Recently, I’ve seen a few condemnations of nerds, such as from Esoteric Trad here, and some stuff from Twitter:
I’m a bit of a nerd myself, so, I’m going to talk about the nerd/geek culture war. I’ve written on Gamergate a few times before, and if you read my Lightning Rounds, you’ve seen my support for Rabid/Sad Puppies. The standard line is that these is SJW’s vs. anti-SJW’s, which is true, but not the entire story.
The roots of these conflicts go back a bit farther. You may have noticed a link I posted to a comment on SSC where a commenter links the culture wars to the Something Awful/4chan split. That may be part of it, but a larger part of it is the nerd/geek conflict within what we’ll call fandom for lack of a better word.
The terms are often used interchangeably by most, but the terms refer to different groups within fandom and each has there own distinct, if overlapping, culture. Or, perhaps more to the point, nerds have systems around which geeks build a culture.
One man did a statistical analysis of the usage of the words and how they correlate with other words. He defined them as such:
geek – An enthusiast of a particular topic or field. Geeks are “collection” oriented, gathering facts and mementos related to their subject of interest. They are obsessed with the newest, coolest, trendiest things that their subject has to offer.
nerd – A studious intellectual, although again of a particular topic or field. Nerds are “achievement” oriented, and focus their efforts on acquiring knowledge and skill over trivia and memorabilia.
Others looking at this topic make a similar distinctions:
Nerd – intelligent, industrious, understands things
Geek – Interested in things that others are not interested in, know a lot about their interests, but usually do not understand underlying principles
The statistical analysis comes to this conclusion:
In broad strokes, it seems to me that geeky words are more about stuff (e.g., “#stuff”), while nerdy words are more about ideas (e.g., “hypothesis”). Geeks are fans, and fans collect stuff; nerds are practitioners, and practitioners play with ideas. Of course, geeks can collect ideas and nerds play with stuff, too. Plus, they aren’t two distinct personalities as much as different aspects of personality. Generally, the data seem to affirm my thinking.
Look at his chart:
Note what words are strongly geeky: culture, #shiny (a firefly reference), #stuff, #trendy, #technology, #etsy. Compare that to the strongly nerdy words, which are mostly science and studying. (Cellist was due to outside factors and the goths reference seems to be from making a distinction between high school cliques goths and nerds).
Nerd things are ideas and academics. They like understanding and mastering systems, accomplishing things, and playing with new ideas. On the other hand, geeky things are stuff and culture. Geeks like learning trivia, keeping up with a culture, collecting, and spending time with others doing these things.
On the other hand, there is a geek culture and a geek community. For geeks, the community, it’s culture, it’s status (#trendy), and its accoutrements (#shiny #Etsy #stuff) takes precedence over the thing, and are the focus. They are more into people, and less into systems.
Put simply, nerds are into things and ideas, geeks are into community. Now, these two aren’t mutually exclusive, there’s overlap, but they are still distinct ways of being part of fandom.
I use the word fandom because I can’t think of a better one, but it is misleading, fandom is itself an aspect of the geeks. There is not really nerd culture, there are simply gatherings of nerds. Nerds will enjoy something alone, when they gather, the focus is on enjoying the thing and mastering the system of the thing, not each other. They aren’t people persons, they’re thing and system persons. Nerds are semi-autistic spergs.
This recent Cracked article illustrates nicely. The authors are geeks:
And people need a sense of community to truly and meaningfully coexist with a thing that they love.
A geek needs a sense of community, because the community is what he’s there for. The nerd doesn’t. I’ve played video games my entier life, and have never had a ‘sense of community’. Other than some rare session of SSB with friends, 99% of my game-playing time has been alone. A nerd plays games because he enjoys games, a geek dose it because he wants community.
(Wolinsky then proceeds to punch down at the nerds and say why games need to be ruined because, like a lot of geeks, he enjoys using his meager social skill set to beat on nerds and try to destroy things they enjoy).
I’ve been a nerd my whole life, and was recently introduced to geek culture, in my late-20s. The idea confused me somewhat: why would you need a culture? Nerd stuff was stuff you did on your own or with a few friends and kept quiet about around normal people. Why would you need a culture to play video games or read SF?
Read this article on geek consumer culture and the first few comments. To them the hobby is all about consumption and status. As a nerd growing up poor, that wouldn’t have even occurred to me. I got SF book from the library because I enjoyed them and games with holiday and birthday money.Their being status or merch behind it, or that people would want the status of nerd or geek didn’t cross my mind.
The fake geek girls controversy illustrates this as well. Girl geeks get legitimately upset when people try to take their geek cred away from them and it seems to some men defending their geek cred is important to them. Both seem alien to me. Why would you care? Growing up, I just wanted to do the thing. I tried my hardest to convince my sisters (and the rest of my family) to play board games (sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, sorry Axis & Allies) because that meant I got to play more. I tried (and failed) to convince my sisters and brother not to play video games because that meant they would hog the system, at least until we got a N64, at which point I needed more Smash Bros partners. There were no thoughts of status. If others did the thing would I get to do more of it or would I get to do less of it?
Anyhow, back from personal digression, the tension between the nerds and geeks has been everpresent in fandom since it began in the way back when. It was a tense, but symbiotic relationship. The geeks needed the nerds in fandom because the nerds made and understood things. The nerds needed the geeks in fandom, at least if they cared at all about fandom, because they’re the ones who created fandom.
This mutual dependence and tension has always been around, but lately there’s been a shift. First, fandom activities have become increasingly accessible: the effort needed for creation or system mastery have lowered, so the geeks don’t need the nerds as much as they used to, if they need them at all. Power slowly shifted towards the geeks.
As well, when the Big Bang Theory came out and was followed by a slew of high-profile superhero and fantasy movies, fandom suddenly became hip. Normal people started wanting to do fandom things and the geeks started inviting them in. That’s not necessarily bad in itself (although, I don’t really see the point). The problem is when this occurred normies don’t have a nerd personality: geeks may be different but they’re still people-focused so normies can understand them. Nerds, though, are still those introverted, systems-focused weirdos. They joined the geeks in the internal culture war, and now they geek/normie alliance is trying to push the nerds out.
Wil Wheaton, is the ur-geek who exemplifies this trend. He’s a geek who outreaches to normies through stuff like Tabletop (not to mention he was in BBT) and is heavily involved in the geek community. He’s set up this dichotomy of what he calls “power gamers” (ie. nerds) who (evilly) like mastering systems and hurt the geek community with their focus on things and ideas over people, while the noble Wil Wheaton builds the geek community (even if he occasionally has to sacrifice rules accuracy or dumb things down a little, both of which nerds generally detest).
In, tabletop RPG’s there have been a number of different play styles. The oldest and, until recently, most common was the power gamer (nerd) playstyle: min/max a character to best master the game system, build a world, explore the world, destroy the baddies, loot the room, save the princess, and level up. It was focused on system mastery, world-building, and problem-solving. These gamers tend to use crunchy systems with lots of numbers (like Shadowrun or the Hero system).
A smaller strain was the Roleplayers (geeks). To this strain story-telling and character interaction was more important. RPG’s were more about collaborative story-telling/improv acting. Combat and dice rolls were minimized because they interrupted the story. NPC’s became fleshed out characters rather than amusing plot devices. And so on. They tend to focus on RPG systems with fewer numbers but (like Fate or Fiasco).
Neither is inherently better (I’ve enjoyed both Fate and Fiasco) and both can be accommodated by a decent GM, so neither is wrong, but recently, the geeks, using their increased influence have been pushing their role-playing style as the correct way to do things. It’s gotten to where the point where the “correct” opinion, the on pushed by Wheaton, is that the story is what matters, while “power gamers” and min/maxers are doing things wrong.
This geek/nerd conflict is what is playing in the Sad Puppies campaigns and GamerGate.
Science fiction has always had a divide (more a continuum, really) between hard and soft. Hard SF stories are geared towards nerds; the world and the ideas would the focus of the story, they were the main characters. The science was central to the story and the story existed to carry the ideas. Characters and their interactions were made to carry the ideas. Asimov is a good example of his, his characters were almost always little more than plot devices to carry whatever idea he was exploring.
Soft SF, on the other hand was more about the characters than the ideas. They were space operas, where the science was meant to carry the story. Star Wars is the best example of this. The science was simply a plot device. You could easily change the setting to medieval Europe, replace X-wings with pegasi, photon torpedoes with arrows, and lightsabers with magic swords, and the story would not change in the least. Dr. Who is similar, the sonic screwdriver might as well be a magic wand.
Fantasy had a similar, less prounounced continuum. Was the focus on the characters, or the world and the ideas the world-conveyed? The divide was less pronounced because Tolkien, who created high fantasy, Lweis, and Howard who created swords & sorcery, focused on both and did both well. That and fantasy only has to be internally consistent, while SF has to be internally consistent and consistent with known science.
The puppies are nerds. They’re looking for old-school/hard SF/F based on systems-level thinking: world building, ideas-focus, and science. While the anti-puppies are geeks have been pushing for the softer stuff. Even beyond that they’re pushing romances in space, where the SF/F is barely a gloss. Normies who join, generally go towards the soft SF like Doctor Who and Star Wars.
Gamergate is similar. The GG folks are generally nerds, who just want to play games and master complex game systems. Meanwhile, the anti-gg force are all about creating an “inclusive” community (which is somehow needed to play games buy yourself on a screen) by kicking out all the icky gamers (ie. nerds) who are too focused on playing games rather than telling stories with games.
You can see this in anti-gg’s criticisms of games, such as in the Cracked article quoted above or in this piece I wrote on earlier. They want games to become art (ie. have status among the “right” people) and to become a form of interactive story-telling. Gamergate want games to be games so they can focus on mastering systems.
Neither side is particularly “right” in which way is the best to read, write, or play. The main problem, is the geeks are trying to drive the nerds out because those nerds are to focused on enjoying stuff, rather than making an “inclusive” community so that everyone can buy toys and get geek status.
It also the geeks that are forcing this stuff onto you normies. Blame them for perpetuating the culture you detest. We nerds are fine without you and just want to be left alone.