University. Freshers' Week. Boozy, ballsy, noisy, messy, and the "best years of your life". Or the worst, if you're one of the seeming minority for whom the prospect of a "night out" translates more closely to "nightmare".
You know who you are. You'd rather stay inside, mashing buttons on your console or keyboard, or perhaps delving into the pages of that 9,000 page high fantasy hardback you've been saving especially to tide you through what you fear might be a very lonely first week. Or maybe even a very lonely degree...
Or not! Despite the noise, and the mess, and the stereotypes on both sides, you too may be in for the fabled "best years of your life". Why? Well, quite simply, because it's never been more chic to be a geek.
Superhero movies rule the box office, video games are a billion dollar business, and Primark are plastering the word across the front of jerseys. You can hardly even take a wander down the high streets without spotting at least three t-shirts sporting references to everything from Lord of the Rings to Firefly. And that's without even touching on the ever-expanding culture of the internet. Memes for the meme god!
Yet, even as we emerge, blinking, into the light, there are still some entrenched corners of the nerdosphere that remain in the shadows, shrouded in the long-standing stereotypes of fat, unwashed slobs in basements who haven't been able to look down and see their own toes since the 90's. Even the more mainstream aspects, like those I've mentioned above, carry with them insinuations of an insular, intellectually-snobbish mindset that spurns the thought of anything so stupid as going out and having a good time on a weekday night.
Wrong! The geeks do not spurn that unique student focus, that fabled concept of "fun". In fact, if you look closely, we're probably having more fun than you - and for all you nervous souls, fearing isolation and ridicule outside the comfort of home, you don't need to look as hard as you think to find us.
If you want proof - have a look at my schedule.
Twice a week, I scoop up my character sheet and a bag of dice and set off for a few hours of dungoneering, dragon-slaying and damn good fun. The world of tabletop roleplaying - its thousand iterations and varieties usually grouped under the "DnD" umbrella - is one that has remained on the fringes of geek activity, and usually carries connotations of dark basements, body odour and the murky mush of misogyny, Doritos and Mountain Dew.
Now, I've never known a hungry party of adventurers to turn down some cheesy munchies to fuel the goblin-slaying bonanza, but we definitely prefer a cosy corner of our local pub to a basement - and for those partial to a tipple, a six pack of beer or cider can double as a useful bribe to let the GM turn a blind eye to the fact that your rogue is technically defying at least three principle laws of physics in order to avoid getting eaten by a ravenous hellbeast.
For a young person torn between an urge to socialise and a policy of alcoholic abstinence, DnD is the perfect answer. It's all the fun of a night out at the pub with your mates without the focus on alcohol, and with a constant source of entertainment to keep everyone from breaking out into drunken squabbles - and, unlike inviting said friends back to your place for a few rounds of Mortal Kombat or Mario Kart, is less likely to end in a bout of homicide. At least, until we work out how to make a bag of dice as deadly as a pointy-edged controller.
But then, not everyone has the hours to set aside for a long-term campaign. Nobody knows better than a geek how real life can impinge upon the things we would much rather be doing.
That's where the wonderful world of university kicks in. Societies of geeks abound, full of like-minded folk dying to share their once-marginal interest, make friends, and enjoy their degree. For three years running, my university's resident Tolkien Society have descend upon cinemas en masse, pooled our funds for drinks and popcorn, and had a wonderful time picking up on obscure references and, afterward, convening in our favourite haunts to debate views on canonical deviations and the limits of artistic vision.
Among that group of people, too, are those with whom I break up the mid-week insanity of a busy degree, flopped on the sofa of a friend's flat, eating pizza, popping cans of our preferred fizzy beverages, playing everything from Cards against Humanity to Zombies!!!
So, maybe, if you're not feeling up to yet another Tuesday getting elbowed and puked on in a nightclub, or you'd prefer to bring your mates to you rather than spend half your student loan on overpriced vodka in Tesco, pull out a board game, dig out a set of D20s, and do like the geeks do. Forget the horror stories of 4chan hackers and World of Warcraft obsessives - this is reality for geeks at uni; a happy mix of fandom and fun, with like-minded friends as the cherry on the cake (which, I assure you, is not a lie).
May the fun be with you.