Links: Geek Activism, Virtual Worlds, and the Nerd Code for Love

Lots and lots of links this week, starting with a few about people promoting geeky causes.

Comics Activism in the University Library: Comixology offers the first part in a series on how one university librarian (whose job is not to build up the comics collection) rallies support among faculty to build up the library’s comics collection.

Geek Activism in the City Streets: Yahoo News reports on an effort to rename one city’s 42nd street after the late Douglas Adams. The motivating party behind this campaign is an online geek community (blog, forum, store) I was previously unaware of, Geek in the City.

Ugly Activism in Buenos Aires: A BBC article recounts the tale of Gonzalo Otalora, Argentine writer of Feo (“Ugly”) and semi-ironic “campaigner” for the rights and recognition of ugly people.

His book, Feo (Ugly), has just been republished and is selling well. On the inside cover is a picture of Gonzalo as a youth. It is not a pretty sight.

“I was a child with thick glasses, spots and braces,” he said. “The kids made fun of me at school.

“Later the girls rejected me in the discos. And then when I was looking for work, I felt so ugly and insecure that I was rejected again and left without a job.

“The great challenge in my life has been to stop being the school nerd—and thanks to my humour and bravery I’ve managed to overcome all that.”

That the focus here is on looks more so than braininess or interests may speak directly to regional differences in how ‘nerd’ is defined. Buenos Aires is particularly known (or residents think of it as being known) for its “beautiful” people.

Evolution of the Nerd: Z. passes on a link from Australia’s The Age which proclaims that Geeks Rule, OK. The article goes on to describe a variety of subgroups of geeks, and why geeks at large are now “the dominant force in popular culture.

All I Want For Christmas: Popular Science polled tech luminaries and internet celebrities while compiling its “ultimate for-geeks, by-geeks gift list.” Individuals polled include Jonathan Coulton, Jimmy Wales, Fake Steve Jobs, Wil Wheaton, Xeni Jardin, and others.

Usted es un Nerd Enorme: A sepulcher in new video game Uncharted contains a message in Spanish that reads:

If you are reading this grave, you’re a huge nerd. Please get a life and a girlfriend.

Kotaku crossed out part of the original response (which had sarcastically lambasted whoever thought that reading Spanish was nerdy), probably because comments that follow the post suggest that most readers found it more funny than offensive.

Virtual World Research, The Sequel: Slashdot notes that Edward Castronova’s Shakespearean virtual world, Arden, didn’t really work out as planned—there simply wasn’t enough interest from players. Now in the works: Arden II. The gaming/economics researcher reflected:

You need puzzles and monsters, or people won’t want to play … Since what I really need is a world with lots of players in it for me to run experiments on, I decided I needed a completely different approach.

I find his approach interesting, and I do think that online games could offer some fertile ground for research in economics, but I’d be nervous about extrapolating too much more about social/psychological research more broadly from behavior in a virtual world. Aside from that, my biggest concern is that experimentally manipulating the conditions between different servers of the same game would simply encourage people to jump ship to a new server, which would wreak havoc on your data. Still, I wish this project the best, and I’d be interested to see whether this yields any results on whether interpersonal behavior within virtual worlds maps well onto behavior in person vs. other online contexts.

The Ups and Downs of Transmedia Storytelling: Comics may represent the place where Hollywood goes for new ideas, but it also seems like the medium may represent the place where fan favorites go to die. Ever since Joss announced that Buffy would be seeing a canonic “season” in comics form—and, shortly thereafter, that Veronica Mars might also be resuscitated in this way—I have been particularly interested in how others might use comics to continue franchises that face major economic barriers in other media. Now, Slashdot reports that Joss Whedon’s Firefly franchise will be coming to comics—but ironically, that’s the format that fans may be least interested in seeing. This doesn’t surprise me too much; after all, Firefly was great largely because of its cast.

Net Linguistics: Nelson suggests some unusual emoticons from games, and follows up with some notes on the evolution of the ❤ (“heart”) emoticon (latter link via Boing Boing). The <4 emoticon seems like a pretty classic example of how programmer thinking might influence linguistics, sort of a visual/textual equivalent of “love++.”

On a related note, Geek Gestalt notes that Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is “w00t.” I’m not sure whether this is a sign that l33tspeak has moved into popular usage or whether this is an event that would actually encourage such a move, but it seemed noteworthy whatever the case.

Cons as Vacation Spots: MSN City Guides offers suggestions for a bunch of “geek getaways” based on different interests. It’s not entirely comprehensive or accurate (E for All was not bigger than PAX, despite high expectations), but it certainly does read more like a travel guide than the typical newspaper approach of marveling, year after year, that people are dressed up so funny-like and are drinking more than expected.

Don’t Watch Snakes on a Plane Alone: Slashdot refers us to a study suggesting that enjoying movies is contagious. The post quotes one researcher:

By mimicking expressions, people catch each other’s moods leading to a shared emotional experience. That feels good to people and they attribute that good feeling to the quality of the movie.

This is a different interpretation from what I expected. Personally, I’ll watch television alone, but I always wait for company to watch a movie. This article suggests that people give the movie credit for emotions that are actually cued by other people; I always thought of it more in terms of magnifying what I enjoy about a movie by being able to share it with people I care about, adding a new dimension to what is in the movie alone.

Games Teach You Useful Skills: A 12-year-old swedish boy outsmarted an elk, saving himself and his sister based on behavior learned in World of Warcraft (link via Boing Boing). I kind of liked the story better when I thought he had been attacked by a moose, but either way it’s pretty weird and impressive.

2 thoughts on “Links: Geek Activism, Virtual Worlds, and the Nerd Code for Love

  1. “… my biggest concern is that experimentally manipulating the conditions between different servers of the same game would simply encourage people to jump ship to a new server, which would wreak havoc on your data. ”

    Wouldn’t that *be* your data? Most popular server wins.

    I was non-plussed by the MW “w00t” story, but now that I think about it that’s probably b/c the GF and I have been using that in speech for about a year now.

    The Sciencedaily story is interesting. The only time I feel that company makes a difference is when watching something like Jerry Springer. I’m not sure why, but I can laugh *at* someone much easier if someone else is present. If I’m alone, I just feel the embarassment that the participants should be feeling. (And yeah, I know JS is mostly theater.) I’m sure that says something really ugly about either people in general or me in particular.

    A moose bit my sister once…

  2. Wouldn’t that *be* your data? Most popular server wins.

    If that’s how you set up the study on purpose, that’d be one thing (and then you’d have to be able to justify that that’s an appropriate measure of where subjects wanted to be). But the proposed idea, as I understood it, was that each different server or segment of the world was to be a different treatment or control group, each getting the local economy slightly tweaked to see how it would change players’ behavior. When you have people switching between groups in a controlled experiment—or even just talking to people in the other groups—you run into problems with validity like treatment diffusion and resentful demoralization. Plus, you need to be able to say in such an experiment that subjects are put into experimental groups randomly; if the players select their own group knowing what the economic differences are, you could see differences in behavior between groups that are caused by a high congregation of a certain player personality type, for example, rather than by your manipulation of the economy.

    If I’m alone, I just feel the embarassment that the participants should be feeling.

    Personally, if the thing I’m watching hits too close to home, I can be embarrassed no matter what the company. I suspect I have a different experience watching Beauty and the Geek from most (non-geeky) people: To them, it’s like Jerry Springer, an opportunity to laugh at people who are a couple standard deviations from the mean in either direction of ditzy/brainy. To me, it’s like seeing every embarrassing social situation of my life replayed and magnified for a national television audience.

    A moose bit my sister once…

    No realli! She was Karving her initials on the møøse with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush….

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