Checking in from Lisbon

Portugal is a fascinating place, and I wish I had more time to write about it here at length. I wanted to check in briefly, though, to share some notes that seemed relevant.

I have been trying to get a sense here of the Portuguese image of the geek/nerd and, more specifically, the image of the “hardcore” gamer. I’ll be conducting phone interviews after I get back to the states, but in the meantime, I’m visiting places that sell video games and comics, chatting with people from the Portuguese Catholic University (Universidade Católica Portuguesa, or UCP) and reading whatever I can on Portuguese websites and magazines. (I picking up some Portuguese grammar, spelling, and even the occasional unexpected pronunciation, but mostly I’m just stumbling through thanks to its similarity to Spanish.)

So far, it sounds like geeks/nerds are generally thought of as having a technical connection—see, for example, the geek and nerd pages on the Portuguese Wikipedia. That’s not so different from the understanding of such terms in English-speaking countries, although it sounds like kids are not made fun of for being “geeky” or “nerdy” as children here. Kids still get picked on for any number of reasons, of course, and these terms still have antisocial connotations among adults, but it’s not like there’s a special subgroup of kids who are thought of as non-athletic and overly studious. I need to do a more extensive questionnaire and/or interviews, but based on the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard so far, it sounds like the ‘geek’/’nerd’ terms came to the Portuguese language and general cultural consciousness through American TV. (I have heard statements suggesting pretty much the same thing from a German man at Comic Con and an Argentine woman who’s starting at Annenberg in the fall.) This will all probably figure into the dissertation somewhere, but I’m starting to think that it might be worth it to do a paper just on various international conceptualizations of geeks/nerds.

Moreover, it seems like football (soccer) is such a pervasive part of Portuguese identity that sports fandom is quite compatible with other “geeky” forms of fandom, such as hardcore video gaming. One student went so far as to suggest to me (completely in earnest) that football is more important to Europeans’ cultural identity than religion or politics (and this is coming from someone who lives in a heavily Catholic country). This Annenberg Summerculture trip must culminate in a paper; my plan from the beginning has been to compare sports fandom between Portuguese gamers and American gamers, and that’s still the working plan. Chatting with one of the grad students here, though, has got us talking about how we might co-author a cross-cultural analysis on mobile gaming, which is way bigger in Europe than in the US. I hadn’t even realized that the most hardcore gamers in Europe are playing a phone-based MMO, so I really need to look into that further.

So, only here one week, and I’m already talking about doing three new papers, in addition to finishing up the dissertation proposal and taking notes on a paper I need to revise for a journal. Next week I’ll be in France, where I’ll no longer be taking summer school classes, though I’ll still be hitting comic/game stores and looking for interviewees for that “geeks of the world” paper. This is all very exciting and grand, but I must make a mental note to return to Europe for an actual vacation some day.