Geek Culture: Where Originality Goes to Die

Here’s a pop quiz: What do “geek culture” and heavy metal have in common? How about video games and 70’s exploitation cinema? Brand loyalty and The cult of Elvis Presley?

It’s a trick question of course: all of these things are actually one and the same, in terms of operation. These are, lacking a better term, “scenes”, and while the passwords, dress codes and technical jargon may differ depending on whether you listen to Napalm Death or watch Naruto, what remains constant is a certain regressive and reactionary behavior in the scene’s tenants.

The Japanese have a much more eloquent word for this kind of person: They call them “otaku”. Though there are certain colloquial associations between otaku and anime/manga subculture, the word literally translates to “another’s house.” An otaku is an obsessive fan of something, and in this case the “house” refers to the accumulation of the data, knowledge and physical objects related to his obsession. The translation also recognizes the strangeness of the otaku’s obsession to the outside observer, and how to the outsider this person’s “house” will never be home. For the otaku, real criticism of his obsession is impossible. Objectivity will never be obtained, nor is it particularly desired. People outside the otaku’s scene are regarded with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

Video games have always been a “scene”. This type of personality has always existed at the core of gaming culture. And for video games to move forward in any real way, that culture has to die.

From the beginning video games have been tied to “geek culture” in a way that books, music and film never have. These mediums can sometimes affect the trappings of a genre (black metal, hardcore punk, exploitation cinema) and thus become purview to the culture that genre is tied to, but no other medium besides video games has ever been so immersed in the culture itself. Games may fall within one genre or another, but unlike reading a book playing video games itself marks you as “one of them”. People who play video games regularly have a common vernacular, a set of social assumptions, and sometimes even a mode of dress that frequently crosses over into larger “geek culture”.

The problem with “geek culture” (and with scenes at large) is that it’s not a culture; it’s a mish-mash of appropriated quotes, memes, characters, settings, stories and archetypes. The otaku of mainstream “geekdom” – the hardcore gamers, the cosplayers, the fan fiction writers – aren’t actually creating anything new, but recontextualizing someone else’s ideas to form some kind of still-born religion where they feel like they can belong. This is a culture that creates nothing, because everything it is has already been created by others. And cultures that create nothing – whether for reasons of reverence for what came before, or arguments for “artistic purity”, or intellectual laziness – are already dead. Ask the hardcore punks.

I’m not here to criticize someone’s passions, though by now some of you have probably concluded that I am. If dressing up as a character from a cartoon or rewriting Mass Effect’s story so that your fictional love triangle ends just so sounds like a great way to spend a weekend, then it’s not my place to say you should be playing outside or something. The problem here is that obsession leads to an inability to think critically, in this case about video games. There is a problem when I can stand in a reasonably crowded room and point out that Final Fantasy games are linear and derivative (not to mention hilariously sexist) and have a sizable minority (majority?) of people there try to burn me at the stake. In case you’re wondering, this is indeed the attitude that puts a Twilight fan fiction at the top of the Amazon best sellers list.

I’ve often criticized mainstream games journalism for not being critical enough – “critics” seem content with going through a check list – graphics? Sound? Mechanics? Control? – and then penciling that number into a box and calling it a review. There’s an inability to talk about games in any other terms than what we see on the screen. And while I’m still convinced that’s partly due to outright laziness in mainstream criticism, more and more I wonder if it has to do with our inability to legitimately criticize anything “genre”.

In his piece about the Eurogamer debacle, Erik Kain, writing for Forbes, wonders if games journalists have difficulty criticizing the games they play because they are “fans” of them. Never forgetting that “fan” is short for “fanatic”, the correct answer here is “of course they do.” When you take on an aspect of yourself as your entire identity (“gamer” “metal head” “anime fan”) then looking objectively at some facets of that thing becomes impossible. The house the gamer builds is exclusionary and thus insulated against criticism by any but those who are already in love with it.

The only disappointing part of Kain’s article is that it misses the chance for deeper self reflection. The thrum of discontent among the mainstream gaming community regarding original content has reached fiendish pitch. Devolver Digital is giving away free games for tweeting your hatred of the new Medal of Honor, Frank Gibeau at EA proudly admits he hates single player games, and if you can tell the difference between Crysis 3 and Battlefield 3 at a glance I’ll eat my fucking hat. Everywhere there is a dearth of originality in games, and the people most to blame is ourselves.

Blame the geek, because “geek culture” isn’t a thing that grows organically – it’s prepackaged, digested, repackaged and resold to people as something resembling an identity. You don’t think that the bean counters and the suits have caught on that you just love you some spiky-haired effeminate male characters/bald space marines/gruff American marines/dragons/ponies/I don’t know what the fuck else? Do you actually believe that there’s a group of people sitting around in a dev office somewhere in California that thinks that “Modern Manshoot Seven: IN SPACE” is an original idea? Of course not. You know what’s easier than creating original content? Almost anything else. They know what you like. They know exactly what shapes to make the faces, what colors to make the logos, and they’ve focus tested their game and designed it to death and you’re going to eat that spoonful of shit because you’re their “target demographic”. The crisis of originality comes from the only group of people who ever gave it legitimacy – you.

You could call this an argument against the insular nature of video games. Imagine a world in which everyone who read books had a vernacular which was incomprehensible to a person who didn’t read, or only read on occasion. What would it be like If Ebert or Maltin spoke in tongues foreign to us, treated the average movie-goer as the enemy and refused to criticize rom-coms because they happened to be a big fan of a single rom-com dating thirty years prior? Where the hell would film criticism be then?

The scary thing is that as difficult as it is for geeks to communicate with outsiders, it may be more difficult to communicate with each another. If gamers are so attached to certain ideas and genres and tropes, then how could they ever be expected to criticize them? How could they be expected to understand that the thing they love is derivative and cliché and sometimes just plain awful? They can’t. They’re incapable of making a value judgment, and they’re stifling the rest of us who can.

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57 thoughts on “Geek Culture: Where Originality Goes to Die

  1. I read this article somewhere about Zynga, of Farmville creation, and the creator of Cow Clicker, which was supposed to be a parody of it. The creator of Cow Clicker said that he despised Zynga, as it wasn’t a creative gamer, but business CEOs adept at marketing, so he set out to make a parody. That his game became a huge success, he thought was either his biggest accomplishment, or his biggest failure.

    I never much got into video games. Back in the ’90s, I liked Seventh Guest and Timelapse. (sadly, after many computer crashes, restarts, and transferred-over saves, I never did complete Timelapse, and now, as is no longer compatible with anything, probably never will) (A buddy of mine loved Civilization.) Games where you had to think. I loved that these two games were unique and puzzle-based. I tried playing standard games a couple times. I didn’t have the dexterity for things like Halo, nor did I care for speed/dexterity-based games. and I quickly got sick of the tired repetition of role-playing games: fight group of enemies, level up, buy new equipment, fight a boss battle, fight another exact same group of enemies but stronger, level up, buy new equipment, fight boss, fight another group of…. I went to Best Buy and asked them if they had anything like 7th Guest or Timelapse. The clerk looked at me funny and walked away. When I search for a “brain” game on the internet, it suggests word games (which are ok, but sometimes I want something a little more interesting than Scrabble or crosswords). When I search for puzzle games, it suggests hidden object and matching colors. I’m not five. Anyway, all I see these days are shooter games, roleplaying games, and things of the RockBand (gag me, and learn a real instrument) variety, and, if you’re lucky, something reminiscent of classic arcade. It seems like truly unique, truly puzzle, games must be extinct. (only thing I’ve heard of is possibly Portals, and LSD Dreamscape, the latter apparently virtually impossible to find and not available for PC. at least for a layman, like myself)

    • I actually played a lot of 7th Guest myself. I suppose it was my first horror game. My mother completely disapproved, of course, which was part of my fascination with it.

      If you liked 7th guest, check out the game my most recent Now Playing is on, Home. More and more, video games are emerging from their shell of myopia and derivative design, and PC gaming is leading that revolution. Download and browse Steam, if you haven’t. It’s almost impossible not to find something innovative there.

    • You should check out Portal and Portal 2. Portal 2 is one of my favorite games ever. There are more great video games out there and certainly many you could enjoy. You might want to check out indie games too, and watch review videos on Youtube to find out which game might be more you thing. Then again, if you simply aren’t into it, you aren’t and that’s fine. But considering there are so many games, and now mobile games, I certain you can find something that you’ll enjoy playing.

      • I know that you know that there isn’t a soul who hasnt played Portal and heard (and possibly made) the cake is a lie joke a bajillion times. And thats where the problem comes in. Every nerd, geek, gamer, otaku, what ever makes that same goddamn joke all the goddamn time and thinks that they are the funniest doods since laughter came to Fun Town. Great, we get it. The cake is a lie and the ball talks with a British accent. Geeks aren’t interested in making, they are interested in consuming. All you do is eat, eat, eat, gorge, gorge, gorge, what ever tickles your funny bone in the moment but you lack the mental celerity to be deeply critical of what ACTUALLY matters. You note that “you wouldnt accuse any of my friends of being critical”. Well no, I wouldn’t, but I can accuse them of being pedantic and misguided in what they are critical about. This isn’t about geeks who actually make things based on anime and manga, this is about geeks who, without any sort of self actualization just latch on to what ever makes them feel actualized without giving it deeper thought. You definitely seem to fall in the latter category.

        • I recommend a video game to Odd Little Rants and the reply I get is a whole pile of hate based on absolutely no knowledge at all of who I am? Great.

          Did you gather from a comment of a few hundred words that you could decipher the type of person that I am? That is, according to you, the kind of geek that “lacks the mental celerity to be deeply critical of what actually matters”. Please, tell me more about my total inability to be critical of what ACTUALLY matters. And what is it that ACTUALLY matters? Please enlighten us all. And how exactly is it that you can determine I don’t give any thought to the things I am into just by checking out a comment?

          I have to say, as someone who studies decolonization processes, the hegemony of Western thought and post-colonial studies, criticizing is one thing I spend a lot of time doing. I’ve researched the representations of various ethic groups, and also of indigenous cultures, in science-fiction, which I am a big fan of. That’s right: I love sci-fi, yet I criticize it, and I read PhD thesis and academic books by other people who are highly critical of it. But hey, I definitely fall into the latter category of geeks, right? The category of geeks who “without any sort of self actualization just latch on to whatever makes them feel actualized without giving it deeper thought”. Come on. You don’t know me.

          Your hateful attitude, and the fact that you generalize your opinions to a whole group without trying to confront them to reality, is really the same kind of attitude any xenophobe displays. Ok, maybe you know a few geeks that annoy you. So what? There are thousands of us. We are all individuals with very different interests and personalities.

          I really don’t think you can generalize a comment to all geeks like you do. All geeks are only interesting in consuming? Really? Then how is it that geeks make comics, books, movies, TV shows and books for other people to enjoy? Why do so many geeks end up working at MIT, Jet, various laboratories, universities, museums, so on and so on? One of my anthropology professors is a geek. Plus geek culture exists outside of the market and it was very much alive before the industry discovered loads of money could be made out of geeks. I for one don’t buy every DVD, comic book or figurine out there. I got most of my geek stuff at garage sales.

          Even if geeks really only wanted to consume and not create, how the hell could you advocate that the rest of the population is different? You think everyone who isn’t a geek enjoys creating in a particularly exemplary way? Of course not. There is a reason why shopping malls are always full. All I know is that I keep hearing about geeks who invent home-made supercomputers, innovative At-At costumes and online series. If that’s not your thing, it’s ok. Just don’t denigrate thousands of people at once because you don’t understand their hobby.

          FYI, I don’t go around telling the cake is a lie joke. Especially to people who wouldn’t get it. Most importantly, why would it piss you off so much if I did? If you don’t like the joke geeks make, don’t hang with them, or simply don’t laugh at their jokes. I don’t write hate mail to all the people out there who make bad jokes, even if a lot of them probably deserve it. Relax man, people are just enjoying themselves by referring to inside jokes, why can’t they have fun the way they choose to? What exactly does that take away from you? Aren’t there bigger problems in the world than the jokes geeks make? Like, say, racism, rape jokes, sexism and such?

          Tone down the hate dude.

          • An academic? Oh well fuck me, then I guess I dont stand a chance. Never mind that academia is ALSO nothing but a self referential circle jerk with accreditations being a dime a dozen. So I guess youd fit right in. You know what the difference between me and an academic giving a lecture is? I don’t get a round of applause after I’m done masturbating. And what makes you think that I DIDNT read any of your stuff? What makes you think that you are any different than all of the other self serving, narcissistic “geeks”? You had a 5 paragraph melt down over a 1 paragraph comment. I know exactly who you are. Youre the kind of person who identifies as “geek” and sees any criticism, no matter how well founded, as an attack on your identity. Which it is! Its an attack on the superficial trappings of geek culture that you cobble together and put on like a shirt that loudly proclaims that you’re THIS kind of person or THAT kind of person. This isn’t about you, this is about showing other people what that sort of myopic thinking gets you: a page long Chernobyl style apocalypse when someone dares to poke holes in your paper tigers. You weren’t looking for a debate, you were looking for a slap fight. Theres a reason why you toss away the pieces of a broken china doll but put chunks of Grecian statues in Museums. Think. About. That.

            • Lol. I was looking for a constructive debate, but you’re the one just throwing hate around. Haters be haters I guess. I really didn’t have meltdown over your comment, I simply argued over it. Maybe you’re the one who can’t stand to be contradicted. Go ahead remaining in ignorance thinking you can figure out people over the web and over a blog. I don’t mind people who don’t agree with me at all, I just mind people who toss around angry comments and insults. There’s nothing smart or constructive about it.

              • I think, based on reading your replies, that you missed the premise of the blog in the first place, thegeekanthropologist, and your reaction and your boy-thing’s reaction -to- this blog is proof of that. You’re getting caught up on terminology FAR too much. The people who David is referring to are people who -don’t- create, and it flat out doesn’t matter what word you use to describe those people, except that they are a big part of what would be considered ‘geek culture’. They take being a fan of something to such an extreme that they fixate on it. I’m a baseball fan, but I don’t cosplay as a baseball player, I don’t write fanfictions about an individual game, I don’t imagine what the locker room conversations are like, I don’t feel the need to dress differently.

                And before you get the wrong idea about -me-. I’m a gamer, I read Robert Jordan and R.A. Salvatore, I play D&D. I’d be the type of person this blog is talking about -if- I didn’t -do- something and actually -create- something. I write and I’m actively involved in politics. I don’t fixate on things and obsess on them to the point of -not- being separate from normal everyday society, and I don’t let what I like define who I am as a person.

                You’ve taken what David Reynolds said, and made yourself a victim out of it by thinking he’s attacking you, and I have to say, if the shoe fits, wear it, but I don’t think it does completely. I think that you’re a big fan of a number of things. You -likely- create like I do. You likely -do- something with your life. You’re likely part of society (and if you’re not, it isn’t because you have the hobbies you have). This particular blog post couldn’t have -less- to do with you. David’s blog is about the stupid anime girls that sit there and had constant high pitched voices back in high school and -NEVER- grow up (That’s an example of a couple people I know, but thankfully the -other- girls in the anime club in high school grew out of that.)

                I’ve said it politely, and given you credit where it is due. Call off your dogs because you’ve gotten this COMPLETELY wrong.

                Thrones, quit being a bitch, and yes, I know who you are.

                “An academic? Oh well fuck me, then I guess I dont stand a chance. Never mind that academia is ALSO nothing but a self referential circle jerk with accreditations being a dime a dozen. So I guess youd fit right in.”

                ^That was juvenile at best. You’ll find that the best of arguments are often blunted if you can’t get over your own ego long enough to -stop- yourself before you start spewing insulting and condescending language. I generally agree with what you’re -attempting- to say, without the being a bitch part.

                • I need to reiterate something here, thegeekanthropologist.

                  “I really don’t think you can generalize a comment to all geeks like you do. All geeks are only interesting in consuming? Really? Then how is it that geeks make comics, books, movies, TV shows and books for other people to enjoy? Why do so many geeks end up working at MIT, Jet, various laboratories, universities, museums, so on and so on? One of my anthropology professors is a geek. Plus geek culture exists outside of the market and it was very much alive before the industry discovered loads of money could be made out of geeks. I for one don’t buy every DVD, comic book or figurine out there. I got most of my geek stuff at garage sales.”

                  You’re getting caught up on the word used rather than the definition of the word that David is using, and since ‘geek’ is a pretty ambiguous word, we’ll give him benefit of the doubt on that, especially considering he used terms “geek culture” in quotation marks, to portray that there could be a different meaning to the term, or perhaps the lack of a better one. I don’t know what you would call who David is describing other than ‘geek’, but I think the point is that the people David is talking about are -only- geeks, and not professional-esque LIKE those comic-book creators, book writers, movie directors, scientists, historians, nor is he talking about people like you and me.

                  All you see in this discussion has been -geek this- and -geek that- without actually figuring out what his usage of the word -actually- is.

                • Listen Jace, I know you mean well, but I wasn’t arguing anything. It was a demonstration that people with self-induced short sightedness can not be argued with. She brings up her academic credentials as if THATS supposed to make me take her seriously or something. If she made reasonable arguments (that were wrong or otherwise) it wouldn’t matter if she had a PHD in nuclear physics or a job as a venomous animal masturbator. She threw up a smoke screen to try cover for her “argument’s” shortcoming. To her, image is everything. The fact that she responded so harshly to what she perceived to be an attack on her image (in this case, geek) speaks volumes about what she believes. She then goes on to say that she READS books about people who are critical of it. Really? Are you running for public office or something? I dont care what you READ, I care about what you have to SAY, and what you have SAID is that you missed point entirely. She doesn’t get that on a Meta-level her entire argument is flawed. You cant argue WITH these people, you can only argue AT them or, in my case, make an example of them.

                  • If you can’t discuss something in a mature fashion, you shouldn’t discuss it at all.

                    She made reasonable arguments given the premise she -thought- this blog post was about, but we both have acknowledged she must have gotten the premise completely wrong to make the arguments she -did- make.

                    You didn’t make an example of her either. You came off as a young guy who can’t leave well enough alone when the adults in the room are having a mature discussion about things. The sheer amount of ad hominem about what her expertise may or may not be you used was pretty staggering and did nothing to further whatever point it is you’re trying to make that I obviously missed.

                    Look, I know you, I know you’re intelligent, but you can’t sit here and portray the attitude of LOLOLOLOLOL OWNED if you want to be taken seriously.

                    And if I ‘mean well’ (and I sorta resent the condescending tone that -seems- to have) you certainly don’t, because by your own admission you weren’t arguing anything. That makes me wonder what exactly it is that you -are- doing other than -attempting- to troll. Starting a flame war is a pretty pathetic rebuttal.

                    I’m going to be the mature adult here and leave it at that. I’ve said what I needed to say to you at least John. We’ll see if she has anything else to say.

                    • I love how you say “I’m going to be the mature adult here and leave it at that”. Really man? How is that any less childish than what I did. No, fuck that. Its more childish because its declaring victory and saying that any more discussion is out of the question by fiat. Seriously, you just said “By my decree, there shall be no more discussion because who ever tries to rebut me is a silly neener head”. And discussing things maturely doesn’t mean I cant make jokes. Even masturbation jokes. And did you notice how I avoided any attacks that werent relevant to the discussion? Its her particular behavior and your acceptance of how she frames her argument that gives it any credibility. What did I say that you take issue with? Other than the fact that I phrased it in a mean way?

                    • You’re obviously not listening.

                      “What did I say that you take issue with? Other than the fact that I phrased it in a mean way?”

                      You said this.

                      ““An academic? Oh well fuck me, then I guess I dont stand a chance. Never mind that academia is ALSO nothing but a self referential circle jerk with accreditations being a dime a dozen. So I guess youd fit right in.”

                      I said this.

                      “^That was juvenile at best. You’ll find that the best of arguments are often blunted if you can’t get over your own ego long enough to -stop- yourself before you start spewing insulting and condescending language. I generally agree with what you’re -attempting- to say, without the being a bitch part.”

                      So, what was your question again, because I’m fairly certain, given the above, that I made an example of what I meant.

                      Yes, John. It -IS- because you phrased it in a mean way, and I’m not talking about 5-year-old mean either. I’m talking about being flat-out rude to a stranger.

                      Now, you’ve said: “Seriously, you just said “By my decree, there shall be no more discussion because who ever tries to rebut me is a silly neener head””

                      Have you developed a problem recently with getting your point across -without- sounding like a complete douchebag John, because I’ve seen you do it -without- sounding like one.

                      Your defense: “And discussing things maturely doesn’t mean I cant make jokes.”

                      Well, it is not funny. It is stupid and you’re the only one laughing.

                      You said: “Its her particular behavior and your acceptance of how she frames her argument that gives it any credibility”

                      You should -try- her method sometime. Her premise is wrong, but you could learn a -lot- from the way she makes her argument.

                      You said: “I love how you say “I’m going to be the mature adult here and leave it at that”. Really man? How is that any less childish than what I did. No, fuck that. Its more childish because its declaring victory and saying that any more discussion is out of the question by fiat.”

                      You’re a little right here. I probably shouldn’t have left the mature adult comment open for interpretation. I -should- have said “I’m going to leave this be before you decide that I’m next on your list of people to mock.” Far less condescending, but no less bad for you, seeing as you’ve -already- proven that I -am- next on the list.

                      You said: “And did you notice how I avoided any attacks that werent relevant to the discussion?”

                      I need only remind you that you also said: “An academic? Oh well fuck me, then I guess I dont stand a chance. Never mind that academia is ALSO nothing but a self referential circle jerk with accreditations being a dime a dozen. So I guess youd fit right in. You know what the difference between me and an academic giving a lecture is? I don’t get a round of applause after I’m done masturbating.”

                      and: “You weren’t looking for a debate, you were looking for a slap fight. Theres a reason why you toss away the pieces of a broken china doll but put chunks of Grecian statues in Museums. Think. About. That.”

                      and: “You definitely seem to fall in the latter category.”

                      and: “What makes you think that you are any different than all of the other self serving, narcissistic “geeks”? You had a 5 paragraph melt down over a 1 paragraph comment. I know exactly who you are. Youre the kind of person who identifies as “geek” and sees any criticism, no matter how well founded, as an attack on your identity.”

                      Given my above findings, do you now want to recant saying “And did you notice how I avoided any attacks that werent relevant to the discussion?” Because OBVIOUSLY I didn’t notice that.

                      And before you start talking to -me- about what a ‘meltdown’ I’m having, the majority of the content in this post is you talking, not me.

                    • The individual attacks are relevant because its demonstrative of the kind of person that the article is talking about. SHE brought up academics, SHE brought up her credentials, as if it changes any sort of outcome to the matter at hand. You’re missing the forest for the trees. Not only that but “You’re a little right here. I probably shouldn’t have left the mature adult comment open for interpretation. I -should- have said “I’m going to leave this be before you decide that I’m next on your list of people to mock.” Far less condescending, but no less bad for you, seeing as you’ve -already- proven that I -am- next on the list.” is passive aggressive as fuck. I know you’re better than that. No, Im not mocking you Jace. Talk to my brother, you would definitely know if I were mocking you. And that whole bit about the “I know you mean well” comment? I wasn’t being condescending. I was being genuine. I DO know you mean well. And maybe I was being too obtuse in an effort to sound funny. This isn’t about getting terminology wrong, this is about someone who reads an article, misses the point entirely, then knee-jerks a blog post into the stratosphere about how wrong this person is. Shes EXACTLY the person this post is railing against. Its casual “Not me, surely!” attitudes that further entrench the idea of “geekdom” in our social consciousness. I would actually argue that David got it wrong (slightly) and say that its the *casualness* of geekdom thats killing any sort of creativity. Being a geek is so prevalent, it validates the fringe and (as much as I hate to use the term) empowers them to be spergy as all hell. Also, something that David got very right (but didnt elaborate) is that its not a culture. Its just a bunch of borrowed ideas. Its a collective in-joke that references it self every chance it gets. Take the “cake is a lie” joke. It was run into the ground a day after it was made. It was referenced so many times that it became unfunny to mention it 24 hours after its inception. Geek culture EATS creativity and devours anything that might be funny. It sucks up all of the really interesting stuff and instead of getting something interesting back, we just get rehashed references. You guys ruin the cake is a lie joke for me and all you give me back are AT-AT costumes and bad fan-fiction? Really? That seems fair?

                • I don’t feel like a victim, and I really don’t obsess over what has been written here. But there is a very good reason why I do get caught up in terminology : it’s because terminology makes a world of difference. It’s not that I feel the author attacks me, because really his words don’t apply to me. I simply feel he shouldn’t generalize to every person he considers fall under the category of geek, or simply that all people in that category are as he describes them.

                  The title and the post itself suggests that geek culture and the majority of geeks are obsessive consumers without any sense of judgement. I happen to think that one should refer to such people, because I agree some are like that, with terms that don’t generalize too much and add stigma to a group that’s already pretty marginal.

                  To me, the fact that you are a gamer, a fan, or any kind of person doens’t interveen in how I read your comment. I’m really more focused on what you bring forth and the value of your ideas. Also important is your tone. Thank you for being polite, for one.
                  I just feel that interacting and debating is a big part of blogging. If authors don’t agree, they can turn the comments option off or decide to approve each comment. Or other bloggers can decide not to answer comments. I just appreciate it when it’s all done politely. Trouble is, it’s really very hard to decipher one’s intent, emotion and state of mind while reading a few hundreds words. That’s probably why I sounded like is am raging when I comment on this post. I’m really just trying to presents my thoughts and indicate that over generalizing is something to be avoided.

  2. Although I disagree with your argument that all geek culture is by its nature derivative, you’ve opened up some very interesting discussion (thanks!). IMHO you’re confusing geeks with the smaller subset of fanboys/girls, and there certainly is an element of blind devotion among certain fans. One could say the same of some sports fans, though…

    On the other hand, the maker and DIY movement has strong ties to geek culture: check out Boing Boing, Make, and the like. People are creating incredible things just because they can, some of which are inspired by games and anime. Full-blown handcrafted suits of armour, emotive anime cat ears that respond to brainwaves, some pretty stunning works of art: sure, they’re geeky, but I’d hardly call them unoriginal.

    And we’re not all antisocial! On Wednesday my local modlab is getting together to 3D scan people’s heads with a hacked Kinect. Maybe not everyone’s idea of a fun evening but I’m looking forward to it 🙂

  3. This is the most well written connection of flawed arguments and non sequitur statements I have seen in a while. The prose is a clever smoke and mirrors for an almost complete lack of logical reasoning or accounting for statistical evidence, culture at large, etc. Enough truth to make it almost sound legit to the untrained thinker; I hope enough folks will see what is really being said here to find the wild jumps being made to wrong conclusions to call you on this BS.

  4. I could have written 10 long comments to your post, but I just decided to post in answer to it. My blog’s name might indicate right of the bat that I don’t agree with you on various levels. 😉 I always welcome a good debate! 😀 Congrats on being FP!

  5. Congrats on being freshly pressed.
    Well, I have to say that even the term `geek culture´ is wrong and misleading. It´s not really a culture itself. It is a trend for many, and something many others are classed into. I hate it, because it seems that peopve who like some things cannot like others – if you like metal, you can´t like pop songs, if you like computing, you cannot like reading books… It´s plain sily. The same goes for the metal culture. I like metal and rock in general, but I do not dress as a rocker.

    @MontseCano

  6. As a former gaimg critic, I can tell you flat out that the actual content a critic offers is often secondary to other concerns. You want unfiltered honesty, you might get it from a private blog. When it’s a paid gig and you’re depending on site traffic / advertising to get that paycheck, there’s a whole host of other concerns. Bad review: piss off the PR rep at the publisher, which can make your job harder down the line. Bad or critical review of a platform exclusive (Zelda on Nintendo, Halo on Xbox, etc.) game on a platform exclusive site: piss off the fanboys. Well-thought out, detailed, eloquent review? Too long, didn’t read: 500 words or less, please. Hell, just tell me how many stars it gets. I’m waiting for the site that does their reviews entirely in tweets — it’s going to happen.

    Better to have an incomplete, half-assed review that’s up early rather than a through review that’s posted late, especially if late is after release day. Right before I got out of doing it, it was more and more common for PR reps to include a printed press kit with a review copy of the software that contained all the important info they’d like for you to cover — usually the list of impressive technical feats the game engine is capable of doing — as well as a sheet of cheat codes so you didn’t have to actually play the whole way through the game the same way the average consumer will, all to facilitate being able to spend a couple hours with a game and if you’re a reasonably skilled writer, make it seem like you put a lot longer into it. Is that a fair and accurate opinion to give to your readership? Probably not, but that’s the way things get done.

    That lack of originality really boils down to an economic reason: familiarity sells. Like many other facets of the entertainment industry, videogames are struggling with adapting their tried-and-true business model and are extremely resistant to change. It’s easy to blame fandom for not being more supportive of originality, but the industry itself has set up a production system with extremely unrealistic costs that make risk on something that’s untested an absolute no-no. Developers need to stop trying to pretend they’re rock stars with lavish offices stocked with expensive action figures, in-house Starbucks and gyms, and produce an affordable product. $60 a pop wasn’t a big deal a few years ago, now, for a lot of people that $60 isn’t as disposable of income as it once was. Also, abritrarily throwing out a successful hardware format and starting from scratch every four or five years probably isn’t all that good for the bottom line.

    • I actually want to thank you, personally, for your reply. Obviously games journalism has been in the news a lot recently (or not if certain websites/people have anything to do with it), but this basically confirms a lot of what’s wrong with the industry.

      In other articles I’ve stated that I think the triple-A industry is dying, and honestly I don’t think it can come fast enough. We, as “consumers” can’t really do anything about industry practices. It’s nothing but a circlejerk of guys in suits all running around patting each other on the ass screaming “THIS IS THE NEXT BIG THING.” What we can change, however, is how the individual thinks about games. If you don’t think that gamers are even MORE regressive and reactionary than triple-A publishers, take a look at what’s getting kickstarted: An adventure game from Tim Schaefer. Wasteland 2. Project Eternity. Nostalgia-fodder, in other words. Hell, you said it yourself, mainstream sites are terrified of posting bad reviews because of the negative reactions of fanboys. If there’s going to be a change in the way video games are perceived by the public at all, the “otaku” mentality has to go.

      • You’re welcome. Personally, I do think the individual can change things, but it’s going to take a lot of individuals to effect that change — don’t pre-order games, that just gives the powers-that-be the ability to shove a product at you that may not be all that it could be: if they’ve already got X amount of sales before the game has even been pressed, why bother going the extra mile to really polish it and make it the best it can be. They don’t really NEED good reviews, they already know how much money they’ve made before a single unit has left the production facility. Don’t buy hardware at launch out of a sense of obligation or the feeling that you’re going to be left behind. Wait it out until they provide the games and value.

        If you look at the history of videogames from a business model standpoint, there are a lot of things that defy logic, a lot of happy accidents that just happened to work because enough people threw money at the wall and made it stick. Over the past several years, it’s started to slowly unravel — the weakest publishers and developers have fallen to the wayside, and now it’s creeping up on the bigger players. Videogames aren’t alone as a creative / entertainment medium struggling to find a new paradigm and tweak their practices, but they’re moving a little too slowly and when you’re talking about the amount of money involved, it can get catastrophic right quick. Rather than find a way to adjust and streamline their process, it’s falling back on stop-gap band-aids like online passes to curb used sales, rather than find ways to make games at a more attractive price-point so they sell better new. They’re not willing to give up that standard.

        The thing about otaku and hardcore with anything is that while it seems they’re en masse, they’re really not that large in terms of demographic. What they are is very loud and willing to express their opinion. They do carry a certain amount of influence in that regard, but what happened, and not just with the gaming industry, is the powers-that-be often ascribe too much power to their opinion and influence and found out that wasn’t the case. (What they found out is that a good percentage of hardcore are always going to be negative about anything, and there’s no appeasing them, no matter what you do, they just enjoy complaining to anyone who will listen.) I don’t think that hardcore gamers are the problem — someone who appreciates the medium and is very knowledgable isn’t a bad thing. You could make an arguement that more casual fans can do as much ‘damage’ by just buying things out of blind loyalty and have a much lower bar for quality.

        There’s no real quick fix for the problems, no one group that you can very easily point the finger at.

    • Familiarity – do you think that´s the reason behind `geeks´ being classed as such, with a negative undertone before the millennium? Most people were not familiar with the amount of details `geeks´ or `nerds´ might know about stuff.

  7. This was a great read! I don’t think genre labeling, profiling, nationalism, and any other kind of identification tools are nessecary for us to get by in society and life. The problem is when people take these measures to extremes–when people not only identify with these caricatures, but when it becomes their whole being.

  8. “Still-born religion” – what an apt expression. It is painful to watch how so much of society operate on the basis of insecurity. It seems slightly outdated. “Join our club – you’ll be safe from werewolves!!” Pioneer thinking hardly even gets a slot in a niche magazine, let alone mainstream media.

    I have to say (with only a small amount of barely-disguised smugness) that in Europe we don’t experience quite the extreme crackdown on independent thinking as exists in the States, possibly just because there are so many languages that you can’t broadcast the same bollocks to everyone and thus reduce their brain activity to the same easily controllable trickle. But the tide of mediocrity is still closing in everywhere. There are only about three distinguishable scenes among young people here in Spain, so at least in the US there is a smorgasbord of geek cultures to choose from. Thanks for a great read.

    • The problem in Spain, and as I understand it in US and other countries, is that one really has to belong to one group. You can have a variety of `cultures´ to choose from, but you have to stick to that and to that group. Otherwise, you are an outcast, ie, able to think by yourself without other people´s intervention. That has always been the case.

  9. People who play video games/watch sports/read genres of fiction/are in a certain age group/hang out with certain people/work at certain jobs/have certain degrees/like certain food/have certain hobbies regularly have a common vernacular, a set of social assumptions, and sometimes even a mode of dress that frequently crosses over into larger “(see above) culture”.

    I feel this could be said about just about ANY group.

  10. Very good article! I would argue though that this lack of creativity isn’t unique to geek culture, or heavy metal, or any other (sub)culture but rather is indicative of our current society in general. Take twilight for instance. It’s basically Romeo and Juliet with vampires. Our popular culture is one of a copy and paste mentality. That’s why there are 45 different version of CSI on television. If something is somewhat unique and sells well then you can expect tons of clones in the near future. And you are correct, the earnest is on us because we keep buying it. It is very difficult to objectively look at things that you enjoy though. For instance, I love the Silent Hill series. Silent Hill Homecoming was a piece of crap game, but I still find it hard to criticize it….

  11. Ha! I got my back up for a second there when I read your title on the Freshly Pressed page, but before I even was able to click the link I started laughing. Because it’s true! And that’s okay – as long as we understand what is going on, and don’t let ourselves feel better-than-thou in a cliquism based on the intellectual equivalent of “I like pancakes.”

  12. I loved this post, though some of it makes me angry and some of it makes me happy. I think the general thrust you have going is very true and accurate, but it is tough for me to damn all of geekdom. The biggest issue isn’t the culture, per say, but just the nature of being a geek fan in the first place.

    In place of being a reasonable and intelligent individual, you have many more people who are content with more of something, despite the quality. I have a good friend who will read any comic, manga, or watch any action movie you give him whether they are objectively good or not. When you do approach him for an opinion, all of the things he likes are at least okay because he refuses to offer any real criticism. And without criticism from the basic fan, how can we expect a medium, genre, or any other loose idea to evolve into something better and more meaningful if every idea is allowed to live and thrive (sell)?

    Of course, at the same time I envy him. He has a knack for finding value in the most shallow of crap. I am much more discerning and dare-I-say elitist when it comes to formulating my opinions on something’s value. This of course carries over into my every day life. I currently work at a movie theatre and it pains me greatly every time someone wants to buy a ticket to see something like Resident Evil or Alex Cross or any other waste of money/time/energy.

    I guess my concern is that I do love geek culture. As a lifelong nerd who was more interested in science fiction and fantasy than any of the more typical literary classics, as a lover of niche games, and as a watcher of decidely not mainstream television, it feels good to have a group or culture to call home. The fact that geek culture cannot truly be self-critical or even critical at all does sadden me as I get older. Maybe in another 20 years videogames will be treated like books and movies and music, and we can at least get beyond having to join the club of geek before we are allowed to go on any rides.

  13. The crisis of originality comes from the only group of people who ever gave it legitimacy – you.

    This right here should be printed on banners in every con and posted in the masthead of every gaming site. What geeks never seem to get is that the reason people keep making boring games and stupid movies is that people keep buying them. No one in Hollywood cares that you only saw Amazing Spider-Man to make fun of it. Oh, and if you’re really convinced that DLC is a scam? Quit downloading it.

    And maybe knock off the memes, while you’re at it. You want to be taken seriously? Lay off the Companion Cube jokes. It’s been four years, I think we can move on.

  14. Recent movie quote (See Argo) –
    1: The target audience will hate it.
    2: Who’s the target audience?
    1: People with eyes.

    Now for the otaku crowd:
    1: The target audience will love it!
    2: But it’s the same theme in another location.
    1: Like I said…

  15. It kind of sounds like you are trying to force a set of criteria to gaming criticism that just doesn’t fit. You discount the fact that most critics are far more concerned with graphics/sound/mechanics/controls, but to this particular medium that might just be more important. Looking at the most popular games a lot of them come with online play (Racing/Sandbox shooters/Sports), so in a way this subculture (w/e you want to call it) has developed like sports fans/athletes. It is more important for their own skill level at the game to advance and compete against other than it is for the medium to develop as a story-telling tool (which you seem more concerned with but I could be wrong).

    That said, I think you criticism of the Final Fantasy games is spot on, and the point of your article to me seems more exclusive to the FF rabid fanbase than gaming as a whole

  16. I don’t play video games like the ones you discussed here or know much about them. I stumbled upon this post on Freshly Squeezed and decided to give it a read — I found your argument very interesting! I will definitely be sharing this post with others, thanks for the great read!

  17. There are probably a slew of people out there who would love to bring you the new and innovative content you are looking for, but getting through the machine of the branding and development process is impossible. These companies have created a formula and to break the formula someone needs to play the game by their rules while maintaining their creativity. Maybe once they establish themselves by following orders they’ll be able to create something new.

    • Actually money is a big part of the problem, but one should never simply look at the mainstream game market when criticizing products. A lot of indie game developers create awesome and original products! More and more people are choosing to self-develop and create their own content independently to avoid being eaten by the machine. The rapid increase in casting channels online is one of many examples.

  18. Okay, I see your point: blind obsession is never good, and things which do not create are not worthwhile.

    But I think you’ve fallen prey to the very thing you are criticizing: absolutism and not being able to make accurate judgments. “Geek culture” is, as you said, NOT a unified entity. No “culture” is, from “sports culture” to the “beach body culture” to the “entrepreneur culture.” There are people who we might call geeks who are blindly devout to their games to the point of fanaticism, and then there are just people who likes games. Same with football teams, and workout routines, and financial strategies; each “culture” will have “fanatic” elements which really aren’t desirable. You are taking the worst of “geek culture,” the outliers, and trying to make that representative of the whole.

    And since when do games not create or contribute? Not every one does, just like not every book or movie does, but there are game titles which have embedded themselves into mainstream culture (Mario, Zelda, Halo, etc.) because they were creative and compelling. What about the deconstruction of Objectivism in Bioshock? Or the exploration of competing political ideologies in Alpha Centauri? The incredible addition to the Star Wars saga in Knights of the Old Republic? Even the simple, fantastical worlds explored in the Pokemon games are legitimate forms of creative expression. To relegate all content of video games (and all fan-generated content with it) as worthless is, in my opinion, an incredibly biased and unfounded judgement.

    I would further ask, is there any value in fantasy football? In learning photography? In picking up the piano or the guitar? You are probably not going to do anything that has not been done a thousand times before, even if you do write your own songs or become a professional photographer. Certainly you do not contribute by watching games and crunching stats. But I don’t think any one of us would say that learning to play a few chords on that old six-string you’ve had for years is a bad thing. Even if all you do is learn to play other people’s music, there is value in that. And who knows, you may end up creating something slightly different from what everyone else has done, and that is okay. I think we can say the same thing about games and “geek culture”: there is value in celebrating the creation of others, and our contributions, no matter how small, are still worth something, if only to us.

    • Agreed, I think the post rests on a totalizing definition of geek and certainly not one that fits what geeks themselves would attribute to it. And most importantly, why do people keep bashing on geek culture when there are things like Jersey Shore on TV? Just saying, the problems with the mainstream media and entertainment industries have only reached geek culture recently. There a whole other pile of crappy material out there.

  19. Umm, I guess you hate video gamers? “Geeks” aren’t the only ones that fall for these unoriginal and prepackaged ideas. It’s all over the media from the popular TV shows to movies to the the kind of computer owned. It’s all about the name associated with the item, not the item itself. Apple products are very expensive not just because of their quality, but because your paying for the name. The shopper that buys the Victoria’s Secret Pink (Girlie example I know) is paying to have that brand name slapped across her chest and/or butt. None of it is original. Victoria didn’t event lingerie. The very people who buy into these flashy and overly advertised items are the ones who “critique” them and call them great. People buy the products to be part of the crowd; to feel like they fit it.

    • You learn that in school, I think. I remember when I was in HS if you didn’t like what the others liked then you were out. I mean, what can you talk about if you don’t share the same interests? A few years ago I noticed a lot of HS girls were really into Twilight but I am guessing that more than half of them are just there to fit in but don’t really like Twilight. It;s peer pressure.

  20. As a horror and manga/anime otaku, a lot of what you say is true. However, I don’t have trouble criticizing certain aspects of my obsessions (you should see me go off on the Friday the 13th remake. My God, that was bad).
    I do admit though, there are plenty of cliches and recycled materials in plenty of manga and anime. I can’t count how many times I’ve compared Gunslinger Girl to Claymore to My Otome.

  21. Great read! I think this is becoming truer and truer every year. I gag every time I hear someone get excited about a new COD. I think, however, that it was less true in the past, and is less true on the fringes of game design. I think back to a game like The Ocarina of Time. Granted, the story was a repeat of the old game, but the genius was in the puzzles, all of which were very much original.
    Alternately, in a new game like Skyrim, there is artistry simply in the detail. Don’t you think that a 3D world can be appreciated for its attention to detail in the same way we might appreciate a beautiful painting?

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