It seems like it wasn’t that long ago when being a gamer or a nerd wasn’t quite as cool as it is today. I remember sitting alone at lunch in middle school because I was the only girl I knew who was interested in playing Pokémon. My mother would worry endlessly for me after I would spend hours online making my first webpages. My dad would always lecture me after a serious session of feeding my various pets on Neopets, or grinding my way through an alien planet with The Dig. Playing games for hours, or obsessing over a specific book or game was seriously frowned upon. However, today, the nerd and gaming culture is celebrated. Events like PAX, Blizzcon, the LoL Championships, etc, sell out in a matter of seconds. Men and women can make a living dressing like their favorite comic book characters, playing their favorite game online, or writing about the things they love to obsess over. We’ve certainly come a long way from the pocket-protector, suspender wearing, “Steve Urkel” stereotypical images of nerds across the world. Gone are the days of the smart but socially-awkward outcasts, and here are the days of the glorified freak, the dedicated fanatics, the witty intellectuals… and that’s amazing. The future definitely looks bright for nerd and gaming culture.
But with the growing acceptance and celebration of the all things “nerd” comes the inevitable commercialization of this once “niche” culture, especially in the gaming world. We are beginning to live in a world of “microtransations”, “pay-to-win” features, and expensive “aesthetic “or “bonus” additions to games. A few examples of this would be something like character skins or unique character gear, the option to buy a character instead of trudging through the typical grind, or even paying for extra gameplay content unavailable to a non-paying player. Larger game developers are figuring out that they can profit massively from the overwhelming fandom that has emerged from the new acceptance of nerd, geek, and gaming culture. While there is a huge backlash at developers for forcing people to pay for content that should have been released in the original game, most companies are showing almost no sign of stopping their release of paid content. Another problem that comes with the acceptance and embracement of geek culture is the validity of gaming journalism. The more popular games are in general, the more incentive companies have to bribe or incentivize gaming bloggers, journalists, YouTubers, streamers, etc, to feature or say nice things about their product on their large platform. This is a truly horrible side effect, as one of the best things about nerd culture is the genuine and sometimes overwhelming fandom of its participants.
It is not only huge gaming developers that are seeking to profit off of nerds these days. It seems that almost everyone is jumping on the gaming/nerd bandwagon, trying to snap off a piece of the pie while the oven is still hot. Today you can find celebrities (that in other eras condemn the “nerd”) posing in Instagram or Facebook pictures making a silly face in square-rimmed glasses, or biting the wires of a game controller in a sexual manner, wearing poke-bras, etc. While it is honestly despicable that some people seek to find a profit off of someone else’s genuine love and passion, it’s happening more and more every single day. So how do we stop it? How can we cleanse the nerd culture and get it back to the fun-loving, exciting place that it truly is?
I believe the first answer is that we should stop being so closed minded on who we allow into our “group”. We need to celebrate every true nerd that falls into our midst, and stop judging others and measuring each other by our “nerdiness”… as if being nerdier than someone else is a competition. We are walking almost hand-in-hand with the “hipster” society in this regard. Liking something “before it was cool” is (for some reason) seen as something to look up to in modern day society. How many times have you heard someone say “oh you like Game of Thrones? That’s cool… yeah I liked it back before it was a TV show”. When the Avengers came out, how many of your friends had to BURN IT INTO YOUR BRAIN that “they read the comics when they were little” and “this is totally not how it happened in the comics” etc… as if liking it or knowing about it before someone else means something truly important. I have no idea how this began to be a “thing” – but we need to stop it, and stop it quick. It doesn’t matter when someone started to become passionate about whatever makes them happy. If someone reads all 7 of the Harry Potter books tonight and falls in love with them, why would they be any less of a “Harry Potter” nerd than someone who read them when they were little? Why do Vanilla WoW players consider themselves anymore of a “WoW nerd” than someone who started playing in Wrath of the Lich King? As long as the two are passionate about the thing that they love, there should be no animosity between the two. There are so many fakers out there trying to make a quick buck off of the nerd culture, that we really need to value and embrace the people who genuinely do love the things that we love, regardless of who “loved it first”; if only to maintain and strengthen our forces against those who would seek to profit off us.
While the “Rise of the Nerd” has brought with it some negative aspects, everything that grows in popularity is seemingly susceptible to the same sort of thing. The true strength of the gaming culture will be seen through how we overcome and persevere through these troubling times. We have to make it clear that it isn’t okay to start charging for what would have typically been free-released content. We have to make it known that we aren’t foolish enough to fall for the bribes and incentives big-name gaming companies are throwing at us. We have to be able to tell the difference between a passionate, blossoming nerd, and a faker seeking only to profit. The nerd/geek/gaming community is a strong, wonderful, extremely fantastic group of people. While it might be rough, I definitely see us coming out on top.
I just want to thank everyone who has been an avid reader of my “Grind” series! I really hope you enjoyed all of my pieces. Please don’t forgot to tweet at me, @VeeliaStream, and tell me what you loved most about it, or even suggest what I should start writing about next. While it is sad to see the Grind come to an end, it is exciting to know that my future is a blank slate! So let me know what you would like to see me cover next. Thanks all – and see you next time!