Links and Thoughts on Geek Conventions

I’ve been working on a really long links post in short fits and spurts over the last few days, realizing part way through that some of these links are thematically similar enough that they might as well be their own posts. Yesterday we got geek typologies; today, links and comments on conventions; and later this week, some links on geek fashion and on being a geeky woman.

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What Type(s) of Geek Are You?

You may have seen a certain graphic making the rounds on the geek blogs lately. It’s Wired‘s Geekster Handbook, a Field Guide to the Nerd Underground,” describing six different kinds of geeks based on their interests and some (affectionately mocked) stereotypes. The list includes fanboys, music geeks, gamers, gadget guys, hackers, and otaku, perhaps hitting the major media of geek culture in broad swaths (and throwing in one so hip and mainstream that I doubt it would’ve made this list ten to fifteen years ago).

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The Multiple Appeals of Gaming

In our discussion about what we should call heavily story-oriented games, we got to talking about what the different appeals of video game play may be. I encourage you to go join in that discussion if you haven’t yet, as I’d love your input on what to call “narrative games.” For now, though, I came across an interesting illustration of the different appeals that games have, and I thought it was worth sharing separately.

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A “Narrative Game” By Any Other Name?

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I want to talk about a certain subset of video games, but I don’t have precise enough terminology to do so. I’ve decided to enlist you, the bright minds of the internet, in helping to figure out a phrase for what I want to discuss.

A number of theorists and writers working in game studies have attempted to describe the shared formal properties of “games” under the assumption that Tetris and Mass Effect (for example) represent not just the same physical medium, but the same artistic form, and therefore share the same sorts of appeals. The more I write about the latter, story-oriented sort of game, however, the more I find that assumptions about the former, rules-oriented sort of game sometimes get in the way. In some ways, Tetris has about as much in common with Mass Effect as a Sudoku puzzle book has in common with a sci-fi novel. Technically, each pair belongs to a shared “medium,” but more in terms of technology and ancestry than in terms of formal conventions and aesthetic aims.

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The Mass Effect Post

Awhile back, I devoted an entire post to Bioshock, a highly anticipated and critically acclaimed game that got me thinking a lot about the medium and our standards for evaluating it. I recently played through one of the other blockbuster games of 2007—perhaps the other blockbuster game, according to some—Bioware’s Mass Effect. Like Bioshock, Mass Effect feels like an attempt to leap forward in how we think about games as a storytelling device.

Again, I’m not really in the business of doing reviews, but this game just gave me too much food for thought to ignore. I’ll remain generally vague here, but still, expect some spoilers to follow (especially in the forum posts I link to).

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Reflecting on PCA/ACA 2008

Last week blogging was a little light as I attended the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association 2008 conference (PDF schedule here). The word “geek” came up way more than I expected, considering that I was presenting on my games research and wasn’t even bringing up geeks there myself.

I thought I’d share some thoughts on a few of the panels and presentations I saw, including the panel I chaired in the Digital Games division. It’s not representative of everything I saw, and sadly, I had to miss several things I wanted to catch, but that’s the way things are at a big conference with lots of interesting stuff going on.

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The Motivations and Problems Behind Geek-Media Activism

You might recall that I wrote a recent post about the oft-heard question of whether geeky media, like comics and video games, would ever “grow up.” In it, I suggested that video games and comics can be promoted as “adult” (or at least “not juvenile”) through concerted creative and marketing efforts. Matt S. has an interesting post up in response which asks a fair question: Why bother? Geek-friendly media clearly have relevance for geeks, and trying to make these products palatable to “high-culture” interests runs the risk of ruining what actually works about them. I started writing a comment for his blog, but it got so long that I figured I should just put it here as another post. (And I might be delayed in replying to comments, as I was delayed in posting this, due to traveling.)

Ultimately, I think we might agree more than we disagree. As I said in the original post, I don’t think all our media has to have high-brow pretensions, and I do think that adults are entitled to media that seek to do no more than to entertain (even in ways that seem juvenile to some). But it is still interesting to discuss whether the motivation to be seen as “legitimate” is even worth it.

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Geek Chic (and Geek Studies) in the News

Jeremy Jacobs has written an article for the Columbia News Service (destined for other venues, such as The Columbus Dispatch) about “geek chic” as “the new brand of cool.” The article takes the Mac versus PC guys from the Apple ad campaign (played by Justin Long and John Hodgman) as its starting point. Dan, a friend of mine who works for Macworld/Macuser, IMed me the link because of the apparent relevance to my research. Then he said, “Gahh,” because shortly after pasting the article for me, he got to the end and saw that I was quoted.

I suppose I won’t say much in the way of analysis, but I will say that is fun to talk to a reporter (at least one who is nice) and to feel like you’re writing about something interesting enough to be quoted in a newspaper. I am also pleasantly surprised to see that my blog has somehow been elevated to the status of “Institute.” I only regret that I have had to turn down one esteemed colleague‘s request for grant funding.

Gary Gygax

Today I received an email from my friend Chris that Gary Gygax has passed away. The obituary Chris sent refers to Gary’s most famous creations, Dungeons & Dragons, as “the quintessential geek pastime” (with affection, I believe).

When I got home, I had four more IMs waiting for me from friends (thanks Dan, Tony, Jordan, and Jacob) notifying me of the same, and found that Z. and Lev had already written some nice words on his passing on their respective geek culture blogs.

I wish I had more to say about Gary Gygax himself, but I honestly don’t even know much about him as a figure in the gaming world. I will say, though, that while I get a lot of tips for geeky content here, it’s rare that I see so many people reacting so quickly to the same news. I suppose not everyone’s taking this news entirely seriously (what with all the “saving throw” jokes flying around), but it’s still something of a testament to the influence his work has had, both directly and indirectly, on our lives and our subcultures.

Update, especially for Boston-area readers: Pandemonium Books and Games is having a gathering in Gary Gygax’s honor, potentially this Saturday. Read more.