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Welcome to my rambling on this question. I wouldn't call it perfect, but I actually put some pretty notable thought into this and think it's as serious question to look at.
What is a geek? It’s a more important question than people think and a more complex community than it first appears. As a student actively involved in GeekFest and running the anime club I find it’s one I have to think about a lot. Not only does geekdom form a huge part of my identity, but it has quickly overtaken my life, or perhaps it always has been my life and being thrust into the more self-conscious world has forced me to really think what that means. I have fundamentally always played Dungeons and Dragons. My favorite bedtime story as a child was The Hobbit. Is that what makes me a geek, or is it something else? Is it that I like Doctor Who, or is it how I like Doctor Who?
Being a geek is definitely about the how. In a world where the niche steadily becomes more mainstream geeks can’t keep identifying themselves based on obscurity and, let’s face it, that’s always been true. I mean, is there really anything more mainstream than Star Wars? It’s invaded our culture, as has the Lord of the Rings, and Doctor Who, and video games, and Doctor Who, and really the list never ends. There are lots of people into these things and that’s cool. That’s really cool, but that’s not what makes them geeks.
A Star Wars geek is someone who can tell you who has what lightsaber and how every fighting style works. A Lord of the Rings geek can recite every piece of poetry and every fact that Tolkien might have thought of including in something vaguely related to the books. Video game geeks will utterly maul a game not only out of competitiveness but because they have to find every single nook and cranny and every way to play. A Doctor Who geek can tell you about every regeneration, and Gallifrey, and every way the TARDIS has failed, or what companion was with which doctor when. It’s not about what you like, it’s about the passion you put into it, and that what makes the community so volatile and so, sadly, negative.
I was recently at a convention where a group of guests talked about their geeky hobbies beyond what the con represented. They steered away from anime, sci-fi, and game for a minute to talk about what other hobbies they had and what similarities those group shared. One of them likes beading. Another, songs, and yet another has discovered a passion for food. One of them even stated birdwatching as a geeky hobby. When asked what these groups had in common with the gamers and other geeks most of the list was negative. It was about how obsessive these people were over every detail and how competitive it could get. It was about how easy it was for them to look down on others. This came from people who design games and write fantasy novels. This came from people who have made geekdom their living.
They didn’t even realize how negative they were until someone pointed it out, and then they started commenting on the things which really made them love that group. Geeks help others. Geeks enjoy bringing other people in. Geeks can love each other’s company based on a single piece of common ground and for that period of time they are the greatest friends. They don’t need to share common views, have similar backgrounds or educations, they just need to be doing what they love. If you really think about it, the ability to bring such a versatile group together is astounding. However, that also means that not all geeks will immediately get along.
This is where I get a little more personal and start looking at the crux of the problem where mixed groups are concerned. I don’t intend to attack anyone and I will continue to refrain from using names. However, geeks are passionate and as cool as that is, it causes some problems. I am not immune to this. It happens and sometimes things have to be said. However, I want to direct this passion towards trying to find if not a solution, a better understanding of how this culture works.
It’s really hard to be around a bunch of geeks and not share their passion. I mean that in both ways. Passion is pretty contagious and sinks its fangs in just fine, but when that fails to happen a group can run into problems quickly and when there’s a lot of geekdoms running by both events become inevitable. Now, to say that I am not a geek for something does not mean I hate it and there are some things I can pretend to geek out about for the sake of the peace, or to which I can use a bit of my geekdom to communicate.
However, I am not a Star Wars geek and, while I can often fake it due to an overall love of fantasy, I am not a Lord of the Rings geek. I don’t play Mass Effect. I don’t read a lot of American comics, even though I do like them. I’m not into My Little Pony at all. I’m into Shin Megami Tensei (mostly Persona), Dungeons and Dragons (mostly official worlds and rules), and anime. In a group that sometimes shares a small portion of my passion, that’s a hard road to travel.
As a whole I’m a fairly mellow geek, if such a thing can exist. I let people talk about the things I don’t overly care about because I know they’re passionate about it and that there probably is something in there I like. One on one just missing each other isn’t too much of a problem. However, as everyone knows, when two geeks get into an excited discussion it can get very frustrating for the one left out. Adding to the challenge is the fact that seeing so much passion makes me want to be passionate too. When I talk about Persona most of my friend’s eyes glaze over. When I talk about D&D we get damn close to punching each other, and when I talk about anime most people I know try to talk about how many shows they’ve seen when what I’m really interested in is who voiced in it, who composed the music, and what studios made it. Failing that discussion, I find other anime fans just get annoyed with how “little” I’ve seen or how few “classics” and leave in frustration.
To really geek out about people you need a shared experience. When that doesn’t exist you at best try to create one and at worst decide you hate each other. Now, with passion comes an amazing ability to want to kill someone and then to like them again five minutes later, but it also makes it really easy to get hurt, badly. When I am attacked with my fandom I take it very personally and who can blame me? I’m pretty sure I’ve moved past the point of it being an identity to a lifestyle. In a time of my life where I’m figuring out who I am my massive increase in geekery is likely to stay for quite a while and I take it pretty seriously. Everyone takes their geekery seriously. That’s what makes them a geek and not just a fan.
So, how do we get a bunch of geeks into a room without them coming to blows or someone storming off in anger? I doubt there’s an easy solution to this, but I think the first step is to remember that all geeks, no matter how socially nervous or awkward, want to share their hobbies. Getting to share how passionate you are in something and have someone listen for even five minutes can be a real treat and, on the receiving end, there’s a lot of fun things to learn. It’s not always easy and complete incompatibility does exist, but if we can just not attack each other there’s a lot of room to grow and learn.
Bring others into your fold, but let them find their own geekness. Everyone has an inner geek and everyone needs to remember that. Just because something is mainstream doesn’t mean you can’t geek out over it and just because it’s obscure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Follow your passions. Find people who share those passions and if you can’t find any, try to encourage someone. It takes some work to learn the right level, but even if you can just get to the point where you can talk to each other something has been achieved. I don’t think there’s a more versatile group on the planet and it’s a great way to meet people.
Failing all else go to conventions, and forums, and Facebook groups. Make new friends. It’s hard to do without leaving others behind, but it’s okay to only share one geekdom with someone and then get the other geekdom out on someone else. In fact, your respective friends might thank you if you can focus down your conversations. Remember, not everyone is perfect but everyone is different. You’ll learn what ground not to tread with who, and what ground makes you best friends for that period of time.
It’s worth it. For all the aggravation those who don’t share my geekdom may give me, they’re still cool people. And for all the aggravation those who do share my geekdom may give me, I still go back to talk about the things I love. Don’t forget that.
It’s all geek to me.
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