Even my pursuits of inherently non-nerdy enterprises, like being a fan of professional sports, tended toward the nerdier side like statistics and trivia and some following of metrics. For example, I remember playing through several full seasons of the Super Nintendo game NHL Stanley Cup and recording the final stats for each team for each season. In a parallel universe, there's a version of me that created some advanced metric for hockey, started a website that gained some traction, and now is that universe's Nate Silver who presents at the Sloan conference every year.
Because the Internet
Then the internet happened, and things changed for us nerds and geeks. The internet gave us a voice and place to meet and, perhaps most importantly, to gather fodder for our meaningless debates. It didn't happen all at once, mind you; it happened a little bit at a time, and with a lot of help from mainstream media. Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a hit, likely in large part because Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz were two of the more attractive young stars on TV, which then gave Joss Whedon carte blanche to go on being creatively nerdy, all the way to directing one of the biggest nerd successes of all time in The Avengers. The Matrix was one of the biggest movies of a generation, and its pseudo-philosophical religiosity masked what was at its core arguably one of the nerdiest possible premises of any movie ever. Radiohead for a brief time was the biggest band in the world. Harry Potter happened.
Yes, by the time the world had avoided certain destruction at the electronic tentacles of Y2K, it was a free-for-all for nerds, and geek culture became not only accepted, but even culturally dominant. X-Men made superhero movies cool. The Lord of the Rings became commercially successful and critically acclaimed and won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Even hip-hop started embracing figures who embraced a significantly nerdier spirit, such as Macklemore x Ryan Lewis, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and, of course, the pinnacle of the fusion of modern hip-hop and nerd pride:
Sure, we had a few losses along the way: the Star Wars prequels were terrible (or so I hear - I only saw The Phantom Menace); there were reports of some inferior sequels to The Matrix; Star Trek's descent into suckitude lasted for the better part of the aughts; and there was the injustice of the pre-emptive cancellation of Firefly. But thankfully, we had a few patron saints who were able to gain traction in the marketplace and restore geekdom to its proper place: Joss Whedon resurrected Mal and company in an unprecedented act of largesse from a major studio; and J. J. Abrams rebooted both of the hoary old Star franchises with lens flares and septuagenarian cameos. And now, we live in a world in which Mad Max: Fury Road gets a Best Picture nomination and leads the pack with six awards, so I think we can pretty much say that nerds are our new cultural overlords.
I am (obviously) a huge fan of nerd culture and a perpetrator thereof. I am glad (at least in some respects) that superhero movies dominate the multiplexes and small screen, and that some of the biggest shows on TV - even the traditional multi-cam sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory- proudly and unironically embrace nerds. I thoroughly enjoy that the internet has made heroes of people like Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Joss Whedon, John Green, Chuck Klosterman, Dan Harmon, Nate Silver, Bill Simmons (who helped nerds reclaim their place in sports), and many more. I greatly appreciate that there was a reality TV show - King of the Nerds - that embraced nerd culture for three seasons before it was summarily canceled.
I proudly let my nerd flag fly, but I have some significant and unfortunate gaps in my pursuit of mastery of geekdom. I know it's not really possible to master all things nerdy, but at the very least I feel the need to acknowledge the spots in which I do have need of some work. And, as any nerd worth his sodium chloride will attest, one of the best parts of being a nerd is making lists, so guess what I have spent altogether too much time doing over the past couple of days.
I have referred to some of these gaps in the past, but I thought it would be useful to collate them all in one place and to make an authoritative list of the gaps in my nerd culture in the areas of different media: books, movies, television, video games, and board games. Feel free to read on, but be warned: if you think my normal posts are nerdy, this post is exponentially nerdier. (There's a conclusion at the end that will function as a summary "tl;dr" - "too long; didn't read" - so you can also feel free to scan ahead until that point and see how things ended up.)
Science fiction has always been one of my favourite genres, so I have a very strong history in reading through the genre, including one of my favourite classes in university in which we read through thirteen classic novels in a thirteen week semester. Shortly after that experience, I compiled a list of classic science fiction works from various sources, including a few internet lists and Nebula and Hugo award winners, in an attempt to make a more authoritative list of the science fiction books that I should have read. I have managed to chip away at that list over the years, but I still have a few more novels left to read than I would like to admit. There are a dozen novels that won both the Hugo and the Nebula that I have not yet read:
- Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Leguin, 1970)
- Ringworld (Larry Niven, 1971)
- The Dispossessed (Ursula K. Leguin, 1974)
- Dreamsnake (Vonda McIntyre, 1978)
- Fountains of Paradise (Arthur C. Clarke, 1979)
- Startide Rising (David Brin, 1983)
- Doomsday Book (Connie Willis, 1992)
- Forever Peace (Joe Haldeman. 1998)
- American Gods (Neil Gaiman, 2002)
- Paladin of Souls (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2004)
- The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi, 2009)
- Blackout/All Clear (Connie Willis, 2010)
There are, of course, many other classic SF books that I have not yet read in addition to those dozen, so here are some of the most outstanding gaps in my bibliography:
- The Foundation series (Isaac Asimov, 1942-1993)
- I, Robot (Isaac Asimov, 1950)
- Have Space Suit - Will Travel (Robert A. Heinlein, 1958)
- Stand on Zanzibar (John Brunner, 1969)
- The Wanderer (Fritz Leiber, 1965)
- The Uplift War (David Brin, 1988)
- Red Mars; Green Mars; Blue Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1993 / 1994 / 1997)
- Iron Council (China Miéville, 2005)
Although I acknowledge that several of the novels in my gaps - as well as many others in more contemporary SF - have a distinctly fantastical element to them, I'm not a huge fantasy fan. I love The Lord of the Rings, but that is more of an SF book than a fantasy in many ways (or so I argued for my term paper in that university SF class). Despite the general overlap of the two genres, I tend not to pursue the fantasy side of the shelf, so most current fantasy series also exist as significant gaps for me. That said, there are a couple of novels and/or series that I might check out at some point, including Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and Stephen King's The Dark Tower. And no, I do not think that I will end up reading George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series (more on that in the television section).
I manage to keep up fairly well with nerdy movies, as there are only five to ten new entries that are really necessary to see each year, many of which happen to also double as primary films in the zeitgeist. Still, there are a few odd gaps in my filmography, and with a little help from our friends Google and IMDB, I was able to come up with a list of thirty movies that have somehow eluded me thus far. This is by no means an authoritative list - this compilation on IMDB is far more exhaustive - but it does give me a good starting point for doing some catching up.
- The Abyss (1989)
- Army of Darkness (1992)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978)
- Contact (1997)
- The Dark Crystal (1982)
- Donnie Darko (2001)
- Dune (1984)
- Escape from New York (1981) and Escape from L.A. (1996)
- Gattaca (1997)
- The Goonies (1985)
- The Last Starfighter (1984)
- Legend (1985)
- Logan's Run (1976)
- Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1981), and Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
- Metropolis (1927)
- Minority Report (2002)
- Never Let Me Go (2010)
- Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
- Solaris (1972)
- Solaris (2002)
- Spaceballs (1987)
- Time Bandits (1981)
- Total Recall (1990)
- Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010)
- Willow (1988)
TV is easily my most significant area of gaps in terms of nerd culture. I think it's partially because of the amount of time that must be invested into a TV show in order to make it worthwhile, but I think it's in part because it is not that difficult to know the general direction of a show even without watching it. I have watched a lot of nerdy TV over the years, but I still have a few gaps despite my devotion to science fiction and general nerdiness.
Let's take a few moments to talk about the glut of superhero shows on television right now. I enjoy superheroes as much or more than the average person, but there are too many of them: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Agent Carter; Arrow; The Flash; Gotham; Heroes Reborn; and Supergirl are all on this year - and that's not counting the Marvel shows on Netflix - Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and the upcoming series Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders. I will admit that I'm slightly interested in FX's upcoming Legion, but that's primarily due to the involvement of Fargo's Noah Hawley, who has definitely proven himself with his first two seasons in the north midwest.
Although I did watch the first seasons of DD and JJ on Netflix, I have no intention of continuing with those series, as I just did not see the payoff being equal to the input of time. I'll wait until something really interesting comes along before devoting more attention to superheroes on the small screen.I know a lot of people thought that Jessica Jones filled that niche, but I thought it ended up becoming a little too superhero gimmicky near the end. At any rate, not watching these shows frees me up to pursue other nerdy television projects; I included them here as an aside to justify their non-inclusion on my larger list.
It is convenient right now that I don't have any ongoing nerdy shows that are taking my attention; in fact, the only show I'm watching in this oeuvre is Doctor Who, which will not return for its tenth series for awhile. I have a few on my radar to check out - namely The Man in the High Castle, the space opera The Expanse, the mini-series Childhood's End, and Orphan Black - but the absence of any dominant show at this point makes this a great time to fill in some of these gaps. I will finish some of these shows, but there are a few on this list that I include for the justification of why I probably (or definitely) will not pursue finishing them. At any rate, here is my list of main nerdy TV gaps, in chronological order of when the shows aired:
Classic Doctor Who - I have a friend who is methodically watching all of the old Who episodes and blogging about them, but I imagine the furthest I might go is to pick the highlights of his observations and then watch a few episodes here and there.
Star Trek: The Original Series - This is easily the most embarrassing gap on this list, since I was a Trekkie when I was a kid, but I am trying to rectify it. I am working my way through Season 2, but I still have two-thirds of this show to go; I gotta say, though, that it's slow going, but that Trek does make great background noise.
The Prisoner - At only seventeen episodes, this is probably the easiest one to knock off this list. It's more esoteric than the others, but it's unexpectedly foundational for a lot of shows that succeeded it, so I should probably watch it.
Monty Python's Flying Circus - The second most embarrassing admission on this list, but one that's easy to fix.
Blackadder - It's not science fiction, but this historical comedy definitely has a lot of crossover nerd appeal. I'll take care of this one after Python.
Max Headroom - This '80s cult favourite is another very short entry that it just seems like something that I should have seen. And hey, Matt Frewer!
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The absence of this show from my repertoire is odd, as I was a big Trekkie at the time it started. I think we didn't have cable for a year or two, or I just never got into it for some reason, but it is legitimately odd that I did not watch this show, especially when they started bringing over characters from Next Gen to the cast.
Babylon 5 - I have heard from fans of DS9 that B5 is the even better '90s space station TV series, but I doubt I'll have time for both. I might get to DS9 someday; I doubt I'll get to Babylon 5.
Star Trek: Voyager - This is another odd exception for me, as most of it aired while I was in high school and my first year of university, a period when I had more disposable time than any other period in my life. I think I can chalk this one up mostly to a lack of availability before DVDs and the internet were commonplace. I do remember watching the premiere and not really being interested, so maybe that had something to do with it, but it could also be that the show took a couple of seasons.
Star Trek: Enterprise - Another strange Star Trek gap in my repertoire, and arguably proof that I was not a Trekkie so much as I was a fan of The Next Generation. This one came while I was in school and also when I avoided TV due to some personal convictions, and I doubt that I will get around to watching it; there are, after all, three other Star Trek series (and the new one coming in 2017!) that will take priority over it in the queue. Then again, if any of them ever appeared on Netflix...
Battlestar Galactica - I very strongly considered watching the series for much of the time that it was on; at one point I even owned the entire series thanks to some nifty thrifting, but I sold it after I realized that I could just as easily spend that money on something like board games. There's a chance that this would be my next big project, but I think it would have to take mutual interest from my wife to make that happen. I was disincentivized to watch it after the reaction to the finale, but I should probably make it happen at some point.
Lost - I had taken a few years away from TV in the early aughts largely due to school and some personal conviction, but I had started to come back ever so slightly by the time Lost premiered in 2004. I was in university at the time, which was, oddly, a time when I did not watch much TV; I just had too much going on with classes and extra-curricular and life in general. But throughout its first two years, Lost was near the top of my list of shows to check out; it had, after all, concluded two critically acclaimed seasons and had already won an Emmy and captured the general zeitgeist and was right in that window of "I could catch up on this now and keep watching it for awhile". But then came Hiro, the cheerleader, HRG, and the rest of the Heroes, which became the nerdy show to watch (at least until the writer's strike halfway through Season 2 ended any leftover momentum the show might have had despite a very weak early second season). Between Heroes and the other shows taking my attention, I never got to the Island, and by the time I could have, it was too late.
Fringe - It seems that my limit is usually one nerdy show at a timed (mostly non-intentionally, but still a factor), so not watching Fringe was more of a by-product of watching Chuck. Fringe is only 100 episodes, so it's possible that I might get around to it, but for now it's on this list.
Game of Thrones - I have written before about why I'm not a Thronie, but I'll reiterate it here in brief. I thought about watching it when the show first premiered - even until the end of the second season - but I hit a point at which I decided that I'm not going to watch it. I'm sure it's fascinating and all, but I'm not a huge fantasy guy, and I have read too many stories about problematic issues of violence toward women to make me want to watch it.
The Walking Dead - Look, I enjoyed World War Z - the book first, and then the movie - and I appreciate movies like 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. But this whole ongoing zombie apocalypse obsession baffles me, and I don't get how people immerse themselves in it so entirely.
I have been playing video games for almost three decades (!) since the early days of the NES. I started on the Intellivision with classics like Night Stalker, Lock 'N Chase, and Astrosmash. I fondly remember exploring the overworld of The Legend of Zelda and making painstakingly detailed maps on graph paper with my dad when I was seven or eight. I have had every home Nintendo console, and I spent a lot of time in my twenties collecting retro games (many of which I have now been able to sell with a higher return to fund my board gaming in my thirties). But despite my lifelong pursuit of video games, I still have a few inexplicable gaps in my repertoire over the years.
1. Anything XBox and Playstation - If it was released on a non-Nintendo platform after 2000, it's a gap for me. Sure, I'm familiar enough with the tropes and basic concept of the paragons of the games of the new millennium, but I'm not intimately acquainted with the characters and stories of so many of the most popular nerd series of the past several years. Halo, Fallout, Mass Effect, Gears of War, Bioshock, Elder Scrolls - missed out on them all. There's an argument to be made that I should try to catch up on at least some of those titles, but I'll be honest: it's not going to happen, and I'm okay with that.
2. Pokémon - Pikachu and company are in the midst of celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and I continue to be bewildered by the popularity of these little monsters. Let me elaborate: it's not that I do not understand why they are popular - after all, noted nerd hero Malcolm Gladwell included his observations about their "stickiness" in The Tipping Point - it's just that they have absolutely no appeal to me. I was thirteen when Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow were released, so I think I was just a couple of years past the point at which they would have really drawn me in, which is evidenced by the number of friends I have in their late twenties for whom Pokémon was a huge influence. And honestly, I don't feel much need to catch up on them now.
3. Role-playing games - I was a child of the '80s, which meant that my mother's parenting was significantly influenced by some of the trends of the time, one of which was the fearmongering of Reagan-era American Evangelicals about the evils of Dungeons and Dragons. Though I concede that my mom had some meaningful points and that there was some validity to elements of her argument, it remains that anything fantastical that involved magic and role-playing elements was not allowed in my house, so I have some distinct gaps in my gaming repertoire over the years and I do not typically have much desire to pursue those genres now because I did not play them then.
Sure, I have played every Legend of Zelda game and Super Mario RPG - one of my all-time favourites - but there are myriad games that I did not play, including games from series such as Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, Golden Sun, and Fire Emblem, among many others. I'm trying to make up some of those gaps by playing through games like Earthbound and Chrono Trigger, which are admittedly far less fantastical than their counterparts, but I doubt that I will ever truly embrace the fullness of video game RPGs.
4. Real-Time Simulations (RTS) and MMORPGs - I was a console gamer, so I did not end up playing a lot of these kinds of games, since they did not make a lot of appearances outside of PC gaming in the early years. I'm aware of Warcraft, StarCraft, Age of Empires, and many more - I just never played them. I played a few multiplayer rounds of Empires: Dawn of the Modern World over the years, but I usually lost in fantastic fashion mostly because I could not figure out how to make everything work. In the same way, I never got into Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs, many of which emerged from early RTS games.
5. Civilization (and other 4X games) - I have started learning how to play 4X board games, but I never played them in video game form. The idea of sprawling empires and technology trees and combat systems still remains somewhat confusing to me, but I am gaining some familiarity with the conventions of the genre.
I have only been intentionally pursuing board games as a hobby for five years, so I do have several significant gaps in my tabletop gaming. I alluded to several items in this list my post about my experience playing Twilight Imperium a few weeks ago, but I thought that it might be useful to expand on those brief mentions with some further comments here.
1. Magic: The Gathering - MTG was one of the earliest examples of the new nerdy wave of board gaming in the mid-90s, and it has inarguably been one of the most influential games of the last two decades of gaming, to the point that even the term "tap" (meaning "to incline a card 90 degrees to indicate that it has been played") has been trademarked and cannot be used in other rulebooks. I have never played it or any of its ilk that involve card collecting and/or deck construction, and I don't see that I would, other than perhaps to become more familiar with its basic gameplay and strategy. A game like Magic requires such singular focus to succeed because of the breadth and depth of its content that it seems unlikely that I would be able to find the time to play it adequately.
2. Dead of Winter and zombie games - Dead of Winter is by far the most popular of the recent zombie craze of board games (Number 22 on BGG), but it is far from the only one, as it seems like every other month that there is a new zombie game with miniatures on Kickstarter, with no signs of abating. As I mentioned earlier, I'm not a huge zombie fan; I can appreciate it, but I just don't quite get how ubiquitous it is (kind of like the whole Cthulhu thing - it has just taken over board gaming in the past decade). I'm sure I will play Dead of Winter at some point, but I have not made zombie games a huge priority.
3. Miniatures - This is one part of the tabletop world that I just do not get at all, as miniatures are an entirely different world from tabletop games. I have friends who are into Warhammer 40,000 or one of the other popular miniature games, and I can see why it appeals to them; it just holds no appeal for me. The time, cost, and energy input are incredibly high, and you have to spend a lot of time on your minis in order to justify any of those inputs. Definitely not for me.
4. RPGs - Since role-playing video games were out when I was a kid, tabletop RPGs were definitely out. I do think it would be interesting to try to play one of the hybrid RPG/Euro tabletop games, but I doubt I will ever get into RPGs as a game format. They require a lot of time and continuity, neither of which I tend to have; for now, I'll have to content myself with rewatching that Season 2 episode of Community for my Dungeons and Dragons
5. Fantasy games and dungeon crawlers - As I have mentioned before, I'm not much of a fantasy guy in any form of media, and board games are no different. I do own Lords of Waterdeep, which has a fantasy setting within the Dungeons and Dragons world, but it is a fantasy game in presentation only; at its core, it is a tried and true worker placement game, and it does not really fit the mold of fantasy games. There are a whole series of board games set in the D and D world, as well as many others with various assortments of ogres, trolls, wyverns, witches, warlocks, and the myriad other fantastical races available, but I have not played many (well, barely any) of them. There's a whole linguistic and thematic subset of terms and information to master here, and although I'm somewhat aware of the mechanical and thematic conventions of the genre, I doubt I will ever really pursue this branch of gaming.
Reflections and Realizations
Well, that certainly was exhaustive - and you're probably almost as exhausted after reading this post as I was in compiling it. As I mentioned earlier, I have had hints of a lot of this post in posts in previous years (sometimes with carryovers of the same lists), so a lot of my work was spent in collating and collecting different thoughts into this one post. As I was going through this process, I ended up with a few realizations and reflections on my nerdiness and on this entire enterprise.
You might assume that I felt a lot of guilt or shame as I discovered more and more gaps in my nerdiness, and that this has destroyed any nerd street cred I may have once had. Although I was initially feeling some of that reticence in even sharing these lists for those reasons, I realized that I don't have much of which I should be ashamed. (There are, of course, a couple of glaring omissions, but I admitted those at the time I discussed them.)
I am proud of my current nerdiness, and I have mostly come to peace with at least some of the gaps that exist. I wrote a lot of this post by way of explanation, rather than justification, and I am comfortable with most of my level of nerdiness, gaps and all. And I do not necessarily feel the need to have to fill them on my own, as I have friends who fill almost each one of these gaps. Thanks to the internet, I have connections with masters of each of these areas - science fiction and fantasy literature, movies, certain TV shows, video games, and board games - and ways to access and interact with their geeky exploits, many of which outstrip my own.
A Gateway into Geekery
I also recognize that I am somewhat of a gateway into geekery for a lot of my friends and community, particularly the people who are less inclined to this end of the pop culture spectrum. Though I cannot speak authoritatively into every nerdy area (as my gaps would attest), I would consider myself to be significantly advanced in the spectrum as a whole, and I can help point people in the right direction. To return to Gladwell's The Tipping Point, I tend not to be a maven (with knowledge) or salesman (who can convince others), but rather a connector, who builds a network and whose main skill set is helping people connect with those around them. There are, of course, many areas in which I do have extensive knowledge and in which I am functionally a maven, but I prefer my role as connector.
It's not a dissimilar position to what I do within the context of the church - though I am not a theologian or a missiologist or a pastor myself, I know enough of the whole picture to help guide people into at least a beginning understanding of some of the finer points of each of those areas. I may not have the specific depths of each of those areas, but I know enough of the breadth and have enough depth in enough areas to justify having a meaningful voice in the conversation. I acknowledge those gaps as well, and if anything, having those gaps makes me a stronger person, as I have to rely on those around me to fill in those gaps.
An Inci-Dental Conclusion
Perhaps the best analogy I have considered is my missing tooth. I had one of my back right molars pulled about two and a half years ago because it was causing me increasing amounts of pain. My dentist gave me a couple of options for filling in the gap, including getting a flipper denture or getting an implant. I vacillated on the options, largely because of possible cost, and I ended up deciding not to get either, mostly because (I thought) my coverage had run out and I did not want to pay that much money for something mostly cosmetic.
And now, I've just become used to having that gap in my mouth; it doesn't really affect my smile or my chewing ability, and although there is a possibility that I may have some slight effect on the neighbouring teeth, it's not really enough to worry about. It's likely that at some point someday that I will find a way to have that gap filled, but it's not a huge priority either in terms of time or finances.
In the same way, I have become used to many of these geek gaps. Sure, there are a few that I bemoan and lament and am actively trying to fill, but I'm mostly just aware that the gaps are there and that there's not a lot of damage being done. I'm content to let those gaps stay there and to work around them for now, and I'm sure I'll get to them at some point sooner or later. They don't really affect me much, and I'm happy with who I am.
tl;dr I'm a nerd, I have a lot of gaps in my experience of nerd culture, and I'm okay with that because I have friends who can fill in those gaps and because the existence of those gaps doesn't really affect me too much.