Originally published on May 5, 2015, winsomnia.com. I’ve since refined my thoughts on the subject. 

If you haven’t been paying attention the last decade, there has been a changing of the guard. Art, the internet, and entertainment are being sculpted by a new and powerful group of people. It’s not your fault if you didn’t notice. This new status quo has long prided itself on a shared experience of social marginalization. Yes, I’m talking about geeks. If you didn’t get the memo, we’re cool now.

The paradox here is that as geek interests become more popular, geeks themselves become more insular. We’re creating factions within our own caste with harsh divides. There are a few reasons for the schism but the big one is that we’ve long learned to embrace our outcast status. As new people are indoctrinated into liking the things we’ve always known were awesome, we have to assert that we’re more awesome. We then have to go further and establish that we were awesome first. The obvious conflict is caused by a lingering resentment toward the old status quo – the so-called jocks. They wouldn’t let us be cool so we can’t let them pretend they like Comics or Star Wars. The more malignant issue, however, lies in the sudden exclusion of women and the LGBT community from being “real” geeks.

Some of this is expected. I mean, persecuting those that persecuted you is justice. As for women and gays? Most of the world is biased toward them. It’s society’s fault. Not ours, right?

Wrong.

I won’t go into the finer points of art influencing society influencing art or rant at length about how entertainment exists somewhere on the peripheral of art and is as relevant to defining and growing a the collective culture of an increasingly interconnected world. Instead, I’ll just point out that we have an opportunity to change some things. We can be a better “in crowd” and actually improve the world. Our reign, however short or long it may be, can be one defined by acceptance and inclusion. We have felt firsthand the sting of ridicule and have no excuse offloading our strife onto another group. It’s time to prove we’re better than previous generations.

If you’re having trouble embracing our new role as a force for societal change, and general purveyors of all things awesome from video games to Star Wars to magic ponies to super heroes, I’ve some suggestions and observations that may help with our benevolent rule.

Acknowledge the Power

If you’re new to geekdom or in denial that geeks “have arrived,” you may experience a kneejerk reaction to deny that the thing you love is popular. Don’t do that. It’s disingenuous and rude. Geek things are awesome and the secret is out. Comics, movies, video games, and traditional board games are grossing billions of dollars worldwide each year and have been going strong for more than a decade.

I’m sorry if that came off as callous but it was a necessary statement to make. Once we’ve acknowledged that geek is in and realize it as strength and not a stigma, we can harness it for the betterment of all.

Awesome for Everyone 

After you’ve acknowledged that geek things are awesome, important, and powerful, tell yourself that everyone can love the things you love. I don’t care what their gender is, who they are, who they love, what their disability is, or where they came from. You know the thing you like is awesome. Why would you hate someone else with taste as good as yours? I can’t state it any simpler. Quit being a jerk to women. And don’t be a bigot toward others.

The next time you catch yourself disparaging someone of minority status or even someone of your own status that you just find “different,” remind yourself that they must be awesome through the Transitive Property. You like awesome things. You are awesome. They must be awesome too. That’s science.

All for One

Stop hating other factions of geek. This one is complicated by the intricate history of rivalries and our human need to form social tribes.

For a long time, I have railed against Call of Duty – mostly because it deserves it. But more specifically because I expect video games to deliver a story, some interesting characters, and more gameplay than what the COD franchise has traditionally provided. Simply stated, I expect more from games and they phone it in under the guise of ‘entertainment.’ That said it is not fair for me to hate on the people that play Call of Duty. As a geek, I understand that when someone insults the thing I love that I feel a need to defend it – and we’ll get to that later.

For now let’s consider the old ethic of reciprocity. Treat others as you want to be treated. It’s as true in geekdom as anywhere else. Don’t insult someone’s thing and you can have a realistic expectation that won’t insult yours. Be the change and lead by example.

As geeks we tie emotions to our interest (the definition of passion). I’m at fault in this respect. Few things anger me more than hearing something like: “It’s just a game. Get over it,” or “You like X? That game sucks.” I have a different interest than them and they have judged me based on that interest. What I end up hearing is closer to, “that thing you just spent time on isn’t as worthy of an emotional response as other things.”

Geeks are the personification of passion. We’re possessed by an inordinate love of a thing or hobby.  The obsession itself has been traditionally linked to a social awkwardness that occurs when a geek gets too excited about their thing and talks about it to someone that has no significant feelings of their own. Former status quos didn’t get it, resulting in our outcast status. We’re in charge now and have no excuse to dismiss other people’s passion. Just because you love a different thing than my thing, doesn’t mean that either is more or less worthy.

What unites all geeks is that inordinate love of a thing. Focus on the love that we all feel. Not whether we have the specific thing in common.

Armor Up

Earlier I mentioned that I understand the need to defend a geekly vice when it becomes the focus of insult. Some of my greatest friendships were forged by the debate that sprung up from either insulting or having my obsession insulted. In specific, I recall making fun of Final Fantasy 8 as a “teeny-bopper, spectacle that forgot it was a game while trying to be a WB TV show” at lunch in college with some recent acquaintances. One of those acquaintances defended FF8 as their favorite in the series and we’ve gone on to be best friends. Too often I see arguments surrounding geek facets go to dark, personal, and heated places. The other half of the previous section is to grow a thicker skin. When a non-geek tells me “it’s just a game.” I can choose to elucidate them or move on. It’s on me to not get offended. When a geek from another faction tells me my geek interest isn’t as cool as theirs, well…

Author Ernest Cline, of Ready Player One notoriety, co-wrote a screenplay for the film Fanboys. It was a cult hit back in 2009.  The movie is a heartwarming comedic piece about a group of Star Wars fans on their quest to steal Episode One from George Lucas’s mansion. There are some fun cameos and an ensemble cast of (then) low-key but talented actors.  One of the best moments features a run in with a bunch of Trekkies and the fight that ensues because of their polarization in interests.

“It’s funny because it’s true” applies to the scene. We’ve all gotten into an argument over whose obsession is better. DC vs. Marvel. Trek vs. Wars. PC vs. Console. The list goes on.  It’s as though geeks are possessed by some ultimate insecurity to prove that the thing they obsess over is fully worth their time and the best possible obsession they are capable of. If someone insults that thing, a knee-jerk defensive response is triggered.

It takes practice to thicken your hide. Recognizing that we’re all geeks and we’re in it together can go far. It takes self-awareness and an ability to laugh off criticism to go the rest of the way. Eventually you might even recognize that geek interests aren’t mutually exclusive. You can like Deadpool and Batman. If someone makes fun of either thing remember that it’s not a personal attack against you.

If the attacks do turn personal, don’t hesitate to stand up for yourself (or others). Defer to the techniques you learned growing up to end the altercation. My mom for instance taught me to never start fights but end them if necessary. That words are underrated in solving disputes and that two-way dialogue matters. If talking didn’t fix it, don’t be afraid to act. I’m also the oldest of seven siblings and a father of one. It’s in my nature to act as part arbitrator part defender. The most important thing to remember is that there’s no shame in walking away (that means leaving an internet discussion) from someone petty enough to resort to using your interests as weapons of insult.

…Any Other Name

Finally, let’s agree to stop making fun of the old status quo. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We won’t be any better than the old in-crowd if we embrace the anger and marginalization they left behind and use it to exclude others. As an adult I’ve come to notice that “jocks” are simply sports geeks. Fantasy Football is proof enough (or “Socially Acceptable Dungeons and Dragons for Fully Grown Adults” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). I understand part of our resentment stems from the fact that sports geeks were once the only geek tribe viewed as socially acceptable.

Seven out of ten of the top grossing films of all time are “geek movies.” The video game industry is projected to make more than $90 billion worldwide by the end of 2015 with around $20 billion of that coming from the US. To put those numbers in contrast with sports geeks. The NFL and MLB, the two most popular sports in the United States, generated an annual revenue of $9 billion each in 2014 and are projected to do similar in 2015 by Forbes. It’s safe to say that sports aren’t the only acceptable vice anymore. Let’s just call the old guard by their new name, recognize their inordinate love of their thing, welcome them to the party, and move on together.

The architects of the internet are people like you and me and our more marginalized predecessors, the nerds. Our interests are the biggest in the world. This puts us in an unlikely spot at the top. No one knows how long geeks will enjoy their reign. I say we use our power for good while it lasts. Let’s not make the same mistakes of previous generations. There is opportunity to actually do some good here. The next time someone brings up the gamergate ordeal or tells another person their opinion on video games isn’t as valid as another’s because of their gender, sexuality, disability, race, or religion, I hope you recall some of what I’ve written here today. Go a step further and expect games (both board and video), comics, and movies that embrace diversity as interesting and varied as the group of geeks that pursue the hobby. Over time the art and entertainment will begin to tear down some walls. We’ll all sit at the metaphoric D&D table of life. We’ll take turns passing the controller of empowerment to women and the LGBT community.

Now say it with me, “E Pluribus Modem!” – one from many geeks.