I play games, I read comics and fiction books, I watch sci-fi and fantasy shows. I read about these topics and, sometimes, write about them. Geeks, nerds, dorks – whatever the term is, somehow it clusters around individuals who travail these waters. Through whichever of these rapids we swim, we orientate ourselves according to gods and goddesses of these places, creators we love and who we think are better than others. We have our own rituals and meetings; our own language and engagements; our own hierarchy and focus; we pay penance and sacrifices at the altars of the pantheon who create these things we love.
We feud and wage wars based on myths we know are created (how many wept when Superman first died? How many forgave Grant Morrison his stupid writing in Batman? Modern Warfare or Battlefield 3?). To anyone who claims us antisocial, they simply gaze too quickly: they see us sitting with the funny books with a cover of some guy with lasers coming out his eyes; they see us sitting hunched and pushing buttons, while things explode and die screaming on screen; they note the dragon and scantily-clad girl on the cover of our book. In that frozen moment, the stereotype of the nerd is born, the monster of the geek rises, the spectre of the dork begins to haunt.
But, as I’ve noted, there’s more to it. We are a proud species, increasingly so. We are like children who love a kitten so much we squeeze it to death. We are in danger constantly of doing that to our mediums: comics, games and so on. But part of what makes it interesting is watching someone defend to the death the genius of his favourite creator or superhero or game.
These mediums call to people who are, more often than not, smarter than average, those who were picked on by thuggish brutes who had more neck than brain; it appeals to those who never understood why you would throw a ball instead of a grenade. The danger is that its siren song can suck you into a world so much that you mistake self-imprisonment for self-satisfaction. The real world also requires our attention, just as much as our beloved mediums.
I am worried about the amount of time I sometimes spend lost in made-up worlds. The intricacies of dark machinations vying for the throne (pick your fantasy series), the fate of characters we’ve followed for years, the new developments in gaming companies – these are things that we care about. It’s not simply the actual experience of playing the latest games but reading about what goes into them, what the results are of new tweaks, how to improve and so on. Sucked in so deeply, we forget out there is a real world filled with more problems than any dragon-filled mountain, orc-trapped city or glittering vampire queens.
Pictured: Glittering Vampire Queen
I’m no better. Falling in love with comics has made me decide to do write the damned things, which is no better than peeling your skin and diving into a container of salt, all while listening to The Parlotones (i.e. self-inflicted torture). It truly is one of the most amazing experiences, though, since I love working with artists who are infinitely more talented than me (you can see an example of that remarkable talent and me trying to keep up here).
My desire and ambitions however are troublesome. I don’t want to lose myself so completely that my energy is wasted saving the lives of digital instead of real people; I don’t want to become so talented at Guitar Hero that I don’t learn an important skill like effective communication and teaching. I have made efforts to do that for myself but I am worried about the loss of superbly talented and smart people who are giving so much of themselves to fictional worlds and universes.
I know I sound like an old codger, but I also think that there is much we ordinary folk, the nerds, the geeks, etc. can do. As I say, the mediums we are involved in tend to, by definition, cater to those who are already smart, passionate and driven (what else would you call someone who regularly has to achieve 100% completion in his games?). Many of you, like me, are already involved in organisations or institutions which educate and/or “give back”. For me, I get to occasionally teach medical students and discuss ethics with medical professionals – aside from teaching first year students how to make arguments, look at evidence, assess journal papers, and so on. But collectively, I think we could do more.
I’m not calling for an Occupy movement (ugh, hippies) – I’m simply asking you to be aware that, by definition, you’re probably quite a bright person which means your society could use you to help those with less than you, in worse conditions, or who are less educated. Whether it’s just taking time out to learn about the news or cutting down on game time to read more science or politics, I think any little bit of awareness of our world helps.
To be upfront, our world sucks. There’s no restart, no going back. We are here and our decisions truly do matter: whether to our immediate loved ones or to the world at large. Our omissions is an action and if we choose not to act, we’re still choosing. Things are complicated, horrible, unfair. We live in a world where people die of starvation while a few hours away by plane someone dies from too much; where children are born with incurable cancers and earthquakes destroy lives. A place where an entire government can restrict access to proper healthcare merely because of the sway of a medical quack. Being aware is the first step to change but change and betterment also requires creativity and intelligence – and nerds and geeks and whathaveyou have that (you have all the trophies? Seriously?). Again, I’m not saying you or I are going to change the world, but we can at least be more aware its not going to change itself. But that requires time. It’s too easy to get sucked into a world with the appearance of complexity, but which you can just turn off or restart. We have our own rituals and rhythms about places that don’t even exist. Think about what would happen if we turned our gaze occasionally toward places and people that do.
South Africa has crap blogs. I know, I have one. Learn to communicate, write widely and express your view eloquently, with good argument, publicly.
Don’t be afraid to voice your view but if you are shown to be wrong, accept it humbly and show yourself to be a better person than most by understanding this: it’s more important that you can be wrong than that you always right.
If you have a talent, find out how you can contribute to an organisation that requires volunteer work: it could be organising a hospital’s filing system (believe me, they’re horrid), offering to teach your favourite subject in townships, working in a charity bookshop (you’ll find great books and be helping), and so on. If you’re involved in something like tech or the web, offer to make websites for charities or organisations that could use wider exposure.
Save money on immediately buying games and wait for them to be cheaper. Usually, Game of the Year editions are cheaper and come with all the necessary features. Start a small collection of money you’ve saved (similar to a swearing penny jar). Give it to a charity of your choice.
I think teaching is the biggest way to contribute. But not everyone is a good teacher. Education however is not merely teaching people, but also managing various administrative aspects. If you are not good with people, there are always background jobs that could be done to help.
And so on.
I would love to hear your stories and what you’ve done or do. I don’t claim to be saintly or the most ethical person in the world. I am merely concerned and know that people who I share my love of comics, games and so on with, are highly educated and brilliant people (more so than me). There’s little doubt that it is similar here despite the occasional troll who Geoff’s (now non-existent) beard scares away. We are passionate but we must use our passion in a way to benefits more people. Be careful of becoming too comfortable with the make-believe world, when the very world you live in crumbles around you. Apathy is one of the biggest causes of problems and perhaps, using our passion, we can at least be aware of our own. Because even being aware is better than being consistently ignorant.
Last Updated: November 10, 2011