The one thing that has always bugged me the most about sports is the use of the word "we." As in, "We won!" No, you didn't win, John Sofaturd from Nothingsville, Ohio. You didn't do anything except sit on your ass and obtain a contact high from the fruitful efforts of someone else who worked their ass off for their success.
To my disappointment, gamers can sometimes have this same habit. Not too long ago, a friend of mine posted an image on Facebook associating the reclusive and unorthodox lifestyle of Nikola Tesla with that of a gamer/comic lover/D&D player, so on and so forth. This was all accomplished via the generalization of the term "geek." Sports fans, meet gamers, the DeVito to your Schwarzenegger.
This made me realize that the debate should not be regarding the differences between "geek" and "nerd"; the two terms virtually mean the same thing, these days. What the debate should be, though, is what different types of geeks/nerds exist. I was led to wonder just why my geek friends enjoy associating themselves with scientific geniuses, when they know practically nothing about science, themselves, as well as how to distinguish the two.
I then proceeded to try that good old-fashioned sociological method. I asked a variety of attendees at E3 two questions: one pertaining to general "hobbyist geek" knowledge and one of general "intellectual geek" knowledge. I wanted to see if we gamers are indeed the same as brainiacs, or if we're simply holding up a "We're #1!" foam finger of our own.
My theory is that hobbyist geeks (gamers like us) tend to force a relation between themselves and scientific minds because both parties can sometimes live reclusive and socially awkward lifestyles, and also because intellectuals are generally admired by society during their adult years, whereas gamers are still usually seen as lazy and indolent. Because of the former, the temptation to adopt the latter is more prevalent. Albert Einstein used to piss his pants because he was too busy solving an equation, whereas I pissed myself because I was too busy wearing down that 2+ million HP boss. Score! We're so much alike!
This is obviously something not exclusive to geek lifestyles. Plenty of people constantly associate themselves with other sources of admiration, whether or not they have a direct connection to that source. The truest form of this could be considered nationalism -- feeling a sense of pride for the accomplishments of individuals sharing your national identity and/or country of origin. If a term for this kind of behavior exists, I don't know it, so I'm just going to make one up for the sake of this study: Michael-Phelps-ism. It actually rolls right off the tongue, when you say it quickly.
So the Michael-Phelps-ism regarding gamers/comic lovers and science geeks carries a rather obvious distinction. A hobbyist geek is someone who typically adopts pastimes and means of entertainment that are not only manageable without any sort of social interaction but also sometimes encourage it. The term "single player" is difficult to find in other avenues besides gaming. This is why the general public will often shy away from these hobbies (at least for now), no matter how fun they are. Plenty of evidence exists to back up the assumption that these hobbies can and will become mainstream eventually, but for the sake of this study, let us all agree that we're still the minority here.
An intellectual geek, on the other hand, is someone who dedicates the majority of their personal time to study within one or several scholarly and scientific fields. Yes, this lifestyle often doesn't require anything past solitude as well, and sometimes encourages it, but we must not forget that it's easy to be a gamer, whereas it takes a lot of hard work to be a genius. Just because they have one or two things in common does not make them directly linked to each other. To sink down to my natural level here, I have a penis that works fairly well, but I'm not going to even pretend I could handle being a porn star, even if we have the same equipment. Therefore, I humbly tip my hat to the Bob McHawks and Richard McCrackins of the world and openly admit that they can do what I cannot. Just because I'm American doesn't mean I get to pat myself on the back for World War II. I may be ambidextrous, but that doesn't mean I can feel gratification over any of Shigeru Miyamoto's accomplishments. You get the idea.
You'd think that would be enough, right? To many of you out there, I'm stating something as obvious as "birds fly, fish swim." But because hobbyists find a lot of comfort and validation in relating the effort it takes to play a game to the effort it takes to learn differential calculus, as well as the lifestyles associated with them, people will often ignore common sense to protect their reassuring views. Since critical thinking and deductive reasoning shatter these views, and since I love ruining people's blissful assumptions about life, I figured I'd take this a step further and gather some hard evidence.
As stated before, I proposed two questions to the people at E3, be they exhibitors or attendees. The first set of questions were basic trivia that any typical gamers would know. Some examples:
- In the popular puzzle game Portal, what are the two colors that your portals appear in?
- What is the name of the main protagonist in Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation?
- What is the common term for the diving suit-clad behemoths in the game BioShock?
I know, these questions make you smack your forehead. You have to remember, though, that to know them requires us to be somewhat steeped in gaming culture -- especially if we've never played these games before. So anyone who doesn't really care about gaming (i.e. our parents), won't know what the hell a "Big Daddy" is ... besides some mothers, but that's a different story.
On the flip side, however, I also asked these same people basic trivia that anyone mildly knowledgeable in the sciences would know. These are questions that the average person might forget by the time they exited high school but that an intellectual would know due to their learned lifestyle and the proximity of their peers. Examples are:
- What is Newton's third law of motion?
- What is the measure of acceleration of Earth's gravity?
- What does the acronym "DNA" stand for, and what are the names of its four nucleotides?
I know, some of you are smacking your foreheads again. But I must remind you that, while some of us gamers have retained this knowledge from our school days (those currently in grade school need not apply), the majority of people in the world require general scientific knowledge in the same sense that someone in New York City requires a car to get to work. If it's not necessary to get on with life at its most basic level, most individuals won't bother giving a shit. If I can't add or subtract in 2012, I'm pretty screwed, but if I can't name every element on the Periodic Table, what concern is that of mine? This fact is only more prevalent when I tally up the results of my E3 experiment.
I asked a total of 193 people one of the 15 questions in both categories. Why 193? Because I was at E3 doing the whole journalism thing -- going to appointments, demoing games, interviewing people, etc. -- thus I didn't have a lot of time to indulge this little experiment of mine. And because 194 can kiss my ass. We're not on good terms.
Of the 193 people, 176 of them answered the "hobbyist" question correctly. Oddly enough, the most missed question was the one pertaining to the portal colors ... even though the answer is on the cover of Portal 2. Eh, people are weird.
Among those same individuals, only 36 answered the "intellectual" questions correctly. The most commonly missed question of this category: Approximately how old is the planet Earth, according to modern science? Good thing Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't read gaming blogs. He'd probably be a bit disappointed at that result, especially considering the common geek's love for time travel and planetary matters.
So what does all this mean? Well, essentially, they are not us and we are not them. As much as we love to consider ourselves the same as the weird, quirky academic champions who the majority of the world respects, we simply have less in common with them than we like to assume. The necessary fundamentals that make up a gamer and a genius are just too different. It doesn't take smarts to be a gamer, any more than it takes dexterity to be a theoretical physicist.
It's not difficult for one to see how such a misconception can exist, though. Plenty of us gamers are old and passionate enough to have had childhoods where we were constantly criticized and belittled for our geeky hobbies on a regular basis. It only makes sense that plenty would develop the habit of looking at venerated scholars who likely suffered similar childhoods and thinking, "He too was teased yet ended up awesome. I must be as well." Also, at one point, the very nature of science fiction (before it became more mainstream) appealed to the aspiring scientific minds of the future, regarding what they could eventually accomplish and create. So some of what we gamers love today did previously appeal mainly to actual bookworms. Unfortunately, that just doesn't seem to be the case these days.
Now, the expected thing for me to do here is go off on anyone who consistently falls into this habit of misguided association. As easy as that would be (plus, I think I sort of already did it at the head of this feature), that's not really the point of this article. Feeling some small sense of pride for other people's accomplishments -- though a bit dishonest -- doesn't really hurt anyone. In fact, most athletes enjoy a good fan club (it usually results in a higher paycheck). No, I'm not here to be a complete dick by calling everyone out on their bullshit; I'm here to be a half-dick by proving that their bullshit is indeed bullshit.
I merely wanted to uncover a particular aspect of the gamer/geek identity, and, what the hell, I also wanted to provide a bit more perspective on the constituents of this young and ever-growing industry. My theories are indeed still theories, and there's no way for me to prove exactly why gamers act the way they do most of the time. But I do think I've provided some decent evidence that we're not so much like the inquisitive individuals who we revere so much and a lot more like the basic, average folks whom we attempt to distinguish ourselves from. We just happen to enjoy a relatively unpopular pastime at the moment, that's all.
Finally, before any of you ask, "If your goal was to affiliate gamers with 'normal' people, then why didn't you ask the general population these same questions?" That wasn't my goal, though I did consider that. I then thought to myself, "Wait a minute, what if the walking accidents at the Pinkberry and Apple Store know the correct answers to the science questions?"
A lot of gamers would probably find that rather depressing, including myself.
In fact ... if you'll excuse me, I need to go Google whatever the fuck Newton's third law is.