Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On What it Means to be a Nerd

Love him or hate him (I, personally like the guy) Will Wheaton gave some amazing advice to a nerd girl’s infant daughter and it was caught on video for when she is old enough to understand in regards to being a nerd. I’ll post that down below, but I wanted to add my own two cents in on the topic.

Nerd sure seems to have taken on a different meaning since I was a little boy. Heck, it seems a lot of things have. Heck, when did writing homebrew rules suddenly become “hacking” a game. Used to be the only hacking we did with games was related to dungeon crawls or cyberpunk style games. Now, everything gets hacked. But, I digress.

When I was younger, I can remember a whole discussion—maybe it was more of a lecture—my father had with me in regards to some of these horrible names kids called one another: geek, nerd, lerp, etc. I don’t really remember all the definitions, but I remember a geek was a nerd that was cool. So, the nerds at the time were interesting in computers, wore pocket protectors, had tape holding their glasses together, were poorly socially developed, and so on.

Today, we have an entire sub-culture, gaining in popularity, where being a nerd is cool. All these things I grew up around and grew up enjoying and still enjoy and inject into my own kids’ lives are typically considered nerdy. Comic books, sci-fiction, role playing games, Star Trek, Star Wars, to name just a few.  In +Wil Wheaton's explanation, he points out it is the passion we have for these things and others including architecture, fashion design, and others. And, he’s probably right. I don’t know the last time I heard someone being called a nerd for fashion design unless it was associated with designing and creating cosplay costumes, though.

I’ve had some great friends through the years. I have had the wonderful opportunity to connect and reconnect with them through advanced in technology. I’ve met a great many more through Google +.  Interestingly enough, I have actually formed friendships with people through that specific social media platform versus others where it is all business networking or connecting with people I know in real life. The passion these folks have for their games, comics, and previously teases sub-genres of entertainment is amazing.

Now, however, much of what was previously considered nerd sub-culture is becoming mainstream. The super hero movies are raking in oodles of cash. Diehard fans of old material may berate them from straying too far, but I believe that’s a mistake. Things need to evolve. Changes and sacrifices need to be made. And, just because someone cannot quote you the entire family tree of Jean and Scott Summers does not mean that they are any less a fan. They love the characters or stories that they are familiar with for what they are. They may not have enjoyed the other stories or they may not have even had a chance to catch up on 30 plus years of source material.

This whole discussion about girls not being able to be nerds is ridiculous. Don’t even get me started. Gaming, comics, sci-fi, they are about telling universal stories. They’re meant to bring people together. Those who want to use them to toss down dividing lines, like some old school grongards that believe the most complex and archaic rules sets are the best because it keeps everyone who doesn’t automatically or already understand the rules out, are fools.

For me, being a nerd will continue to include having a passion and understanding for those things that a lot of people still just don’t think is cool. Maybe they have been adopted. A comic buff can still be a comic nerd, even though they are and will continue to gain in popularity. That passion we have when it comes to gaming, the excitement we feel at rolling a Natural 20, in-depth character actualization without being paid to write a book or star in a movie or play—that is the nerd’s claim to nerdom. I see guys get totally excited when the crack a hard piece of code, so excited they fall out of their chair cheering. They’re nerds. I see the way my niece talks about anime, her enthusiasm for the medium and I know, she is a nerd. My wife, the way she takes to accounting and explains it to others with a twinkle in her eye—she’s a nerd too. You should really see my one buddy’s toy collection from the 80s and early 90s. He is most certainly a nerd. +Jonathan Henry  is a certified nerd when it comes to RPGs, but get him started on cars. You will find that an individual can be nerdish on more than one subject quite easily.

So, being a nerd is about passion and dedication. The word has changed over the years and that is okay. Being able to accept you for who you are is your job. The others who can’t, they probably aren’t worth the time to try and explain. However, nerds of different stripes, who like different things, still find that common ground to stand on. One like anime and the other role playing games. They both recognize the passion in one another. And with that, you should see the amazing things these wild and varied nerds can accomplish when they work together.