so.

It’s like an enchanted wardrobe that leads to a wondrous land of…well, other geeks, but geeks LOVE technology!

Movies
January 23, 2009

The past few years have seen some very impressive movies in geek genres. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy wowed audiences, WALL-E delighted people of all ages, and The Dark Knight and Iron Man breathed new and impressive life into the superhero genre. The fact that these movies showed a high level of quality makes one wonder, “Why did they bother?” After all, if anime has taught us anything, it’s that geeks will watch anything.

Geeks adore going to the movies. It is demonstrably impossible to make a movie that geeks won’t rush to see — and on opening night, no less. There’s no red flag, no warning light, no klaxon that will keep geeks from going to see a new geek-oriented movie. It could be the third part of a trilogy in which they hated the other two parts, but there’s no way they can not “see how it ends”. It doesn’t matter, they will be there. (If there is some geek outrage reason why they might be looking unfavorably towards a movie, all that means is that they’ll only go to see it once.)

Part of this is because geeks have a unique way of mitigating a lack of quality: they merely lower the bar. They will happily declare that they are going to see something that they expect to be complete garbage and then, if it turns out to be only 99% garbage, they’ll announce themselves satisfied. They’ll even go so far as to declare a movie to be “good” if it was only 90% garbage.

In the case of a movie that is so awful they can’t lower the bar enough to give it a passing grade, they still have a chance of redeeming the experience. The television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured its cast making wisecracks to the screen while a terrible movie played. The geeks will tell everyone they know that the movie was so awful, they and their friends started shouting jokes at the screen and everyone around them was cracking up. These stories, like most stories of geek craziness, are not true.

Opening night is important for geeks because it’s vital they see the movie before anyone can “spoil” it for them by telling them things like, “This movie is really not very good and you shouldn’t see it.” The same geeks that will search the Internet for the tiniest molecule of information about an upcoming movie are terrified of someone “spoiling” it for them by telling them that Iron Man wins in the end.

They also won’t bother to check with critics for supposedly the same spoilerphobic reasons, but also because critics “never like the movies I like”, which any other person might interpret as an indication that their taste is probably awful. This is a shame because time and time again, not just one critic but a collective of them can completely pan a movie, but geeks will go see it and then will hop on to Internet forums and blogs and complain about how awful the movie was, as though nobody had even tried to warn them about it.

When geeks look into a mirror, this is what they see.

When geeks look into a mirror, this is what they see.

If it turns out that the geek not only likes a movie but adores it, look out. You will never hear the end of it. As has been demonstrated countless times, the geek will spare nothing in declaring his love for the movie. He’ll demand action figures, shirts, and of course sequels. An example of this is Fight Club, which had a theme of individuality and anti-materialism that geeks never tire of quoting to each other endlessly on their Macbooks.

For a geek, a movie is the absolute zenith of entertainment. No matter how good the comic book, novel, or television show is, if it becomes a movie, then it has reached the absolute height of success. Graphic novels are especially in need of becoming movies, according to geeks, even though they already exist in a visual medium (and, more often than not, were specifically created for that medium.) This is partly because watching Batman crash through a window is better in “real life” than in the comics because then they don’t have to use their imaginations as much, but it’s also because if the comic becomes a movie then there’s a better chance of it (and by association the geek) scoring some of that delicious mainstream acceptance.

Like deluded Johns who think the hookers they pay really do love them, geeks LOVE movies!

Body Modification
January 20, 2009

If you’re a geek it’s already very important for you to be able to distinguish yourself from the herd. And if your Babylon 5 t-shirt and anime cat ear hat isn’t doing the trick, what can you do? It’s time to alter your actual body.

You’ll want to start off slow and easy, with your hair. For male geeks, long hair is essential, either worn in a ponytail or as a ragged, oily mess cascading down freely. You’ll want a goatee, vandyke, or some other facial hair as well. For female geeks the sky’s the limit. Grab a razor and some hair dye and just go nuts!

Soon, though, you’ll want to stand out even more, and take it to the next level. That’s when you get the piercings. Start with the ear, of course, but make sure you’ve got something pretty massive pushed through it; anyone can have just an earring! Next you’ll want to do the lip and the eyebrow. You may want to skip the nose for the moment, as that’s becoming a little too mainstream. A stud through the tongue is good for implying you’re a sexual powerhouse.

As for whether or not to pierce a nipple or two, that’s your call. Honestly, by merely saying you have a pierced nipple you can achieve the same results as you can by going through the trouble of actually getting it pierced, especially for women.

Eventually you’ll be ready for the next level: the geek tattoo.

As has been pointed out, for a geek it is insufficient to show your devotion to your geek idol by merely enjoying it, you have to have the action figures, the screensaver, and the t-shirt. But think: are you really honoring Farscape enough? A tattoo is like a t-shirt you never have to take off! Another t-shirt you never take off, that is.

This will never get old!

This will never get old!

Don’t be dissuaded by the permanent nature of a tattoo. That Boba Fett helmet on your bicep will always be a great idea. Several years from now your tattoo might help you meet other Highlander fans in the nursing home. And by the time you might look at the HTML code on your arm and wonder what the hell it meant your eyes will probably be clouded over with cataracts anyway. (I am being sarcastic here, of course. Geeks have no sense of anything ever being past its time anyway.)

While kanji and Atari Logos might be a little too mainstream now there are still plenty of geek icons you can add to your body forever. Geeks have shown us that there’s no 8-bit videogame mascot too obscure to revel in, Lego bricks delight the young and old, and superhero logos are a perennial favorite. For best results, have a tattoo that will make others have to ask what it is, since they don’t recognize Elvish or Aurebesh at first glance.

It makes them unique, albeit in the same predictable ways, so geeks LOVE body modification!

Caffeine
January 16, 2009

American society is, of course, built around caffeine. In some sense, geeks aren’t really special in their appreciation of this molecule. But, as with everything else, geeks are never content to simply enjoy something. They have to possess it, own it, immerse themselves in it. Small wonder, then, that the online geek emporium ThinkGeek has an entire section devoted to it.

Interestingly, this section is subdivided into three other sections, and the one that has the fewest items in it is the drinks section. This is probably because of the difficulty of sending beverages through the mail, but also let’s face it, anyone can drink caffeine. It’s in the “Accessories” section where we find the caffeinated soap, the caffeinated lip balm, and of course, the caffeine molecule t-shirt. This is a must because the geek has no time for anything that can’t be slapped on a t-shirt.

caffeinated-soap

Naturally, there’s a competition at work. Go onto any online forum where geeks congregate and mention caffeine and within moments they’ll be lining up to tell you the absolutely insane levels of caffeine they imbibe. Within minutes someone will be claiming to inject Jolt Cola directly into their eyeballs. Since most drink manufacturers don’t list the caffeine content on their labels, you’ll need a site like this to calculate the proper amount of braggadocio you’ve earned.

Geeks of course need this energy because of their demanding lifestyles. Sitting in front of a television set or computer screen and eating junk food can really take a lot out of you. Rather than actually eat food that provides nutrition or turn off the anime and go to sleep, they’d prefer to pour more junk down their throats and continue running around Azeroth. Some geeks have gone so far as to suggest that they need so much caffeine to keep their amazing minds working at full speed. One fewer Red Bull and their argument about why Batman would win against Iron Man will suffer.

Since beverage-based caffeine introduction systems usually contain a fair amount of sugar as well, it’s no wonder that geeks tend to fall on the huskier end of the spectrum, especially since there’s no such thing as diet Chee-tos to wash down with that can of Jolt. Go to any online t-shirt store catering to geeks and I guarantee that whatever you want is in stock if you wear a small or medium.

It’s fuel for rockets that don’t go anywhere useful, so it’s little surprise that geeks LOVE caffeine!

Not Being Christians
January 13, 2009

Once they’re out of high school, geeks don’t have to really deal with jocks anymore, but they still have to deal with their other nemeses: Christians. Nothing infuriates geeks more than Christians, which is ironic considering how much the two groups actually have in common. They both are focused like a laser on the object of their devotion and want everyone to know it, they pity others who don’t appreciate what they’re into and try to convert them at any given opportunity, they feel that their rituals and beliefs set them apart from and above others, they can meet a colleague who agrees with 99% of what they believe and then get apoplectic about the remaining 1%, and nobody who isn’t part of either group wants to be left alone in a room with either of them.

Most geeks are content to simply be atheists, though usually of a breed so loudmouthed that Christopher Hitchens would suggest they take it down a notch. It is very important for an atheist geek to let others know of his status as such, especially if everyone else in the room is also an atheist. They will almost certainly have a black t-shirt and/or bumper sticker that either informs everyone looking that they don’t believe in God or, more often, one that is designed to try to offend or ridicule those who do believe in God.

For many geeks, though, not having a religion isn’t enough. Some of them, either because they do feel a spiritual force they need to respond to or because they think it will piss off Christians more, turn to Paganism and Wicca, which allow them to talk about “spiritual” things without having to actually believe in anything coherent. It also gives them the added pleasure of explaining how their religion is different from Satanism to people who aren’t going to listen anyway.

Speaking of Satanism, that’s another road a lot of geeks walk down. Satanism is exactly like atheism except you tell people you’re a Satanist.

As we will later find out, geeks have a fondness for other cultures, especially the most superficial aspects of that culture, and since a geek can’t think of Japan without their loins quivering, Buddhism is another popular “religion” for geeks. To be a geek Buddhist, it is necessary to at least read the Wikipedia entry on Buddhism, have a statue of Buddha, and eat sushi. After that your only requirement is to set others straight on what Buddhism is “really about”, since you are one.

Geeks will never not think this is hilarious.

Geeks will never not think this is hilarious.

Finally, there are the joke religions for geeks, such as the Church of the SubGenius and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Both of these cases involve parodies of religion which have become so formalized and humorless that they make the Catholics look like Unitarians. There are also a lot of New Age geeks who are mostly female and claim that there really are such things as faeries (spelled with an “e” to make them extra magickal (spelled with a k to make it really real)), but no one talks to them long enough to find out if they really believe this or are just looking for attention.

If you happen across a geek who actually is a Christian, remember the opening paragraph above and immediately plan an exit strategy.

They don’t want anyone telling them how to live their lives — that’s Joss Whedon’s job! Ergo, geeks LOVE not being Christians.

Self-Labeling
January 9, 2009

Geeks spend a lot of time playing fantasy games, being online, or playing online fantasy games. As a result, they often have a lot of experience in creating alternate personas for themselves. Like rappers, wrestlers, and drag queens, geeks enjoy creating their own nicknames. If a geek tells you “My name is Jim but everyone calls me Darknyte” then you can be sure it was Jim’s idea to call himself “Darknyte” first, and a lot of work went into getting others to do it.

It’s not just nicknames that geeks enjoy inventing for themselves, it’s entire personas. The most common labels they enjoy putting on themselves are “evil” and “insane”. Geeks absolutely adore believing that other people (especially non-geeks) perceive them as weird and possibly dangerous. Go to any gathering of geeks and you won’t be able to swing a womp rat without hitting three or four black t-shirts declaring their wearers to be mentally disturbed dark forces. You’ll also rack up a few shirts that announce the sexual perversity of their owner. Anyone writing fiction is advised to “show, don’t tell”; that advice is null and void if you’re talking about a geek.

"Psycho42" models his "Evil Mastermind" shirt.

"Psycho42" models his "Evil Mastermind" shirt.

These two elements can be combined, as well. There is no small number of geeks who feel that they share enough badass qualities with Wolverine to also be called Logan after him. Or who swear that they got the nickname “Vash the Stampede” because they are “just like” the lead character from the anime Trigun. On internet forums that allow “handles” you’ll see plenty of users named for Gandalf, James T. Kirk, Doctor Who, and Neo who all share the same characteristic of having none of the qualities those characters are known for, but believing that they do. It’s always amusing when two of these characters meet on the same forum, each insisting that they should be the One True Lord Vader since it’s what “everyone” knows them as.

But names and identities aren’t the only thing that geeks enjoy deciding for themselves. As we’ve seen, they love taking online personality tests and religion tests and so forth and finding new labels for themselves. If they have any kind of claims to a religion you can certainly bet that a good ninety percent of it is just calling themselves that religion.

Where they really shine, though is in psychological and medical diagnoses. Geeks who’ve never read a word of Freud will eagerly tell you how orally fixated they are (largely because they think this also makes them sound sexually promiscuous). ADD, OCD, and Asperger’s are cheerfully self-diagnosed daily by geeks. The vaguer the disease or syndrome is, the more likely that geeks will be more than happy to tell you they have it.

All of this self-imposed labeling is supported by the geek’s geek friends who will call them “Darknyte”, who will marvel at how utterly psychotic the geek is, and who will offer sympathy towards the ailment du jour. Part of this is in exchange for similar considerations for their own labels, but also because it’s simply part of the constant role-playing/virtual reality that geeks inhabit.

Having a personality is much harder than inventing one, so geeks LOVE self-labeling!

The Status Quo
January 6, 2009

The more things change, the saying goes, the more they stay the same. And the more they stay the same, the more geeks like it. They have a very difficult time with change, and will scream and fight against it, even as they pretend to embrace it.

This photo is annoying geeks in multiple ways.

This photo is annoying geeks in multiple ways.

There is a Star Trek movie coming out later this year and already geeks are having a hard time with it because it revisits the familiar characters of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, but with different actors, different stories, and different sets. In seeing some of the reactions to the trailer, it’s very clear that these fans would not be happy unless their local cinema were simply projecting the original episodes onto the screen. Despite the property being forty years old, there is strong resistance from the geek community towards having it exist in any format other than the original, untouchable series.

As a bonus, there is a lot of wailing and rending of garments over the fact that Zachary Quinto is playing Spock. This upsets the Way Things Are in two ways: not only does it mean someone other than Leonard Nimoy portraying the character, but Zachary Quinto already plays the character of Sylar on Heroes, so how can he possibly be cast in any other role?

The fairly recent trend of Hollywood movies dusting off old television properties and making films about them usually engenders a response of “why bother?” from most people when the property in question is something mainstream. But if it’s an old geek show, look out! First the geeks will be thrilled that someone has finally recognized the absolute brilliance and stature of this beloved piece of the geek’s childhood, no matter how awful the thing is. If they announced a Jason of Star Command movie, geeks would suddenly appear from nowhere to cheer that at last this forgotten gem was getting the recognition it deserved. However, the same energy expended in singing the praises of the geniuses behind the idea would be converted into venomous hatred as soon as a single element from the original show is altered. Change the uniforms, update the backstory, or ignore a critical line of dialogue from episode 11 and you will have said “fuck you” to the fans and stabbed them in the back. And god help you if you do something “PC” like make a minor character non-caucasian if they weren’t before.

The need for geeks to have things be the way they always have been permeates their existence. It is not simply a desire to never see anything change, it’s a point of view that simply refuses to acknowledge the existence of time altogether. A side effect of this is the way that geeks can take anything that’s marginally amusing and run it into the ground until it’s beyond unbearable. If something was ever funny to them, then it’s always funny, and it always will be. It will never get dulled by time because everything exists in a perfect static bubble.

New beginnings are problematic for geeks, but so are endings. The concept of a story ending, an arc completed, a tale told, is disturbing, because it involves there being a telling at some point and then not a telling at another point, and how can this be? So for geeks, the show must always go on, ad nauseam. There must always be a sequel or prequel or spin-off or something that ensures that this universe and these characters never “die” simply by having their story come to a conclusion. Is it better to burn out or fade away? For a geek, it’s best to have your near-lifeless corpse made into a marionette so you can continue shambling your way through yet another story for them.

It has been said that geeks are fueled by nostalgia, but that isn’t completely true, because that term denotes a desire to reflect back upon the past. Geeks simply can’t conceive of the past at all. For them, the way things were when they were twelve years old isn’t just preferable, it’s all there is. Having anything contradict that reality is painful to them.

Give them fantasy and give them the future, but don’t change anything they already know because geeks LOVE the status quo.

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