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The Rise of the Nerd

William Murphy Posted:
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Do you remember the movie Revenge of the Nerds? Who am I kidding? We all probably lived it. Poindexter, Booger, even Ogre, are basically stereotypes of our culture. There’s no sense in trying to hide it. We’re geeks. We’re nerds. We love Babylon 5; we call Cylons “toasters” and say “frack” when cursing. We believe that New Zealand is Middle-earth and that Frodo and Sam may or may not have had a Brokeback Mt. Doom thing going on the side. There was a time when we had to be careful of this knowledge we all share. It was safe to use around our friends, and sometimes our families, but the general public? Pshaw! Only if you felt like being ridiculed or stared at with a cocked-head and furrowed brow as if you were some strange subspecies.

“Look, Mr. Smith,” I’d say to that curmudgeonly old neighbor of mine, “There is nothing wrong with me wearing my Vulcan ears out in public, and as the goatee obviously signifies, I’m not Bill! I’m his evil twin!”

But then something happened. I can’t even quite put my finger on it. Suddenly, as if we’d taken a Tardis to some far off spot on Earth’s timeline… Geek was Chic.

Suddenly the thick black-rimmed glasses I wore growing up because my family was cheap were on every kid with below average eye-sight. Comic book movies became the new darling of Hollywood, and Wolverine went from just some really badass short Canadian (not you, Jon Wood) to a 6’3” buff guy that makes women sweat more than Patrick Ewing. Though the benefits of this are debatable, the sign which Logan’s new cultural relevance poses (that comic books are cool across the sexes no less) is undeniable. The Konami code became a thing of cultural legend. Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron, and so many other Hollywood players (notably already as movie geeks) started crossing over to videogames and somehow this signified to people that maybe there was more to gaming than just overweight thirty-somethings with bad personal hygiene.

Brothers and sisters, over the past decade or so our way of life has gone from rejected as a thing of peculiarity to a societal behemoth which seems to be unstoppable on its path towards mass-media acceptance. We nerds – we proud and mighty Broadsword +1 wielding dorks – we are upon a new age.

The Age of the Geek is at hand and we should most definitely embrace it.

Have I gone off the deep end, yet? It feels like it. I was channeling Clancy Brown’s Brother Justin of Carnivale fame there. But I promise I do have a point with the preceding rant. We really are witness to a dawn of a new era in popular culture. Just look at the growing mainstream success of all forms of our favorite media. Shows like Big Bang Theory, though they play upon certain stereotypes for sure, are a fantastic example that our society is becoming more and more comfortable with the types of things we grow up enjoying which we were often looked down upon for. That’s a damn good feeling, if you ask me. Our taste in film, television, music, and of course games, is driving the engine. We’ve spoken loudly enough and with enough of our expendable income to warrant that the suits on high give us what we want and in droves.

But there is one area that I think is still finding its way. Our MMOs are still pretty much the geekiest form of “geekery” there is. Some might say this is a good thing. Some who may be frightened of our new found societal acceptance might find this fact comforting. “At least we still have our MMORPGs,” they’ll say. But I really hope it doesn’t stay that way forever. And let me explain why.

World of Warcraft is a massive success in this genre. But if you ask most people what they think of the game, they’ll likely ask you what it is or tell you they don’t get the Mr. T commercials anyway. It’s not “mainstream”. And maybe you like it that way. But I can’t help but say that our preferred brand of gaming will never truly grow into what we all want it to be unless it somehow breaks down the nerd-barrier that hovers above it. Cultural shifts have already given fantasy (elves, dwarves, wizards, etc.) a foothold in the American conscience. LotR fans are akin to Star Wars fans, and both movies have spawned a generation of people who willingly accept fantasy and science fiction tactile means of entertainment. And yet for some unknown reason MMORPGs remain on the fringe. Despite the burgeoning success of World of Wacraft, we’re still on the back burner.

I guess all I’m suggesting is that while MMO gaming has come a very long way in just over a decade, there’s still a long way to go. Only now are traditional games getting traction as major forms of entertainment. MMO gaming is still a fringe hobby. But thanks to the Rise of the Nerd, we (players and developers) have a very good opportunity to make our favorite type of game a permanent fixture in the American psyche. We don’t need more WoWs to do that. Warcraft is already doing what Warcraft does. It’s already servicing the people that would like that particular brand of game. Think “Blue Ocean”, think big picture. And I don’t mean give us more Farmvilles either.

What do I mean? Massively Multiplayer Online gaming is in a very rare place and time in our history. As the genre itself begins to break through towards mainstream success, the very notion of gaming is making its first strides into true pop culture acceptance. The eyes of just about everyone will soon be watching these types of games, if they aren’t already. Let’s do our best to seize the day and show them we can do more than whack rats with pointy sticks, shall we?


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.