Monday, August 19, 2013

3201 part one: Loneliness and Nomenclature

"Is there a word in Klingon for 'loneliness?'  Ah yes... Garr'dock!" 
-Comic Book Guy
   When you read an article or blog entry by a self-confessed nerd self-examining so-called "nerd culture," there's often one of two patterns that gets followed: self-congratulation or condemnation (sometimes rightful condemnation) of other nerds.  It's probably the defining part of the nerd psyche: as an adolescent, they lacked social skills in some way, and while they may have overcome this as an adult, it's still lingering in the back of their mind.  So in order to stop their self-esteem from taking any damage, they either build themselves up or bring others down.  Last year a blog on Forbes (which still confuses me; Forbes?) managed to do both, the author writing at length about how being a nerd meant being intelligent and creative, while also putting down people (actually, women, as her language was quite gender specific) for "pretending" to be nerds to be part of the club.
   This is, of course, bullshit.  Intelligence has nothing to do with whether one reads comic books or not.  In any demographic, you're going to have a lot of morons, some rare brilliance, and a lot of us somewhere in between.  The smartest man I've ever known was a baseball coach and no one called him a nerd.
   And yet, too often I find myself slipping into my own elitism, I find it hard to really respect people.  It's not that I think I'm better than they are, but... well... okay, maybe that's exactly what it is.

   This weekend my brother for 19 years and roommate for 12 months left for North Georgia to live with our parents again.  I'm... still processing it.  A year ago I was quite enjoying moving in with him.  He was new to Columbus, and we would watch movies in the living room, still dark as we had yet to purchase any lamps.  I was optimistic, this was a year of starting fresh in a brand new apartment.  And from September to January, things went quite well.  But with 2013 things just... stopped being good.  My brother had made a group of friends who spent way too often in our apartment, and he took up smoking pot, which sucked the fun right out of him.  He never wanted to go out, never wanted to watch movies.  He'd simply put on a sitcom or video game, watch or play it for fifteen minutes, then leave it on as he went out to the porch for more weed.  He was still himself, just an excessively boring version of himself, one who told lame jokes and was becoming increasingly more misogynist the more time he spent with his friends.
   Meanwhile, my own social life dwindled.  Friends graduated and moved away, joined the Navy, and in one case sadly passed away.  The last member of the once large social circle of my dorm room days is preparing for a transfer to the west coast and with my brother leaving, I've more and more often taken to Skyping with friends from out of town.  This profound boredom is possibly why I decided to finally try out an MMORPG, a kind of video game I'd never been particularly interested in playing before in which you play with hundreds of other players in a large open world.  My friend told me about an upcoming one and he helped me get into the testing cycle for the game, and we've been playing together while we chat on Skype.
   The game is set in a fantasy world with an incredibly complicated backstory (think Lord of the Rings, but translated from Japanese), but it's quite beautiful and has interesting art design, so I looked forward to fulling immersing myself, indulging the fantasy of fighting dragons and casting spells that excited me throughout my youth.  You begin by creating your character.  You can choose between five races, two clans and genders each, plus eight different job types, so there are 160 possible basic characters you could play, but really it's all aesthetic.  That said, I read the backstories on the different races (I skip over elves, because who cares) and note, with some interest, the different naming conventions for each of the ten clans (human hill-people have typical English names, elf names are in French, the hulking beast people have nativistic names, etc).  The character creator is quite diverse, allowing you to make a unique enough looking character so long as they're young and beautiful (it seems no amount of graphical technology could ever force game designers to let you play as, god forbid, a fat person).  In the end, I create a tall, muscular, amazon woman with slate grey skin and pinkish hair, and try hard to think of a name that is creative while fitting in with her culture's naming conventions.
   This is all, of course, fucking ridiculous of me.  This is all flavor, it has nothing to do with gameplay, any more than it matters whether you choose the top hat or the dog in Monopoly.  But, to me, it seemed obvious: why play a video game like this if not to use your imagination, to pretend with childlike excitement to really be exploring a magical world, to really be the heroic knight.
   As I logged into the game, I found this sentiment was not shared.  Walking around me were dozens of other players, their names floating above their head in blue.  Nearly all of them were novelty names.  I saw a large creature named Ned Flanders.  A pair of hobbits named Moe Money and Moe Problems walked by.  I even spotted a cat woman with the disturbing moniker of Wet Panties.
   A worrisome thought occurred to me: was I the nerd to all these people?

Next:  Part two - Entitlement and Sub-sub-culture

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