Every society has it’s outcasts. When I was a student in middle school this division became clearer than in any time. Look around long enough in any cafeteria in any middle school in any city and you will find the group known as geeks. Sometimes known as “nerds,” which is a separate group all together, the geeks arrived at school early and ate one dollar maple bars and fifty cents milks while playing Magic, the card games. These were the kids that lived and loved fantasy and RPG’s. This select group of pseudo-intellectuals, yet not necessarily good students, were an elitist group unto themselves cocooned from reality in a world of magic, lore, and attribute hit points that made them gods among one another with the turn of a card. The saying goes that the meek will inherit the earth; as far as I call tell “meek” was mistranslated in the Bible and these outcasts of public school’s past are having their asthmatic day in the sun…right…now.
I blame J.K. Rowling. All of this started when she wrote about a pre-pubescent boy, getting the whole ball rolling on this fantasy jag the world is flipping over. Before Rowling (pronounced rolling. How pretentious is that, even for a Brit’?) the nerd was relegated to basements donning capes and tinfoil helmets as dungeon masters with a custom 12-sided die and a lactose intolerance. Traveling in groups of 3-7 they read Tolkien, quoted Trek lines, or maybe even retold stories of when they felt a boob at Janet’s party (which they were never at); but once those books started to hit the shelves they got to come out in to the light as even the ‘cool kids’ started reading her books of fantasy and the two groups suddenly found a common ground outside of new feelings for Jenny from homeroom.
With Rowling it became fashionable for even soccer moms and ivy league businessmen to be reading a book intended for an overwhelmingly pre-pubescent demographic. It was with the fourth book in the series that the Harry Potter craze took the world by storm. Book stores were holding midnight releases, lines formed hours in advance, and entrances were being bum-rushed at the first sound of locks being released like the pop from a starter’s pistol. Never had this kind of fandom been seen for any book, let alone a book you find in the children’s section of the store. In 48 hours the goblet of fire sold 3 million books in the US alone, shattering every record ever held by a book. It probably didn’t hurt that Rowling looked like a kindly single mom on the neighborhood block in Anytown, USA and that her accent gave her a fairy godmother kind of quality; a balding pedophile looking SOB probably would not have done as well at cash/wrap 1 at the local Barnes & Nobles. In recent years the book has been translated to more than 65 languages and the brand of Harry Potter has been estimated at just south 1 billion euros, all in.
My fascination at this flash point in American culture is not the sales and not the worth or content. Children go crazy for things, I get it; I’ve seen the footage of fist fights in Toy ‘R’ Us aisles over the likes of the Tickle-Me-Elmo and Bean Babies. The interest comes from who was in those lines; grown ass people. Adults with jobs, mortgages, and 401K’s were fighting for position to get a copy of a book about an adolescent wizard. There has never been a mainstream obsession with fantasy genre content in the history of the world as there is now. In the past it was trashy romance novels for soccer moms and sci-fi or the like for kids, but now you can see a 14 year old girl reading the same exact book as a 45 year old man. And this was just the start.
In the last few years has come the vehemently disdained and equally loved Twilight series which is like a trashy fantasy romance novel packaged for impressionable children. Twilight and it’s equally prostituted sister TV series True Blood have cashed in on a mainstream obsession with Lycanthropy and Vampirism which I believe is drawn from two cornerstones of our psyche: inherent sexuality and our desires as man to live forever. But with both of the franchises you have everyone from teens to grown adults reading these books, watching shows, and paying good money in theaters. Yes, Vampires and Werewolves have always been a social fascination but the fandom and pop culture impact of this genre cannot be denied. When grown adults are straying to the young adults section of the bookstore to grab their reading it is either saying something as to the intellect in our children or the obtuse and simplistic tastes of the general public; I’m guessing it is the latter.
This Geek uprising is not relegated to just TV, movies, and books. Events like Comic-con and E3 have become trend setters of the hot and “in” year after year only growing in popularity despite the fact that comic books, action figures, and video games were for losers and kids with no friends when I was a young tike. Nowadays the average “gamer” is in their twenties as opposed to a number I am sure skewed to the teens only ten years ago. With graphic novels and collectibles gaining a level of respect as video games get so good you need to take the blue pill to determine your reality, is it any wonder that these events draw hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world every year? Comic-con, E3, and others like them are now events that people save up vacation time for. People dress up, save up, and attend in droves just to get a sneak peak at things they will get to see in stores later. They go to interact with others with the same loves, feeling at home and comfortable in Zelda and Final Fantasy outfits they made themselves.
Then there is the unbelievably popular genre of “games” called MMORPG’s. The Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game has grown to astronomical levels of involvement. Arguably the greatest one in this category is World Of Warcraft (WOW) which had an estimated 62 million monthly subscribers in Dec 2008. With classes, quests, levels, item collecting, etc., the game is fully immersive and is ongoing with different add-ons and new packs with new creatures and things for clans or individuals to do. With more monthly subscribers than the population of Italy do you think they are all nerds and geeks with no friends and their virginity intact? No, of course there are upright citizens with jobs like Lawyer, Doctor, Judge, VP’s and CEO’s, and everything in between. This alternative fantasy world can take hundreds upon hundreds of hours of the gamer’s life to level up and there is in fact an economy in World Of Warcraft that can translate to money in the real world.
When we start talking about the synergy of reality and fantasy we would be remiss if we did not highlight the ambiguous nature of SecondLife. In an entirely virtual world people live out their lives through avatars, interacting in IM (Instant Message) windows and exist in a real world representation of reality. Think it is just a game? In this so-called “game” exists hundreds of destinations, clubs, combat zones, stores, shops, etc. This game offers literally everything you can possibly imagine in the real world; there was even a banking crisis in SecondLife.
What sets SecondLife apart from WOW is the fact that reality, real-world and real-time interaction are integral in the playing out of the fantasy that is critical for the games immersion. For instance, in a dance club in the game, the music you are hearing is quite possibly an actual DJ spinning on the ones and twos in a place somewhere in reality. The music is real-time download of an actual person showing off their skills. If that isn’t enough there have been real world integration of religion. In SecondLife the organization LifeChurch.TV, opened a campus and a virtual Anglican Cathedral for people to come to and discuss religion openly; Jesus is now the way and the light in full 3D rendering. Other notable movements is that real world countries have opened virtual “embassies” in SecondLife; Maldives, Sweden, Estonia, Macedonia, and even the Phillipines, and many others, have all opened these embassies where people can actually go to discuss Visas and other matters with actual people somewhere represented by Avatars. As I said before, the people here can’t all be “nerds” or “geeks,” not with a user list more than 18 million people long.
Does the geek not like music? Oh, they love music. “Nerdcore” is the term used for hip hop and rock music with a slant to the nerdy and offbeat. One of my favorites is MC Lars who actually has a rap song which is a hip hop interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. Other rappers and groups talk about Nintendo, D&D, graphic novels, etc. It is also an idea of a genre, mostly composed of white boys, doing songs about things that are otherwise not cool subjects to rap about; no bitches, bling, or a drug game here, unless they are talking about GTA. Nerdcore is a celebration of all the things that made them outcasts in the past that are now a point of nostalgia or camaraderie amongst those that still have a soft spot for comics and mint-condition Boba Fett’s.
From entertainment to culture and from music to art, the nerd culture has gone from the basement to the red carpet with ease of user interface and the now viable multi-million dollar marketability of genres and cultural taboos that were once niche and rife for punchlines. It is clear now, with adults reading children’s books and dancing around with Orcs and Wizards on a server in India that everyone has a little nerd in them; at least nerd tendencies. In an attempt for escapism from a drab reality we have grasped for the brass ring of fantasy worlds and avatar existence in order to feed our desires and wants. You can dance to Nintendo raps, fall in love through a DSL connection, and even accept God as your personal savior in 3D, which might not all add up to the end of times, but I still fucking hate Twilight.