Labels have been used for centuries as a means to quickly categorize people or groups based on the qualities they possess that stand out the most. While some labels are good, others have made it easier to alienate or mock the less desirable members of our society. When looking at video games and video game culture, a trifecta of labels seems to stand above the rest: nerd, geek and dork. In reference to video games, I feel it’s about time to finally create some separation between these labels as a means of easing the burden of bullies, socialites and others on the outside of gaming culture who may be getting confused when attempting to verbally attack us.
Before we can discuss which of the three labels most adequately describes our status, we must first define the labels. While these definitions are my own personal observations, I feel that they’d stand up in most any debate, except of course if my opponent was smarter than me or had a louder, meaner voice (I’m not really that into confrontation).
Nerd: Extensive knowledge of subjects such as science, math, technology, etc that are primarily applied to vocational or educational pursuits.
Geek: Extensive knowledge of subjects related to multimedia such as movies, games, comics, etc with a primary objective of entertainment.
Dork: Can be applied to either of the above categories if individual’s resulting behavior can be described as goofy.
Now, if I created a Venn diagram of these categories (which I won’t because I’m not a nerd) certain qualities would most likely overlap, especially in the case of dorks. However, we’re not speaking on qualities such as appearance or personality as much as we’re focusing on knowledge, so the term dork can almost be eliminated from the conversation as it requires the additional criteria of “goofiness” in order for a person to fit that classification.
So now that we’ve narrowed the labels, how do they apply to video games? For most intense gamers, geek is the best term so I’ll focus mostly on that. It’d be easy to say that because video games are entertainment mediums, you’re automatically a geek because you play them. However, merely playing video games does not mean you’re a geek (something popular culture has yet to figure out). Remember, the term geek is based on “extensive knowledge of a subject” which means that casual gamers are off the hook in terms of being a “gamer geek” (though they can still be a movie, comic or book geek). So while playing Halo in your spare time does not constitute a geek label, knowing the back story, character names, etc by heart does (passionate arguments about any entertainment medium can also make you a geek, especially if you cry).
You might be a geek if…
Another thing to keep in mind is that geek is more often than not applied to a person with interests in genres that are somewhat outside the acceptance of normal society (though today there seems to be a lot more variation in what that truly means) . While a person that knows everything about “Desperate Housewives” may have geek-like qualities, the wide acceptance of that television program seems to eliminate them from the geek classification. It may not seem fair, but that’s how these things work. While geekiness is heavily rooted in the science fiction and fantasy genres, certain types of horror (which are basically fantasy depending on their events) have begun to migrate over to geekhood as well. With all this in mind, the automatic assignment of the geek label to people who play games should be off base because of the fact that video games are now more widely accepted, but the stigma seems to be clinging for some reason.
In terms of video game nerds, programmers seem to fit this best as programming is not an entertainment medium and is mostly technical in nature. Furthermore, some people may simply enjoy programming, etc and have no desire to pursue a vocation based on it. However the fact that there is a possibility of income generation and the technical application of their knowledge is what differentiates the geek and nerd label. So Bill Gates is a nerd, though he may have geek interests.
Writers for video game websites are a definite gray area because we play games because we enjoy them, but the difference comes in whether we “choose” to play a game or are “required” to play the game for an article. In my opinion, the geek label seems to fit better here despite what some may consider the technical aspects of writing, reviewing etc.
One step further
Dork, as it stands is a sub-classification because it requires the previous two categories as a basis plus an additional quality. There are actually a couple of these examples that often times get interchanged with either geek or dork, so I thought I’d flesh a few of those out as a reference point.
Buff: Think of this person as a socially accepted nerd, often times attached to things like history, trivial knowledge etc. Being a gaming buff is impossible at this point in time.
Connoisseur: This person really likes a certain item and has the expertise to tell you why (usually associated with fine arts). In terms of gaming (if gaming can be considered a fine art), this person samples a variety of games.
Addict: This is a person with an unhealthy dependence on something. Playing a lot of games does not make you an “addict” (loose term as addict generally refers to a chemical alteration in the brain) but having other aspect of your life negatively impacted by your gaming does.
Think of this as my first draft on the thesis of nerd/geek/dork differentiation and as a way of stating that by calling me a nerd, you’re presuming I have technical skills that I most certainly do not. If you’re calling me a dork, that’s more than likely because I wear Hawaiian shirts multiple days a week and dance like no one is watching (even if they are).
Giant Bomb (images)