Identifying as Geek

A Mon Calamari cruiser faces up against a Victory-class Star Destroyer

Here’s a funny story. This afternoon, unexpectedly, my wife came home from the gym a little earlier than usual. She caught me, to my deepest shame, in flagrante delicto, playing a solo game of Star Wars Armada, a tabletop miniature war game, in our dining room. The table was a mess: cards and tokens scattered across my make-believe star field, an Imperial Star Destroyer toppled over on its stand, and my Rebel Alliance CR90 Corellian Corvettes and X-Wing squadrons unceremoniously dumped into a bin in my vain attempt to clear the table before she walked in on me. I was unsuccessful.

I really need to stay home today, I’d told her earlier, to write an article about being a geek. This very article, in fact. It was due last week! But somewhere between washing the breakfast dishes and hammering out a thousand words, I was sidetracked by the pew pew sounds in my head.

Bless my wife’s heart, she just said I was a silly, silly man for being embarrassed. “It’s not like you killed someone. Now, change out of your bedclothes and go take a shower.”

Do I identify as “geek”?

I can certainly tick off many of the attributes that make up the geek stereotype. Gamer, uhm, yeah. Introvert, bookish, logical to the point of hair-splitting, with a predilection for science and language. I grew up being told I was smart but lazy. Fashion sense eluded me. Sports? Well, fuck sports. I hated sports, still do, in fact. I also loathed parties and attended only one “soiree” in my entire life, a sad exercise in awkwardness around girls. I liked Star Trek more than Star Wars, not that Star Wars was categorically better but because Trek had more episodes and the women were hotter. I liked being around women, I just couldn’t figure out how best to talk to them.

In school, I had friends, few but quite tight. We would chuck dice, crawling through dungeons in D&D and fighting Galactus in Marvel Super Heroes, back when RPGs were still published by TSR. I was an officer in the Science Club and a card-carrying member of the local Atari Club. On weekends during sleepovers, my friends and I would think up ways to fight crime. You know the Netflix Original, Stranger Things? Yeah. That was us.

Fast forward to the Nineties and my first job was in this newfangled thing called the Internet, back when it was still capitalized. I was a writer, but my team was tasked to design websites, before authoring tools were available. We coded in Notepad, agonizing over HTML tables before slacking off and playing Marathon on our Power Macs when the bosses had left. I’d work in several dot coms, following the golden carrot promise of IPO before shifting to my first love, media, at a tech magazine called T3. I’ve covered tech for various other publications and websites ever since.

Given all of the above, do I identify as “geek”? Question that ten years ago and I would have answered that with a brace of photon torpedoes across your port bow. You doubt my allegiance? Die! But that was then and this is now. And, upon this opportunity for reflection, I’ve found that my loyalties to the church of geek have softened somewhat.

To be a geek back in the 70s and 80s was to be an outlier, to be unpopular. If you were lucky, you’d find like-minded people who shared your passion for weird obscure things. Feelings of alienation, however, were never the exclusive drama of the geek. Growing up, nobody fit in. We just dealt with our insecurities by joining the tribes we identified with the most. We wanted to belong, but not with people that were too different. My wife grew up an outsider, too, one of the unpopular girls in an all-girl Catholic school, but she never thought of herself as a geek. Geeks rejected her, in fact. Instead, she found inclusion among that other fringe group, the Freaks. Oops, did I say Freaks? *DUCKS* I mean creative types. We geeks can be real jerks.

Thing is, as much as I want geek culture to be welcoming to one and all, I don’t believe in an all-encompassing inclusion either. I have mixed feelings about it mainstreaming. How does that saying go? “If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, then trophies are meaningless.” Can a geek lay exclusive claim to Doctor Who? Of course not. But we like to think we can. Feel free to be geeky all you like, but don’t say you’re a geek. Argh. I’m a wretched ball of cognitive dissonance right now. Damn this assignment.

So, I am a geek, yes, but I’d like to think I have leveled up. People change as we move along the X-axis of time. We evolve, we mature. Our roles shift from paladin to father, from thief to breadwinner. We may resist adulting — I know I do — but it feels great to revel in the new adventures. That is not to say that I have surrendered my dice. My man cave remains an unfathomable den of traps and treasure, filled with games, comics, toys and other mementos only I can sort out. But the fact that I do have a room to designate a man cave rather than the spare bathroom I used to have in my parents’ house is a sign that I’ve moved up in life. I hardly spend much time in there, but occasionally I let my X-Wings fly.

This essay originally appeared in 2.O Magazine.