Nerd Culture and exclusivity/inclusivity

Introspective: Nerd Culture and exclusivity/inclusivity

One of the ways I am a nerd is being a gamer. A behavioural pattern that I have noticed about gamers – but also from non-gamer nerds in general – is a tendency to be exclusive as to who we accept as being “real” nerds.

The phenomenon commonly derives from “fake gamer girls” – as seen on Youtube, with nerdy vlogs and “Let’s Play” videos with prominent facecams. This phenomenon is not reserved for these kind of people, however. There is a tendency to stereotype nerds not of one’s own persuasion – the “Bro” gamer who plays sports games or Call of Duty, for instance. It seems to me that so much of nerd-on-nerd interactions online seem to revolve around criticizing others. Are you a “dirty console peasant”, or a “PC Master Race”? Star Trek VS. Star Wars? Xbox VS Playstation?

This is not to say that there is not amiable bantering between nerds, because there is. There are also reasonable people who realize that instead of limiting ourselves to just one thing like the Xbox or the Playstation, to Star Trek AND Star Wars, AND Firefly, and so on. These coexist with a constant war between rivalling factions of nerds.

What amazes me about this phenomenon is simply this:

When I grew up as a nerdy kid, I would have loved to have more friends who were into the same kind of nerdy stuff I was into. I would have even settled for being left alone. That, however, was not the case – I got to be bullied for years for being a nerd (but that’s a sob story that you don’t need to hear). I love the chance to either be one of the Ten Thousand, or getting the chance to let someone else be one of the Ten Thousand.

My nerdy friends and I clung together, held on to dear life, creating our own social circle apart from the general social interactions at school. We were ostracized, bullied and on lucky days, forgotten. Today, people are taking part in things that in bygone days (and not so far bygone, either) were reserved for those odd reclusive creatures that we nerds were. Chatting on the internet, playing games, obsessing about nerdy shows.

As an anecdote on that, one of my friends from my undergraduate class (back when I was an undergrad) was by no means a nerd (and would not identify herself as one), but had played Pokémon pretty extensively as a kid.

We should also take note that this tendency to exclude other people from our nerdy circle provides us with a brilliant example of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Oh, is that person a vlogger or  female let’s player who uses facecam? “No True Nerd” invoked.

A great example of nerds being exclusive is this clip from “The Big Bang Theory”, in which the main cast ruthlessly mocks Penny’s boyfriend Zack for not being as smart as them.

Of course, the situation is played for laughs – Zack is portrayed as being pretty dumb, but genuinely wanting to talk to Leonard, Sheldon and the others about something they find interesting.

If I recall correctly, the episode does end with the main male cast learning a lesson about bullying, but to me it typifies the essential exclusive nerd when faced with someone who does not fit their worldview of what a nerd is, or should be.

Chris Hardwick (famously known as “The Nerdist”) said it well in his stand-up special, “Mandroid“:

When I see some young kid, like some hipster, wearing his Atari t-shirt when he was too young to have owned an Atari gaming system, I just wanna grab him and be like “Hey, listen to me, Kyle, or whatever the fuck your name is”…I just wanna grab him by that beard, just grab him and be like “When you see me walking down the street, you better salute me, because I suffered so you could be FREE!”

That bit is, of course, tremendously tongue-in-cheek. There is a not-insignificant amount of truth to the bit as well, though. But just because we were bullied as kids for being nerds, doesn’t grant us a free pass to bully others who want to join us in nerding out about stuff.

I am sure I heard a Nerdist podcast recently in which Chris and his guest (who I, unfortunately, have forgotten who is) discuss the issue of nerds being exclusive about who they accept as fellow nerds. I am fairly sure Chris said something along the lines of:

“Maybe that is the only way they know of being nerdy”

That is something I don’t think many nerds think of when they deride those “No True Nerds” – maybe someone wants to be part of the nerd subculture, and does not yet know how to play the internet version of the Game of Thrones. Maybe those of us who have always been nerds should be more accepting of people who do not fit the nerd stereotype, but still love nerdy things.

One of the greatest ambassadors of nerd culture has to be Wil Wheaton. Earlier this year at the Calgary Expo, Wil was asked to explain to a con-goers newborn daughter why being a nerd is awesome. The entire video in that link is worth the watch, but one of the things that stood out the most to me was this:

So, there’s going to be a thing in your life that you love. I don’t know what that’s going to be … and it doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love that, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes you a nerd. The defining characteristic of [being a nerd] is that we love things

That’s why being a nerd is awesome. And don’t let anyone tell you that that thing that you love is a thing that you can’t love. Don’t anyone ever tell you that you can’t love that, that’s for boys … you find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.