How a Girl Named Alyssa Stepped on the Internet’s Last Nerve

originally posted August 29th, 2011, at nerdpuddle.com, in response to this gizmodo article by Alyssa Bereznak

Let’s get this out of the way, right up front.

I don’t like Magic: The Gathering either. I don’t share any of my friends’ affinity for it, I find it mostly boring, and when it is played in my presence, I take my presence elsewhere, for both their benefit and my own.

There is nothing wrong with that. Not everyone has to have the same nerdy pursuits, and I perfectly understand when my friends choose to leave the room, as I am spitting facefuls of hate and invective at the both the joystick and my idiot fingers during marathon sessions of Street Fighter III.

Now, lets say, for the purposes of the following hypothetical, that I am single, and I am using a dating website in order to procure myself dates.

Let’s further say that, after combing the muck and detritus of the options provided by the internet, I find myself connecting with someone who seems to be a decent person, and I end up going out on a date with them.

Let’s further say that, after pleasantries and a plate of calamari at a nice restaurant, I discover that this potential suitor is not only a professional Magic: The Gathering player, they’re like the fucking Ken Wayne Walter Michael Jordan Payton Gretzky Jennings of the Magic world.

Now, would I find the possibility that most of my significant others’ time will be spent in a tournament, thinking about a tournament, in transit to a tournament or preparing for a tournament to be somewhat of a turn-off, especially if I find the game that person excels in to be largely boring?

Yeah. I probably would.

Would I weigh that against this potential suitor’s other, more positive traits, before making a decision as to whether or not I pursued anything further? It’s only fair, after all. It would be the same if it this suitor was a high level competitor in Football, Basketball, Poker, Starcraft, Scrabble, Spelling Bees, Dog Grooming, Competitive Beard Knitting, whatever. Of course, there are mitigating concerns there; The pay-rates for being a professional in those above activities varies kinda wildly, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that wasn’t a factor. But it wouldn’t be the factor, nor should it.

Would I expect the person across the table from me to do the same when they find out I do something they would view as equally puzzling/befuddling, like, say, podcasting? Or blogging for something called Gizmodo, or NerdPuddle? Or touring the country trying to record every last Weird Al concert as it happens, or personally funding/filming a documentary on the rise and fall of Tower Records?

Yeah. I would. In fact, the majority of my apprehension and fear in this hypothetical date would come almost entirely from that line of thinking.

You know what I wouldn’t do?

I wouldn’t, after deciding to reject this date, turn around and publish some poorly thought-out bullshit about it on the internet. Especially if I considered myself any sort of writer who expected large quantities of people to read it and consider it representative of my body of work.

I wouldn’t have posted multiple links to their nerdy successes as if they were punchlines, or as if I was outing them somehow.

I wouldn’t have tried to justify my hypocritical shittiness in a tired shrug of a final paragraph that reads like superficial college-age navel gazing – if you were cross-eyed, you possessed an outie, and you were looking at your own asshole in a mirror.

Why?

Because I would have realized that, for most people clicking on an article about OKCupid, they likely would already know all the “harsh lessons” I was trying to warn them of, since the site’s been around for about a fuckin decade, now. I wouldn’t have opened with the admission that I was drunk when I joined, either.

I would have realized that, noting the startling lack of any useful information that wasn’t already blatantly fucking obvious, the remainder of my article would have essentially boiled down to “Oh my God I went out on a date with a World Champion Magic Player what a nerrrrrrrd right?” and that might not have played all that well on a site with Gizmodo’s readership.

Let’s play another hypothetical, though:

Let’s say I’m reading an article like the one above, and I’m properly annoyed at the tone of what I consider a turdly little blog post. That I put myself in the shoes of the person being mocked, and I get pretty upset at the idea that someone could dismiss and disparage me for nothing more than enjoying my nerdish pursuits.

Would I think that it’s more than a bit unfair to be discarded for that? Yeah, I probably would. Would I think that there’s more to a person than their choice of pastime? Yeah, I probably would. Would I hope the angry nerds who are busy vilifying this person for their shallowness are noting their own shallowness in the majority of their responses?

Yeah, I probably would. But they won’t. They haven’t, and I don’t know as if people are going to start in anytime soon.

I think one of the points that got buried under a bunch of bad writerly decisions is this: It’s okay to not like some aspects of nerdery. Someone who got paid to cover the Nintendo 3DS is allowed to not like Magic: The Gathering. They’re allowed to wonder, in a mild, mocking awe, at the idea that people can be so good at playing a card game that a tournament subculture sprang out of it. I would hope they would have the decency to squash those sentiments before they come burbling up from the gall-bladder region, but its a perfectly normal, healthy thing to possess discernment – so long as you take the time to nominally know what the fuck you’re talking about.

But too often, nerds react to the idea that someone doesn’t like what they like with a sense of wounded incredulity. The most common response I get when I tell someone I haven’t watched something they love, or haven’t read something they swear by, or worse, simply don’t like what they’ve sunk a lot of time into is “Oh my god what’s wrong with you?”

Now, what they likely meant to say was “Oh wow I wish you would give this a shot because it’s brought a lot of joy and pleasure into my life and I only wish to share that same feeling with you and further once you know what I’m talking about we can add to that experience by sharing discussions on it!”

But it too often comes out as some accusatory bullshit that serves only to create some sort of instant nerd hierarchy in which you are now deemed lesser. There is something wrong with you for not having consumed the media they’ve consumed in the rates they’ve consumed it. It’s the sort of defensive, snotty reaction that leads to sentences like the following becoming less punchline, more axiom:

You know who the nerd is in the room because they’re the one telling you you’re not cool enough to be a nerd.

Which gets to the other point: You are not what you like. You are more than that. Rob Gordon was an asshole, not a role model. And if you subscribe to the idea that you are defined solely by the media you consume, maybe you should be dismissed/discarded by potential suitors. Because if all you have to offer as a human being is your ability to regurgitate pop-culture? You’re in trouble. There’s gotta be more than that. The biggest crime of that article is that it seemed the writer never took the time to discover whether there was anything more to @JonnyMagic00 aside from his Magic playing. He played his card, she sniffed in disdain, went home and turned it into something with which to generate site hits. Sure, he devotes a lot of time to playing a card game, so much so that he’s managed to get monetary recompense for it. But I wondered if there was more to the guy than simply “I play Magic: The Gathering,” She never took the time to find out, or if she did, she cut it from her post.

It’s part of what made me bristle in response to Patton Oswalt’s Wired article about the death of nerd culture – his definition of nerd seemed to be “merely putting effort into choosing which consumer product you’re going to build a personality around.” There’s way more to being a person than simply accruing a bunch of fictional experiences via comics, video games, movies and music and using them to shape the direction of your personality. And if you’re going to self-define, a necessary but tricky proposition even for the most well-adjusted of us  (a number I most definitely do not count myself among) you have to allow for the definitions to be so much broader than that.

Maybe you shouldn’t say “Oh my God what the fuck is wrong with you?” when you find out someone hasn’t watched Star Wars.

Maybe you shouldn’t say  “Holy shit you weren’t joking about playing Magic: The Gathering?” when you find out someone plays it.

And maybe you shouldn’t take the nerdery that you’ve finally gotten comfortable admitting is a big part of your person and using it to shame other nerds into believing they’re somehow not cool enough to sit at your table. Because if Alyssa Bereznak’s article and comments get across any one idea clearly, its that nerds are getting increasingly more comfortable on sneering from the other side of social ostracization. I read more than a few responses that led with “You’re not even that hot.” And if people are getting sick of the (over) usage of the term “nerd” or “geek” now, it’s really gonna suck when the term loses all meaning entirely because there won’t be any difference between how we act now and how the “cool kids” acted back then.

Published in: on 12/05/2011 at 11:34 pm  Comments Off on How a Girl Named Alyssa Stepped on the Internet’s Last Nerve  
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