Genuine Enthusiasm, Different Experiences, and “Fake” Geeks

I don’t really see people start playing video games very often. The people I know who play games have played them since childhood, like I have. Seeing a good friend start to discover games is a novel and interesting experience. (It’s also interesting to talk to older, adult-like folk who played games in their youth and have different attitudes towards games now.)

My friend, T, is getting more involved and interested in video games in her mid-20’s. I enjoy showing her games that I’ve enjoyed, or talking to her about other games she’s heard of or experienced. Like many people, T was very excited about the announcement of Fallout 4.  Unlike a lot of people who were excited about Fallout 4, she at least had an excuse for not knowing it was coming. (Seriously, I was excited about this almost 3 years ago- why are people so behind?) Both T and I were excited about Fallout 4, though we have very different histories with gaming, Bethesda products, and the Fallout universe.

I was very surprised by T’s excitement over Fallout 4 because she did not play Fallout 3. T doesn’t have the experience of walking out of Vault 101 and discovering a wasteland DC. She never pieced together Project Purity or found her father. She has not experienced the chilling surrealism of Tranquility Lane. She does not have fond memories of strolling through Megaton or that instant emotional bond of rescuing Dogmeat. These are some of the experiences that fuel my enthusiasm for the next Fallout game. T doesn’t have these experiences to draw upon, so it seems she cannot be excited for the same reasons I am excited.

But she is, in fact, excited for Fallout 4. Her lack of these past experiences doesn’t make her enthusiasm or interest any less genuine than that of the most avid, longest-addicted Fallout aficionado.

Some time ago, there was a particular uproar over “Fake Geek Girls.” I think the general sentiment was eclipsed and adopted by a lot of the hate and anger contained within Gamergate, so the claims that attractive females were entering Geek culture for male attention fell by the wayside to give room to more wrathful accusations. I found the claims interesting when understood through sociological notions of “Groups,” or social cliques and subcultures. There was a strange defensiveness about it, which seemed to implicate several social facets (not merely gender). I imagine there are many who would take umbrage at T’s excitement over Fallout 4, given her lack of previous game experience. I think this criticism of T’s excitement can be interpreted in a coherent way that still leaves room for the sincerity of T’s enthusiasm.

The excitement of long-time gamers and Fallout fans can be understood as a symptom of the ways in which experience drives perception. As we perceive new experiences, we connect them to past experiences. When a fan sees the latest Fallout 4 trailer, the fan’s perception (including the internal state of reaction) is actually different* than the perception of a non-fan. Fundamentally, this is no more controversial a claim than asserting that each individual has uniquely subjective perceptions and experiences. Accordingly, the challenges against the sincerity of non-fans are reducible to claims that different subjective perceptions draw upon different non-shared experiences; it is no more than claiming, “You cannot feel what I feel,” which is always already true for most definitions of the notion of “feel.”

So, T cannot be excited about Fallout 4 because of her memories or experiences in playing Fallout 3 (or 2, or the original). But T can still perceive an impressive trailer with exciting gameplay, glimpse an interesting and wondrous world, and want to have those future experiences.

One of the outcomes of the “Fake Geek Girl” accusations was the rejoinder that there is no certification test to become a Geek: Previous knowledge and experience simply isn’t requisite for participation in Geeky things. Though there are other relevant sociological implications in that sordid affair, I think it is safe to conclude that T’s excitement can be entirely appropriate and genuine without some kind of certificate of previous game experience. It may be that my excitement is different, in that it has a different basis, but no fact of my own experience can undermine the reality of another’s perception. To claim that T’s excitement is disingenuous because I thought Fallout 3 was one of the greatest games ever made is to claim based on that level of absurdity.

*Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have commented a few times on the fact of their respective fatherhoods influenced their experience of playing The Last of Us. Would Fallout 3 be a more powerful game for someone who had recently lost their own father, or never knew him? Would anyone assert that a stable, reasonable relationship with my own father undermines my proclaimed love of Fallout 3?

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Fake Geek Girls Controversy: Subcultural Elitism

Apparently, there has been a controversy over “Fake Geek Girls”, particularly manifested as attractive women without an obsessive background in geek culture appearing in revealing costumes at comic and games conventions. The accusation, I take it, is that these women are not devout followers of the Geek Way, but only arrive for attention and approval by the primarily male geek population. Some have responded with outrage and indignation at this behavior. Others have responded with outrage and confusion directed at the outraged and indignant. Though a multitude of factors play into this phenomenon, I feel it is not altogether confusing to understand why devoted Geeks might be upset at the alleged “Fake Geek Girls.” (Please remember that explaining the actions of people is not an endorsement of their sentiments; I can explain how or why someone commits murder, but this doesn’t mean I’m in favor of it.)

My view is that Geek culture evolved through the 80s and 90s as a subversion of mainstream culture. It attracted those who would not or could not fit into the main culture, often as a result of valuing intelligence and academic rigor over physical appearance and insincere social bonding. If Geek culture is understood as a reaction to a culture of artificial appearance and vacuous social interactions, it becomes much clearer why “FGG” might be so upsetting. Geeks left main culture in rejection and created a new world in which they felt safe and comfortable. FGG represents an invasion of that new world by the world they rejected (and that rejected them). Geeks may very well feel threatened by the apparent imposition (or at least the arrival) of the values and norms they deliberately excluded from their newly created culture. This might be understood as the children who didn’t get picked for basketball (“Geeks”) going to another part of the playground to play a different game, and then the popular kids (who previously rejected the Geeks) left the basketball game to go play with the Geeks.

This understanding does not justify such anaphylactic reaction, of course, but the meeting of different cultures (especially those viewed as in conflict) is always challenging. Yet it certainly seems that seeking common ground and earnestly desiring to share ones hobbies and values is a healthier reaction that withdrawing from newcomers and seeking their immediate eviction.