March 23rd, 2006

Today I found myself explaining to a Scottish girl the parameters of American geek-dom. We had been talking about how real life in the states differs from the version Hollywood experts en masse overseas. What are dorks really like? Well, we obsess over tv series, we fancy it would have been fun to live in medieval times, and… I stopped short before adding in the pitch on my own personal geek factor: video games.

I was busy wondering, are video games “geeky” everywhere? Certainly they’re gaining popularity in the United States and entering the accepted social sphere and blah, blah, blah — but is there anywhere where gaming is cool? Just outright, damn-that’s-hot cool?

I understand also that gaming can be by natural an anti-social passtime, and that it may never lend itself to slicked back hair and motorcycle riding (Sorry, too much Grease 2), but has anyone, anywhere, ever turned, and instead of wondering, “Who’s that guy?” wondered “Who’s that gamer?”

Or is video game geek-dom, like pigeons, simply universal?

Tags: Blog

13 Responses to “A Land without Geek-dom?”

  1. Christopher Says:

    I always got the sense that in Japan and maybe Korea games, and gamers are ‘in.’ Japans seems to have this high tech fetish about it. In a culture like that I see games having a lot more main stream acceptance. I got the sense that DDR was something just about all the kids played for a month or so. Needless to say there are probably those that even the Japanese consider to be geeks, and otakos. Thats though is just because every group has it’s extremes.

    To be totally honest though, I’ve never been to Japan, let alone live there. So all this might just be American fantasy interpretation of Japan. Which is a whole other issue unto itself. Still my opinion is that games are cool in Japan at the least.

  2. Vincent Says:

    I heard in Korea they have reality TV shows about video gamers. I heard that gamers who are really good at games like Starcraft or Warcraft are celebrities for all intents and purposes. I heard that professional gamers have shows on primetime and championship games are broadcast on TV with running commentary. I’d like to go and see sll this stuff for myself, though.

  3. FerrousBuller Says:

    Geez, Bonnie, do you not read the magazine you work for? :-)

    From what I’ve read, the attitudes towards games, gamers, and the gaming “community” – however you define those terms – varies from country to country. E.g., I get the impression that in the U.K. – and maybe the rest of Europe – pasttimes we see as fairly geeky, such as RPGs and videogames, are fairly normal: not everyone’s into them, but you aren’t seen as a freak for liking them, either. But I also get the feeling that there are fewer hardcore fans over there than here; that for them, such things are just pasttimes, not obsessions. Sorta the way drinking wine is an accepted part of French culture, yet they have lower rates of alcoholism than we do, IIRC.

    Which may say something interesting about us, if true: why are we prone to hardcore fanaticism, while Europeans just see it as another hobby?

    I had a friend who spent a couple of years in college in Ireland a decade or so ago. And IIRC he said that the majority of members – or at least a healthy percentage – of the PnP RPG club he hung out with were actually women; and that they were generally of the liberal-artsy variety, rather than the “hardcore geeks” we’re used to seeing in the U.S. Granted, this may have been specific to the college and/or gang he hung out with. Still, he gave the impression that RPGs – as well as comic books and a couple other things we see as geeky – weren’t nearly as stigmatized as they tend to be here.

    Now take Japan: things like manga, anime, and videogames are all quite mainstream; it’s fairly normal to see someone reading the latest Shonen Jump or playing a portable game on the subway, that sort of thing. OTOH, the hardcore obsessive fans – the otaku – do tend to be socially marginalized and maligned.

    My gut instinct is that gaming has become increasingly mainstream worldwide, particularly as two entire generations have grown up with gaming in the last 20 years or so; but that hardcore fandom is generally frowned upon. I.e., it’s fine to like games, as long as you’re not obsessive about it.

    So chances are we’ll always been seen as freaks. Hooray! ;-)

  4. Zack Says:

    I don’t really feel that geeky or stigmatized for liking RPGs. It’s true that I don’t know many others who enjoy them, but it seems like Final Fantasy in particular is perfectly acceptable in the mainstream in America.

  5. Vince Says:

    Whats really interesting is that geek culture itself is actually becoming cool in America. Napoleon Dynamite seems to have created or at least catalyzed this trend. But this begs the question, what happens when the geeks are cool? Then what is a geek? The mind boggles. For more on this, and some interesting and fun music to boot, check out the 70’s classic: The Point. I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but if you imagine having a point on your head being the equivalent of “geekdom” today, you may see what I’m getting at.

    Dig it.

  6. MD² Says:

    Sorry, long time since I could last post.

    It seems to me, at least from here, that geek culture in America as been “becoming cool” for quite some time now. It’s only that things are speeding up.

    The definition of geekness varies a lot from country to country. In Japan, from what I could see, games are mainstream. The otakus are not shunned because of their activities, but because of the extreme nature of their devotion to it (as a japanese friend of mine explained me: playing Final Fantasy’s cool, having your room filled with FF swag is weird… but then I noticed owning only one piece of it can throw their sensors offshores).

    In France, we’ve had our anti-video game movement, but they’ve never enjoyed as much popular support as, say, the anti-tabletop RPG movement, and they were limited to far-right traditionalists. As far as I remember video-games have always been accepted as a past time as legitimate as any other. When I was a child, my 40 year-old, father of two, neighbour was a real video game buff, he owned several arcade cabinets and computers and he wasn’t considered weird by the neighbourhood. Quite the contrary.
    Also, you don’t see here that strange divide that seem to permeate american fiction: the video-game-playing geek versus the assertive male dominator sport buff. Whether it’s from childhood memories or from experience with the kids I teach to, I’ve never seen that divide here ( in life or local fiction… it’s mostly an imported meme). Those who want to play, play. Most of the time games are a good bonding tool for kids (and later on, adults) which might otherwise have nothing in common. So, yeah, I don’t think geekiness and video games are linked here. Actually, thinking of how the way they’re presented/used in popular medias, I’d say may more be linked to class perception than anything.

    But then my personal experiences may have been off the map.

    Can’t really help for the rest of Europe. Sorry.

    Intreseting comparison between video games and wine drinking… makes me want to dig a bit.

  7. Bonnie Says:

    I've never been to Japan, let alone live there. So all this might just be American fantasy interpretation of Japan.
    From what I can tell from people who do live there (I’ve never been either), being an otaku isn’t necessarily okay – i.e., it doesn’t come with the social thumbs up. But, as other people have mentioned, what you’d have to do to be called an otaku/geek differs from American culture as well.

    I heard in Korea they have reality TV shows about video gamers.
    Ah Korea, a land of wonder. What I want to know is, well, more… I understand the extreme wired-ness of their current situation, but I want to learn about the culture conditions that pushed this forward, or, specifically, how they differ from other Asian societies. Any thoughts?

    Geez, Bonnie, do you not read the magazine you work for?
    I try, but after I finish soaking them all in a whole other issue comes along! That one though I hadn’t read. Thanks!

    It seems like Final Fantasy in particular is perfectly acceptable in the mainstream in America.
    I hear you, but still, if you walked up to the “cool kids” at a high school, and started a conversation about Final Fantasy, would that go over? For most of us, it’s fine, but it still doesn’t jive with the ideal image of cool America.

    But this begs the question, what happens when the geeks are cool?
    Enter the twilight zone… Well, I suppose new things would become geeky. I would bet they’ve already popped up. What’s really uncool these days? Let us know so we can jump on the bandwagon early.

    I'd say may more be linked to class perception than anything.
    Hmm, so gaming is seen as low class? Or middle class, because of the expense? Do tell…

    Also, MD^2, speaking of the cool-ness of France, I’ll be back in grand ole Paris at the end of this month. So keep a look out for a redhead who can’t pronounce her French r’s and runs around the city rambling about the nature of game (because that’s definitely how I just spend the last few days in Wales :-).

  8. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    Will Wright actually jumped into the topic of Otaku in his GDC keynote. In his case, obsession becomes a part of the game design process, and his most favorite part at that. In order to design a game, Wright starts with an idea, and basicallly “geeks out” about it, doing all the research, and making it his primary obsession for months at a time. Evidence of this was seen in his keynote, which bounced back and forth between a discussion on the design process, and his own musings on astrobiology, which he has thoroughly embraced in designing Spore. Will Wright has also graced the cover of this month’s Wired Magazine, making him both a total geek, and a totally cool geek. Score one for our side!

  9. Bonnie Says:

    Okay, who said Wired was cool? I mean, I think they rock, you think they rock, we all think they rock. But we’re also all geeks. Keep this in mind…

    Also, I love a man who can use “geek” as a verb. Let’s go geeking. Oh yes, let’s! I’m not exactly sure what it would entail, but I imagine something like cow-tipping. And maybe a light saber. Use your imagination.

  10. MD² Says:

    So keep a look out for a redhead who can't pronounce her French r's and runs around the city rambling about the nature of game.

    Well, if you’re not afraid of being stumbled upon by the unholy result of an experience in mixing a depressive Beatles without pot with an 70’s existentialist fanboy without the tobacco, and a failed early 80’s rocker without glam, I’ll start looking around.
    Beware the little grey hood, though.

  11. Bonnie Says:

    A failed early 80's rocker without glam
    No glam? No glam!?! This relationship is over.

    How are things in Paris these days? My paranoid relatives keep telling me it’s no place for a foreign student at the moment, but I doubt it’s really all that bad. If the stories I hear in America are any indication, I’d be more afraid of the police than the student “rioters”…

  12. MD² Says:

    How are things in Paris these days?

    Honestly ? While french media tend downplay a lot of that’s going on, US media seem to be blowing it out of proportions. My biggest problem in the last two weeks while attending school, was with lack of public transportation, and that this is quickly resorbing.
    I’d say you don’t risk any more than a loss of your time, and that’s why you should avoid universities’ vicinities if you choose to come.

    Of course things can still deteriorate till the end of the month, but given how much ridiculous and senseless all this has become, I think things are bound to get better. Our President is already asking officials/people not to enforce/use a law that has been promulgated ! If this was happening in any other country it’d end classified a new banana-republic (we may already be there, I haven’t check today’s foreign newspapers yet). :)
    Seriously, though unless things change drastically, you’re not taking much more risks coming here than celebrating St. Patrick's Day in a pub.

  13. Cfklbsjj Says:

    But you are say, that this idead is bad?,

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