A place for new ideas to settle.

09 December 2014

Weird nerd culture

This post is a quickie follow-up to: Excessivisms, cargo cult politics, and #GamerGate

In my previous post I posited that there was something odd about "gamer culture":
Hm. There's a problem here: it feels right, like there's an analogous statement for this sort of potentially-toxic cultural attitude. I'm just not sure what the actual connection to video games is. It's not simply owning a lot of games: I own a lot of games (thanks for nothing, Steam sales) but I haven't played most of them (yet) and moreover I don't consider myself a "gamer" per se. It's not simply enthusiasm for games, at least not just any kind of game: one sort of has to be highly enthusiastic for a definite class of games, and maybe even make a show of disdaining other classes of games. And it's not simply skill at playing games, though that is a sort of factor: certainly "gamers" tend to be into the more "hardcore" games.

Here's the disturbing thought: what if "gamer culture" is actually 'gamer' culture? That is: Identifying as a 'gamer' validates one's character, and many problems can be solved by associating primarily with other 'gamers.'

Yup. I think we've got it. The seeds of politicization were planted deep in the past.
Then along comes +Meredith L. Patterson (@maradydd) writing at Medium: "When Nerds Collide":
Even so, science, technology, and mathematics continue to attract the same awkward, isolated, and lonely personalities they have always attracted. Weird nerds are made, not born, and our society turns them out at a young age. Tufekci argues that “life’s not just high school,” but the process of unlearning lessons ingrained from childhood takes a lot more than a cap and gown or even a $10 million VC check, especially when life continues to reinforce those lessons well into adulthood. When weird nerds watch the cool kids jockeying for social position on Twitter, we see no difference between these status games and the ones we opted out of in high school. No one’s offered evidence to the contrary, so what incentive do we have to play that game? Telling us to grow up, get over it, and play a game we’re certain to lose is a demand that we deny the evidence of our senses and an infantilising insult rolled into one.

This phenomenon explains much of the backlash from weird nerds against “brogrammers” and “geek feminists” alike. (If you thought the conflict was only between those two groups, or that someone who criticises one group must necessarily be a member of the other, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.) Both groups are latecomers barging in on a cultural space that was once a respite for us, and we don’t appreciate either group bringing its cultural conflicts into our space in a way that demands we choose one side or the other. That’s a false dichotomy, and false dichotomies make us want to tear our hair out.
Hey, that's my root problem too! So the "gamer" and "hacker" cultures are structurally similar—no surprise, they historically drew from the same demographic pool and were once pretty much identical. And yet as much as I think I should be strongly affiliated with that tribe, sharing as many of the same thought processes as I do, I don't share any of the lived experiences. Sort of like a puffin raised in a zoo who finds out that there are wild puffins. So that's interesting.