Links: Geek Shame, the Lulz, and Two Meanings for “Hardcore”

January 17th, 2008

This weekend’s link drop is brought to you by Church, Jordan, Cabral, various Gawker blogs, and the letter Q.

Confessions of a Sci-Fi Addict:
Let’s start with this link-ful post from the Website at the End of the Universe, brought to us courtesy Church. The main link is to a newspaper column titled “Admitting addiction to fantasy, sci-fi books” (“after years secreted in the book closet”). I was just as interested in the links that accompanied this on the referring site, though (such as these great old Worldcon photos), and the claim that “While not exactly in leauge with the civil rights or suffragette movements, geek acceptance has come a long way from the early days of fandom.”

Everyday Gamers: Meanwhile, at the Escapist, Tomohiko Endo’s personal essay “A Day in the Life of the Social Loner” offers a sad and perhaps somewhat familiar story of being ashamed to play video games. The take-away, perhaps, is that some forms of gaming may be seeing redemption among mainstream audiences thanks to their social component, but that doesn’t necessarily make others seem more acceptable—or, at least, some gamers fear as much.

Along similar lines, Mark Patience discusses his irritation with the stereotype that “Games are for Kids.”

Demeaning comments about my hobby used to run off me like water off a duck’s back, but the older I get the more vocal my detractors become. This means that I do most of my gaming in secret. [...]

A friend in my workplace has recently bought The Orange Box and can’t wait to play it. His wife is going away for a week, and he plans to get stuck in as soon as she goes. “Why wait?” I suggest. He looks embarrassed and mumbles something about how it would just be easier to do it while she’s away. I say nothing in reply and feel an inward empathy.

And finally, Jonathan MacCalmont writes on how he is Not a Gamer Anymore”—though his choice to distance himself from the term seems to have less to do with his interest in games than his lack of interest a particular “lifestyle” constructed by people who want him to be a gamer:

When gamers first appeared, they were mocked and bullied for their interests. They were nerds and geeks back before those terms had been reclaimed as badges of honor. [...]

Being a gamer might well have consumed my teenage years [...] but that was a decision I made for myself and not because some marketing guru with expertise in “lifestyle brands” suggested it.

Digital Means “Less Geeky” for RPGs: Cabral points me to a short piece on Marketplace discusses how Dungeons & Dragons is making the transition to the internet. One player quoted in the segment suggests that if the game gets more popular, some might see it as less geeky: “I think there’s definitely sort of a stigma behind D&D for a lot of people — and for role-playing games in general. If some of that went away, that’d be better.” Maybe this would work—as we’ve discussed before, the success of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings may have boosted the cultural cachet of neo-traditional fantasy—though I wonder if the actual act of roleplaying, when viewed in person, will be as easily redeemed as the basic trappings of associated genres.

The Love Note of Zelda: Jordan notifies me that one woman, looking for love, accepts what she is and what she wants, posting a Craigslist ad in search of a guy who looks like Link. Click through for the full post and a photo of her in Zelda garb; short version is here:

Hi, I know thats strange one. I want a guy who looks like link. from the game. I thought to myself that I might as well be honest. I look like zelda, so why not ask for it? who knows.. [...] Im a simple chick who loves zelda. [...] I want a guy like that and a guy who is romantic and believes in chilvary, love, old school ways, and doesnt have a problem with european culture.

Otaku Hunting:A couple links brought to my attention by Kotaku suggest that it can actually be dangerous to be an otaku in Japan. One article from some time back notes that otaku hunting—in which criminals target Akihabara nerds because they tend to carry lots of cash—is on the rise. A more recent article suggests that police have been actively stopping Otaku and checking their bags. Kotaku suggests that “since there have been incidents of otaku being mugged, many have started carrying knives and other weapons to protect themselves,” which may be what police are looking for.

More on Why We Need Nerds: Church points us to an article from The Economist about David Anderegg’s new book about nerds. I need to check out a copy myself—anybody read it yet?

Fiction is Prettier than Reality: At Nerd World, Lev Grossman reprints an interview with J.J. Abrams tangentially about Cloverfield. I often hear that sci-fi can be used to examine social truths that people would be otherwise uncomfortable approaching, but it was interesting to hear The Twilight Zone as an example that wasn’t only intended to serve that purpose, but was Rod Serling’s response to earlier, failed attempts at doing social commentary. Also, I appreciated Church’s comment. Why must actors be beautiful people even in a movie that’s supposed to look like it was destined for YouTube?

Straight from the Internet Memeticist: Church refers me to an article by Cyle Gage, “I Can Has Rezearch Papar?” The article traces the development and explains the rationale behind internet fads involving intentionally stupid imagery on the internet, particularly You’re the Man Now Dog and Lolcats. He refers to such practices and the culture around them as “the lulz.” What I found most fascinating was the claim that this started as a humorous practice for intelligent people pretending to be stupid, only to be taken over by people who misunderstood the ironic intent:

[4chan] really is an adult web site. The long running joke that has developed over the past 3 or so years is that everybody on the website, (well, on /b/ anyway) whislt ADULTS, and reasonably intelligent ones at that, engage in moronic activities verging on the utterly stupid. The joke being that everyone acts like the same retarded individual. WHILST KNOWING THAT THEY ARE NOT. The joke is in the delivery…. Eventually, so many 14 year olds end up browsing the site that the original adult userbase has been overshadowed by the masses of underage people who have now turned the joke inside out, and the site has now literally become a place for 14 year olds to be retarded. – anonymous on 4chan

The author continues to note that “The inside jokes are so obscure that it requires a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the jokes before they can be used properly,” and so a commonly used phrase on 4chan is “LURK MOAR”—stating that people should watch what’s going on before getting involved themselves. This seems to me sort of a microcosm of geek culture more broadly in some ways, or at least parallel to other geeky pursuits (hence the Geek Culture Manifesto‘s warning to look without jumping to judgmental conclusions).

Geek Graffiti: I don’t remember where I found this link about geeky street graffiti projects, but it’s worth a gander. The projects run the gamut to geeky references to geeky methods of application and display.

So Say We All: Henry Jenkins links to a new special issue of FlowTV, a critical forum produced at UT Austin. I believe first found out about FlowTV when searching around for geek stuff and coming across Kristina Busse’s article “Fandom-is-a-Way-of-Life versus Watercooler Discussion;
or,The Geek Hierarchy as Fannish Identity Politics.”
This time around, it’s a whole issue on Battlestar Galactica.

Transmedia Griping: Maybe the developers of Soul Calibur IV thought that Yoda and Darth Vader “fit” into their game’s universe because they fight with weapons and belong to a certain epic fantasy tradition. As the comments following that post (and elsewhere over the internet) indicate, though, some gamers and fans are far too concerned with continuity and canonicity to allow such a move to go without complaint. An example of marketing to geeks gone awry, perhaps?

MMO Jargon Explained: Kotaku refers me to an explanation of the language of MMOs—”more scientific notation than lazy shorthand.” (Some of the commenters on that post seem to disagree with the specifics, though.)

A New Blog: I feel bad embedding this link deep within a links post, but Gawker’s new SF blog, io9, definitely deserves a link for those who have yet to discover it. The site’s editors, not incidentally, include the editors of She’s Such a Geek!

More “Casualcore” Gaming: Michael Zenke at Joystiq mocks the notion that Conflict: Denied Ops is a “casual FPS,” and perhaps rightly so:

As one of the demo reps put it: “The idea is to make a solid action game, without any unique elements that you’d have to learn how to use. The idea is that you’ll already know how to play it.”

What you’re left with, then, is a game that you’ve already played. Nothing about Conflict: Denied Ops stands out from any other FPS on the market.

When recently asked what I predict will be a major development in digital media in the next 2–3 years, I answered that software companies, and especially game companies, would get better about marketing their products beyond geeks, to those who are currently labeled as “casual” users. I don’t think there’s anything inherently less devoted about so-called “casual” gaming, having known people who are just as obsessive and excited by online Flash games as some other gamers get about Halo 3. That said, I think a major obstacle to getting such gamers into, say, a first-person shooter is that it still looks like the sort of game that (they imagine) geeks play. Where the Wii succeeds is in making games look—and perhaps even feel—like something else entirely from what we’ve come to think of as console gaming. I figured that three years would be plenty of time for other software manufacturers to figure that out, but maybe I was overly generous.

Hardcore Gaming vs. Hardcore Porn: GameDaily recently asked adult video actresses about video games, yielding one response indicating that it is now okay to be a nerd:

GD: Do you find nerds attractive?
Jenna: [Looks offended] Do I like nerds? I am a nerd. I have shelves full of books at home about vampires and werewolves. And I always have my PSP with me. Right now I’m playing Jeanne D’Arc, which is just awesome. Also, I’ve got a PS3 and I’m dying for the new Final Fantasy to come out. See? I told you I was a total nerd.
GD: I think I am in love.
Jenna: That’s understandable.

Meanwhile, a conservative columnist gets some backlash from gamers over calling a sex scene in Mass Effect explicitly pornographic. The columnist’s response to gamers? Call them nerds, imply that they are sex obsessed. He has recently backed off from part of his critique, but honestly, the critique is not at all of interest to me; as Penny Arcade points out, this columnist is nobody particularly relevant in a broader cultural context, and is flat-out wrong. What interests me is that you can still fling ‘nerd’ around as an insult (while implying sex deprivation) in the same week that a porn star proudly claims to be one.


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5 Responses to “Links: Geek Shame, the Lulz, and Two Meanings for “Hardcore””

  1. Church Says:

    Nice link round up, JT. (I have to remember to check io9 more often.)

    Zenke’s objection is an odd one. I’m not sure how he gets from a game you know *how* to play, to one you already *have* played. I’m reminded of Myst, which was a pretty familiar (although wonderfully tarted up) HyperCard interface, and yet a very compelling story. Or, perhaps a better example, all the early FPSes had extremely similar mechanics, yet Doom, e.g., was a very different experience than Marathon. I’m going to chalk that one up to a looming deadline.

    Also, it needs to be emphasized that someone has done a research paper that extensively cites Encyclopedia Dramatica. The Intertubes are weirder than you *can* imagine.

  2. Church Says:

    Speaking of, the Rezearch Paper link is broken.

  3. Jason Tocci Says:

    I think I have to screw up one link per link post, at least. It’s practically tradition now.

    I’m of two minds about Zenke’s particular criticism of the game. On the one hand, making an FPS feel more approachable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s exactly like every other FPS you’ve ever played. Consider, in contrast, point-and-shoot FPS games in arcades, anywhere from Time Crisis to Big Buck Hunter. When I was doing research in arcades, I saw non-hardcore gamers—especially couples on dates—playing these things all the time. I think a big part of that, though, is that the big plastic gun looks a lot more approachable than a controller or a keyboard to a non-hardcore gamer.

    On the other hand, of course, I feel like I know just what Zenke means. In fact, I often feel like, “Wait … this is exactly like every other game of this genre I’ve ever played.” (That goes especially for fighting games.) Having never played the game he criticizes, I can’t say for sure whether his criticism makes sense for that game; all he’s basically saying is that this offers nothing to hardcore gamers, and it probably won’t sell to casual gamers anyway. The first point may well be true, and the second I probably agree with.

  4. Anthony Says:

    hey, I wanted to thank you for all the cool links here (haven’t gone through them all just yet), most of all the “Not a Gamer” article. That was a great read, and a lot of what I ahve been going through as a gamer myself. back in my youth, you were a gamer if you played games (this is SNES/Genesis era, i’m speaking of), you just had to play a few games, enough to be able to chat about it with friends on the playground. But as gaming has become more popular, it has of course splintered and become more diverse. Calling yourself a gamer can mean anything now. You can be a retro gamer, hardcore gamer, PC, console, and more.

    I have even heard arguments that playing only older games like SNES and back doesn’t make you a gamer. Just the fact that people can consider that a legitimate argument shows where we are.

    It’s tough being a gamer these days in this respect. I have spent a lot of time dedicated to games, through my blog as you know, through actual studying of the history of games (through books and research), trying to play all the games considered “classics” and just reading about video games daily on the internet these days. But as soon as I let out that I don’t like Halo, all my gamer “credibility” is lost.

    I love video games, and feel like all the time i’ve spent with them has not been wasted, and plan on spending a lot more time studying them, playing them, and thinking about all the issues gaming has these days. But you will probably never hear me call myself a “Gamer” because just like the guy in the article, the people who tout the title around are not the same as me. gaming to me has been an exercise in things that I find fun and interesting, not some sort of code i have to live by.

  5. The New Geek Mainstream, Continued § Unqualified Offerings Says:

    [...] all the money he could scrounge behind that conviction. (Imagine if Gygax had suffered from “geek shame.”) It’s a partial truth that Gygax was a “popularizer.” He found what he [...]

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