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Midnight Pub

On the Embaddening of Geek Culture


Yes, "embaddening." As in the opposite of "engoodening." These are two neologisms to which I've grown quite fond. They're perfectly cromulent words.

Tonight I was playing some Heretic (an old game on the Doom engine for those unfamiliar. I recommend checking it out) and that got me thinking a lot about the way that many things traditionally considered parts of "geek culture" have developed over the years and decades and become very mainstream.

My age and background have put me in a strange spot temporally and culturally. I'm only 28, but I grew up in a very rural area with a family who didn't have much money, but my biological father was a freelance software engineer, so our house was always full of computers. I didn't have any friends growing up, really, (not until I was a teenager anyway) and so I spent the vast majority of my time reading, tinkering with computers, watching sci-fi TV (especially The Outer Limits, Star Trek and Stargate SG1) and playing video games (usually whatever pirated copies of various games my father would bring back home after meeting with other computer people). I was very much outside what would be considered normal for kids who shared my age and geographical location. I was definitely ostracized for being the nerdy kid. This formative experience shaped my identity to a great deal, even today.

However, because of my relative youth, I was still a teenager when these things started to become mainstream in the 2000s, and I welcomed it! I suppose this was because the ostracization was still fairly fresh and I wanted this to change. However, in a somewhat monkey's-paw-esque twist of fate, when geek culture started to break into the mainstream, it lost a certain ineffable quality. I'm unsure what exactly changed. I'm not inclined to blame newcomers for it, but something changed. The change wasn't immediate, and I didn't begin to perceive it until the mid 2010s, but somewhere along the line everything seems to have lost its... character? I can't quite put my finger on the aspect that was lost.

Today I feel everything is designed for the lowest common denominator. Even today's Star Trek is written by and for people who don't know Star Trek. Obviously there are plenty of good examples of contemporary TV, film, games, etc., but it feels like this is increasingly the exception rather than the rule. I don't think things should be hard to access, but it seems to me that everything today is just shoveled directly into people's mouths with no effort required. Try asking an acquaintance to send you an email instead of keeping touch on some sort of corporate social media platform and see how hard they push back.

Over the past year I've been devoting a great deal of energy to recusing myself from these types of environments and digging deeper into hidden corners of the internet and this has helped me reclaim some of this lost je-ne-sais-quoi. It has been a solitary pursuit, but I mustn't forget that it was all a solitary pursuit originally. There was a time when D&D wasn't something you could bring up to everybody at work. I get a similar feeling about things like Gemini and the Fediverse. "Solitary" was the name of the game for the Great Nerds of Yore.

That's not to say that it's all bad. I'm glad I can wear a Star Trek t-shirt in public now and get compliments instead of sneers and jeers. I'm also glad to see more people enjoying things now that the social stigma is gone.

Of course I don't know everything and it's entirely possible I'm completely incorrect in my assessment. Maybe I'm just starting to get old?

Write a reply


~stargazer wrote (thread):

After reading this I realized that my formative years were very similar and I experienced a bit nostalgia among those words. I believe that your assessment is spot on!

~abacushex wrote (thread):

~kyle mentioned Star Wars as a prime example of what you're talking about and I have to agree, it's the first thing I thought of. I'm old enough to have seen the first run of it in the theater, and to remember freaking out with joy when I saw the first commercial for action figures and OMG an X-wing!

Part of my reaction now is I'm sure being older and interests changing, but I didn't see the last few movies until they were almost out of the theater, and the very last I waited for streaming and just caught it at home. Haven't seen any of The Mandalorian, even as good as I've heard it is. We've achieved Peak Star Wars and to me it's just oversaturated.

Same with gaming. The last gaming series I enjoyed was Half-Life. Single-player stories, well developed, very absorbing, and played alone. Most things now are designed around team play, online play, gaming headsets and a kind of shit-talking, low-level chest thumping about one's own skills vs. the other n00bs seems to always be in force. The nerds have their own locker room now. So that appeal for me is also gone.

I think I'm getting at the same thing you are, and it's clearly not an age thing given our age differences; I learned to enjoy my nerdiness in solitude, and at most with a very small number of other people. I never wanted it to be a 'culture' or a team sport. I just wanted time to go off into my own world with it, and not find it an overcrowded room. The only true nerd culture was probably the nerds at MIT, and they earned it, built it. They didn't just buy it.

I imagine it's a similar story for anyone attracted to the un-marketed corners of the Internet.

~starbreaker wrote (thread):

I get it. It used to be that being a geek was a subculture. It wasn't necessarily a subculture people chose, but one into which they were pushed because they were too "weird" to fit in with the normies. But many of the most popular artifacts of geek culture (like Star Trek) have been commodified and made normie-friendly. They're geek-lite at most.

Fortunately, there's still plenty of really obscure shit available. Everybody watches Star Trek, but how many trekkies have read even one novel in C. J. Cherryh's FOREIGNER saga, about a human linguist/translator/diplomat navigating a society where humans are the aliens?

~uirapuru wrote:

I know how you feel, and we are of the same generation. I was also deemed a nerd when younger, but that was mainly because I studied a lot, liked math, read lots of books and was mostly quiet. Now it seems to me that nerd is just a person who fails to take a shower.

Still, there are two points I'd like to make. First, I'm very distant of the current geek/nerd culture of nowadays. Second, I believe that everyone experiences some kind of longing for the times of yore, how things "used to be", more often than not this is an illusion, things are just different, and our past might not be exactly better. Anyway, we might be getting old indeed, heck I feel much more alive and comfortable interacting on gemini than with any nerd.

Finally, I'm also glad that I can still enjoy many of the past activities that I loved so, like playing table-top RPGs, and I know that out there there are many people like me, our group simply changed, the meanings of words drift with time.

~kyle wrote (thread):

Reading your post filled me with nostalgia!

Besides that, yes, I think your perception is correct, or at least I do perceive the same.

About movies and series, there's an obvious trend of revival of classics, but to be honest it feels like a vulgar attempt to make money on people's nostalgia. Yes, young adults are those who earn money, those you can milk. And what's better than nostalgia as a trigger?

I'm now thinking of star-wars: bought from Disney, who immediately spawned tons of material and started to dictate what is canon and what not. And if you happen to write some book set in the same universe (as many old ones already exist), keep your lawyers ready.

Let's face it, taking an old setting, making some cheap content that keeps winking at old patrons, and filling the gap with extra special effects, does not make a good movie. If anything it makes me feel sad about the forever gone old times.

On the plus side, there's always a new place where the hordes of corporation-driven normies are not able to get quite yet. And the recesses of the Internet (such as Gemini) seem to be the right place where one can still find that authenticity we all crave for.

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