D&D, Pretend, and Geek Culture

The passing of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax seems to have sent aftershocks through the internet and news media, and then back out into the world beyond. Every day, I happen upon more stories and examples of people reflecting on the impact that his creation has had on the development of gaming, technology, and geek identity. Of particular interest to me are those who have started musing on where gaming and geeks fit in our world, and how a game based around pretend came to inspire so much.

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Links: Geek Shame, the Lulz, and Two Meanings for “Hardcore”

This weekend’s link drop is brought to you by Church, Jordan, Cabral, various Gawker blogs, and the letter Q.

Confessions of a Sci-Fi Addict:
Let’s start with this link-ful post from the Website at the End of the Universe, brought to us courtesy Church. The main link is to a newspaper column titled “Admitting addiction to fantasy, sci-fi books” (“after years secreted in the book closet”). I was just as interested in the links that accompanied this on the referring site, though (such as these great old Worldcon photos), and the claim that “While not exactly in leauge with the civil rights or suffragette movements, geek acceptance has come a long way from the early days of fandom.”

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Is the Web Overrun by Geeks, or Is Everyone Geeky Now?

Awhile back, I read about a Pew study on sites like Digg and Reddit. According to the BBC, the study found that “Seven out of ten of the stories selected by the user-driven [news] sites came from blogs or non-news websites with only 5% of stories overlapping with the ten most widely-covered stories in the mainstream media.” Also, “In a week dominated by stories about Iraq and the debate about immigration, users were more interested in the release of the iPhone and the news that Nintendo had surpassed Sony in net worth.” One of the authors admits that the “technology bias” was probably due to enthusiastic “early adopters” of such sites. I think that’s kind of an understatement. I think the sites they were looking at in the study were geek-dominated sites, and what they’re seeing is—to some extent—a geek-driven news agenda. You know me, of course—maybe I’d have called you a witch in Salem if I had been doing my dissertation on witches back then—but I doubt this is my imagination. I dropped by a Reddit Meetup on Halloween which seemed overwhelmingly male and sported a disproportionate number of people dressed as video game characters.

Not long after I read about the Pew study, I came across a link that keeps track of the most visited Wikipedia pages in a given month. As of when I’m checking it now, the top 10 include Naruto, Guitar Hero III, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Heroes, and Transformers (film), among others. If you don’t count generic pages like the entry page, pages about stereotypically geeky media products (anime, video games, fantasy literature, superheroes, robots, etc.) account for over half of the top ten results. Sex-related and Xbox-related pages figure prominently in the rest of the list. Sure, you occasionally see something like 50 Cent or America’s Next Top Model, but what we’d typically consider “mainstream” seems pretty outpaced here by what we’d consider “geeky.”

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How Gamers Strike Back on the Web

Ever since writing—and, more importantly, getting comments on—a post about counterculture on the internet, I have been keeping an eye open for examples of geek-oriented activism on the internet. I’ve been particularly curious what kind of action might be visible almost entirely on the web itself (as opposed to initiatives that start on the web but have their most power in protests, courtrooms, etc.).

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Digital Déjà Vu

Musician/artist/writer David Byrne recently mused on how Ikea is like a video game (link via Boing Boing). He explains that the way everything is tagged with a label, the seeming meaningfulness of props, the tools at your disposal (e.g., tape measure, employees), and the implied task of finding appropriate stylistic combinations all amount to something like a real-world video game.

I wasn’t struck by the videogame-ness of Ikea upon my visit there, but I was hugely disoriented and amazed by the many living room worlds it had on showcase. David Byrne is right, though, that Ikea is a simulation of sorts, a kind of hyperreality. I can’t help but wonder if he plays enough games that it was invoking in him that feeling that so many gamers seem to find familiar—the déjà vu for the digital age, where you wonder for a moment if there was just a glitch in the Matrix, or if you’ve simply been playing too much Grand Theft Auto.

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Debating the Aesthetics of Web Design

About a month ago, Armin Vit wrote a post at Speak Up questioning why there are no “landmark” websites. We have examples of such designs in other media, such as Paul Rand’s IBM logo or Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway map, but have we seen any websites that are similarly aesthetically engaging and likely to remain influential to other designers for years to come? In the comments that followed Armin’s post, a few people offered tentative suggestions, but many instead attempted to suggest why websites simply can’t transcend their content in the same way as other designed media. Thus started a debate: Do websites even belong in the canon of graphic design? Can they even have artistic pretensions?

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