My wife recently went on holiday to Budapest with her friends. This meant I had some time on my hands and, with Dragon Age: Inquisition still a couple weeks away, a gap in my games calendar.
I decided to try 'Papers, Please' an Indie hit that I missed last year. In the game you play as a border guard at a contentious checkpoint and must check the paperwork of people trying to cross from one side to the other. If you think it sounds like a dull desk job then you're right, but it's a surprisingly entertaining one that starts to give a pretty stark insight into, among other things, identity and the conditions that breed corruption in certain parts of the globe.
Still, it's a game that can encourage your mind to wander during play and at one point I found myself thinking about a conversation with one of my friends.
Friend: God I hate those Big Bang Theory
Me: Really? I like it; it's a pretty good show...
Friend: Yeah, but you're not a real geek.
I was suprised; we had been friends for years and had an almost identical set of interests. I was even the Dungeon Master for the D&D games we used to play in secondary school. Then, suddenly, I had failed some sort of sitcom-related test. My paperwork was out of order.
I laughed it off but it stuck with me and I started to wonder, who are his 'real geeks'?
You could think that this is an easy question to answer. Traditionally geeky things have never been more popular or more widely available. Comic-book movies have Hollywood in a spandex clad death grip, comics themselves are enjoying a popular revival and video games have sales revenue counted in the billions. Surely if I threw a gamepad in any direction I would hit a promising candidate, complete with meme-covered t shirt and batman belt.
Well, yes, I almost certainly would and therein lies the problem.
To try and understand why that's a problem, I need to take you back to yesteryear; a dark and troubling time before Facebook and when Google was a random collection of letters. Back then there was no way to instantly connect with thousands of people who share the same interests as you. There were no mega-gaming sites and the closest we came to a superhero blockbuster was Tim Burtons Batman.
In this situation if you happened to like Science Fiction, VideoGames, Comic Books or Japanese Animation you tended to have to seek it out on your own in specialist stores or on the still young and less user-friendly internet. This (usually, but not always) meant that you were lucky if you had a couple of friends who shared your interests and lived in the same area as you.
This meant that the quintessential experience of traditional Geekdom became isolation.
For many people, their interests separated them from everyone else. In the worst cases it became what they were bullied and hurt for.
This gave many geeks a shared experience and meant that, when the internet did explode and people started to connect, isolation and outside status became central to a new, emerging geek identity.
The sense of Identity is important because it establishes a status quo. People who have grown up in and helped create a culture surrounding their set interests (Gamers, Otaku, Cosplayers etc). The same people who are now seeing those groups swelled by new, 'normal people'.
If you want a topical parallel, look at the rise of UKIP. UKIP aren't making enormous poll gains due to 'benefit tourists' or the xenophobic tirades of their most strident members. No, they're making gains with people, many people, who believe, truly believe, that who they are, their British identity, is being diluted.
Now, as with UKIP, lines are being drawn in the sand:
"Not played Baldurs Gate? Well you're not a real Gamer"
"Don't know what Dilithium is? Not a real Geek"
When people feel threatened they retreat into what they know, and people with the most extreme views use that to their advantage. Then things turn ugly.
At the end of the day, Identities are going to change. Change is the only universal constant, but the more I see this process unfold in communities I grew up in the more sympathy I can feel for those caught out.
We can quote statistics and facts forever but it won't change anyones mind. Identity is an emotional issue, and on some level needs an emotional response.
What we need is a real conversation about identity and integration so we can bring people together and encourage people to adopt the 'real' qualities (British or Geek) we're so obsessed with.