Last Friday, I woke up early and waited in -17 windchill to get a videogame (I almost lost a toe to frostbite, but that’s besides the point.) As I sluggishly approached the store, I realized I was not the only one dedicated enough to crawl out of bed for a chance to nab a copy. A line of four gentleman had already established base at the front of the world’s most frigid Target.
They were the very typical images of the mom’s basement nerd. On the heavier side, afraid to make eye contact. They tottered around, trying to keep themselves warm. The silence was uncomfortable, like their forced coexistance was as bad as being in a execution line up.
“I do not want to spend an hour with these nerds,” I thought.
It was a feeling I regretted almost instantly. I was a hypocrite. My skin is pastier than the glue you ate when you were four. All of my spending money goes to gaming merchandise. By being in line, I was proving I AM just as nerdy as them.
That thought changed me rather quickly. Shouldn’t I want to be with them, because we share so much in common?
I realized it’s because I’ve been a nerd my whole life. And my whole life, I’ve had to do everything to avoid the negative image associated with nerds. I was worried their image would rub on me. I was worried that my own inadequacies would reflect poorly on us nerds. No matter what I did, most would write me off as a loser. Even at this Godforsaken Antarctic Target, with no other soul around, I was concerned about my social appearance.
At the same time, I found myself pushed into a stereotype. I grew up thinking that because I love videogames, I must be an introvert who hates communication. It wasn’t until late high school that I understood just how outgoing I wanted to be. I’ve struggled even more since then to be both social and nerdy. The two aren’t mutually exclusive to me, but to others I’m supposed to choose one and be light on the other.
I hear it said a lot that nerds no longer exist, that we live in a period of nerd culture, or that everyone is a nerd. I disagree. Instead I argue that the industry-influencing passion of nerds has led to better entertainment standard. The same shows that nerds help write and critique are made better for the casual viewer, causing their interests to align. Your grandmother may watch Game of Thrones, but she cannot recite the original books paragraph by paragraph like you can. And the difference is right there, your grandmother is a viewer while you are a dedicated fan.
When I think of society’s “cool” nerd, I imagine an attractive hipster who has feigned passing interest in a hobby. “Yeah, I’ve dabbled in Android Apps,” he says, with little emotion and readjusting his gluten free scarf. There is no sparkle in his eye. In his mind, he thinks “I downloaded a phone skin once and then got bored but like to wave it lightly because it makes people think I’m cultured and unique.”
So then, why do we quickly judge and condemn others who are so incredibly passionate, so obsessed with what they love?
Perhaps a secret jealousy of their passion. I don’t know. I wish I did. But it hurts me to think that these type of people, or any group who loves their hobby, are the target of ridicule. These are the truly cool people in the world, who bend over backwards to carry their hobby onwards and make it accessible for others. Yes, they may be socially inadequate sometimes. Yes, they may be a little harsh and unforgiving. Yes, they may forget to wear deodorant. But in most cases, they aren’t doing it on purpose. They want to talk about their hobby. They want to make sure you are as excited as they are. And they even want to learn about your hobbies as well.
After curling up in a corner by the door to preserve my warmth, I spoke the first words to the group of men. A joke that we were going to end up like the Donner Party without having learned each other’s names. And, with the (non-literal) ice broken, we grew closer. All it took was a single entrance to conversation. I found myself having to carry the discussion, but my four new companions were still very eager to talk and share the spotlight. We ceased to be nerds and, united by our nerdy social plane, became regular people.