Us computerish types are, in many ways, a strange breed – that has always been the case – however, for many years, we were always the misunderstood minority. How many of us who consider ourselves to be ‘old-timers’ would ever have really envisioned a day that schoolkids would take laptops to lessons, that BBS boards would be supplanted by the all-consuming behemoth of social media, and blogging would become the de-rigeur mode of self-expression?
Let’s face it, ‘geek’ used to be an ugly word – and to be called a ‘gamer’ was the verbal equivalent of public humiliation. The very words themselves conjured up images of bespectacled, frumpy, spotty teenagers with pallid skin, halitosis and a diet that consisted entirely of bacon Frazzles and Wotsits. To be a geek meant you spent your life closeted away in darkened bedrooms, surrounded by the fragrance of unwashed socks with only the song of the dial-up modem for company.
And that was very much the acceptable side of geekism, where it was generally accepted that those same spotty teenagers, clad in black, with greasy hair and and half-hearted, blonde moustaches, (and that was just the girls!), would one day grow up into highly-paid, yet socially inept adults, closeted away in open-plan offices, where they’d churn out ‘code’ for IBM and Micro$oft. Far worse were the geeks, hackers and phreakers who spent their time in those same dark, smelly bedrooms engaged in ‘playing games’, rather than trying to hack into the Pentagon’s weapons’ systems. Back in the day, the very fact that you’d dabbled – or, worse still, become hooked on an online MUD, virtual reality world or multi-user game would serve to identify you as a complete social pariah, incapable of relating to the real world and, almost certainly, a potential serial killer. Whatever your justification, there was no denying that you were a completely sad individual, with no life and very little grip on reality.
How times have changed.
Somewhere along the way, geekyness became cool. In a complete about-turn, society in general suddenly decided that it was perfectly OK – laudable even – to spend hours glued to a computer screen, ‘talking’ to ‘friends’ that you would never meet about inconsequentialities that scarcely mattered. At some indefinable point, the whole concept of ‘community’ changed – no longer were you limited to geography and demographics in order to define your peer groups, and no more were ‘friends’ those unfortunates into whose company you were thrust, simply because there was nobody else around to harass. All of a sudden, having an online version of yourself – even the sort that spent an inordinate amount of time slaying orcs, liberating treasure hoards from dragons or, for that matter, creating cities and dungeons from the pixellated equivalent of Lego – was no longer the preserve of the geek and saddo, but the domain of the well-adjusted and gregarious.
Now we seem to have reached a point where being a geek is positively encouraged, and what’s more, if you don’t have some sort of online presence – preferably having scaled to the dizzy heights of the higher levels of multiple online roleplaying games, or at the very least, you have so many online ‘friends’ that you’ve lost count of them – then you’re the one considered to be the weirdo! However, is it just me, or does sl lack some of the street cred that other, more glamorous, or more accessible platforms seem to enjoy?
Perhaps it is just my own perception, but sl still does feel a bit geeky, in the old-fashioned, rather embarrassing manner. i’m pretty sure that if i regularly dipped into WoW – which i don’t – i’d have no problem sharing my conquests with friends, in much the same way that nobody has any qualms about admitting they’re on Facebook, yet sl just feels ‘different’. Even now, i can count on the fingers of less than one hand the number of people in the real world that i know who are aware that i have an sl account and, if i’m completely honest, i think i’d give the Spanish Inquisition a decent run for their money before divulging the amount of time and effort i expend in our little virtual world. For me – and i’m sure it’s the case for many others too – the very quirkiness, clunkiness and old-school feel of sl seems to represent one of the last bastions of geekism and, somehow, that seems to be the way it should be.
I’m in with the in crowd, I go where the in crowd goes
I’m in with the in crowd and I know what the in crowd knows
Dobie Gray – The In Crowd