I detest labels. Always have, always will. In high school I played D&D and worked with computers, but I wasn’t a geek or nerd. I excelled at sports, but I wasn’t a jock. I hung out with some people who were on the fringe of “normal society,” but I wasn’t a stoner or slacker. I did well in classes and got decent grades, but I wasn’t a preppy. But then again, neither were the people who were being called any of those names by other people who were themselves being called other names. Labels were just crutches for people who wanted to make themselves feel better about who they were, when they didn’t need to feel bad about anything at all.
So today ends what is being called “Speak Out with Your Geek Out,” and I am neither proud nor ashamed to say that I play roleplaying games, board games, card games, and other activities that some people consider geeky. When I play or run RPGs, I absolutely talk in funny voices and act out what my characters are doing and saying. I do so in public, and I don’t really care if I look like a fool. An NPC in a game I was running recently did the “dance of shame,” and you can damn well bet that I did that dance to—just like there was no one watching, baby! If that makes me a geek, then a geek I am.
Despite the flak I took in the 1980s for playing D&D, along with many others who shared the hobby then, I can honestly say I am a better person for my experiences with the game. Having some “normal” people telling me that I was going to hell or was mentally unstable because I played a game gave me an appreciation for all the people who did play the game. Even though these people might have been different, might have been what is now called a geek, they were certainly no more terrible than those who were judging and condemning without knowledge or experience.
For those folks who didn’t live through the 1970s and 1980s, it is tough to understand the incredible tension between two contrasting societal forces: the expectation to do as everyone else did, while at the same time desiring (and in many cases also being expected) to express individuality. Of course, there is certainly still a lot of that, but in a sense society has expanded to make people comfortable in their uniqueness—even going as far as to set up countless sub-cultures. While this is a very good thing, giving people a space where they can be accepted as themselves, these sub-cultures often create expectations as rigid and voraciously enforced as those of the dominant culture. Geekdom is no exception, especially when it comes to roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons.
I am amazed when I will hear one set of “geeks” disparage another for not being a proper “geek.” Players of card games like Magic putting down RPG players, and vice versa. Players of indie RPGs mocking the players of more mainstream RPGs (as if any RPG is in any way mainstream) for bowing to some sort of version of “The Man.” Even within a relatively small community, such players of an organized play campaign like Living Greyhawk or Living Forgotten Realms, openly despising each other for what comes down to play-style preferences. It’s truly an amazing and thoroughly disappointing thing to see, and it is a stark reminder that no group of individuals is a haven from discord.
However, I must admit this disappointment is rare. Through these games I have played and created over my lifetime, I have met many more accepting and empathetic people than I have the other kind. D&D has brought me into contact with many strangers. Even those who somewhat fit the stereotype of the socially inept gamer geek are still at least more friendly and kind than the stereotype gives them credit for. If I tried to type the names of all the gaming geeks who have left a positive impression on my life, even if it was in a tiny way, I would be typing for days.
So today I speak out with my geek out. I stand up and state for the record that my name is Shawn, and I like geeky things. I fondly remember the time I have spent pretending I was a dwarf or an elf or a secret agent or a robot. I treasure the friends—past, present, and future—who I share these times and these hobbies with. I look forward to meeting new folks and sharing my work—and my love of the games—with anyone who wants to accept it.
Tomorrow, however, and for all the fast unfurling days to come, I ask that we all–regardless of our proclivities, mindsets, or passions—strive to understand and maybe even accept the great and scary Other. One connection at a time, as we move past the labels and come to understand what it is to be human instead of marionettes dancing on the strings of projected ignorance, we can all speak out and be heard. The noise we make needs to be choral, not cacophonous.