Editor's Note: Geek Culture

Geek Culture

This is my tribe, our tribe. We recognize each other in cultures and geographies different from our norm. We recognize the clothing, we know the entertainment media, we understand each other's interests.

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Hi Julianne,

Good article, but I'm not sure I agree with the central premise. Specifically, are gamers geeks? Is there a 'gamers' tribe?

I can believe that somebody who isn't computer literate would describe a gamer as a geek, but if you delve under the surface it seems more complex. This is a world in which people want to fly their individuality like a flag, for every gamer who's considered (or considers themselves) a geek, there's somebody else who considers adult gamers to be overgrown children, and believes you're not a geek until you've submitted your first linux kernel patch (or at least installed Debian as your primary OS).

In the same way as my gran may have considered Meat Loaf to be of the same musical genre as Slipknot, it becomes easier to generalise the less involved or knowledgeable you are on a subject. For people who don't like or understand computers, giving a four letter label to a huge swathe of the population is easier than learning about them. I like the way geek has been reclaimed as a positive or at least semi-positive term, but feel its use is too broad to claim a group identity amongst those 'tarred with the brush'.

Just like someone freshly introduced to the word Christian might struggle to understand the enmity between different Christian churches while a devout follower would be able to define exactly why their church was 'correct', I think 'geek' is a term that has comparable layers of complexity beneath what seems a straightforward definition.

I suspect there are a few software engineers out there who would scoff at the idea that playing GTA4 qualified you as a geek, just like there are plenty of gamers who would accept being called a geek but be contemptuous of somebody whose work was technical but not interesting to them.

I'm also sceptical of the idea that there's a gamer tribe. The scenario you describe in the parent article could describe any trade event regardless of the specific industry. It sounds like industry 'networking' more than tribal behaviour.

I certainly haven't seen people wearing the same clothes outside of work requirements (that would scare me) and I'm not convinced that people who work in the same industry necessarily share interests.

For example, if I take two friends at work doing the same job as me, one of them is fascinated by War memorabilia, the other by hunting, while I like British 'kitchen-sink' plays of the 1950's and 60's.

Musically, one likes classical music, another strange 80's synth bands, while I listen to Indie (British and American) and most of the artists who are/were on the Anticon label.

All three of us agreed that Bioshock was a really well executed game, but my colleagues haven't played most of the games I consider my favourites and I haven't played a lot of their favourites either.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, there's very little crossover in our interests, as much as we're good friends there is no communal feeling or tribe. Each of us feels with equal certainty that our taste in games/music/films/politics/people etc. is correct and that the others are only sticking to their opinions out of stubbornness and a reluctance to lose face. (Three chiefs, no followers)

Having said all the above, I'm fully prepared to be told that I'm being a misanthropic old man and should stop picking holes in other peoples articles. Am I too old to be reading this?

My geek culture is a Commodore 64 playing Gribbly's Day Out or a Spectrum playing Jumping Jack. I'm not sure how widely shared that vision is, if I've got a tribe I don't think it's large enough to go picking fights.

Yours (hoping the warpaint covers what the loincloth doesn't)


Nothing like the good ole pack mentality!

Hi M

Thanks for your comments! There's a lot here to consider.

First, I'll have to say my way of looking at people and labeling people is a little different than you describe - I don't tend to firmly label people. They have such a way of surprising me and stretching beyond expectations in both wonderful and terrible ways that I find it to be an exercise in futility. But, I do look for commonalities in order to relate to and understand them.

I use the word tribe as a kind way to express that commonality, I guess. It's not that everyone in the tribe is exactly the same, or that we share the same views on everything from music to politics. It's more that we do have some things in common and it's those things that connect us.

That having been said, I do believe there's a "Geek" tribe. You mention it having been a derogatory term in the past, and sure some people still consider it so. I don't! :) I wasn't labelling the people in my tribe geeks, but rather the people in it are interested in "geeky pursuits" like videogames, sci-fi TV, working in game or tech fields, or other such geek culture.

Sure, my hanging with people in Hungary was work-related, but the rest of the trip was not. I randomly bumped into these people on my travels, and perhaps it's simply my naivete, but I felt a kinship with them. I understood their interest in things not commonly held as popular. Understanding where most others do not is a strong pull for both sides and breaks the ice a bit.

And I have some fond memories of the Commodore 64 - I vividly remember playing QIX with a friend of mine after school...

^^^^^ I believe firmly in what you have said and am surprised at how hit home for me. I fully understand when you speak about the "Geek" tribe. I'm personally the gamer and sci-fi TV part of the geek culture due to my impairedness at anything cumputerized.

Diablo 2 was my elementary school days and BSG is OK, but Stargate all the way!!!


...the people in it are interested in "geeky pursuits" like videogames, sci-fi TV, working in game or tech fields, or other such geek culture...

I think this is a really interesting and difficult point. My original piece for this issue (that morphed into "How to bite the head off a chicken") was going to argue that the 'Geek Tribe' has become a self-imposed myth.

18, arguably 19 of the 20 top-grossing movies of all time are sci-fi or fantasy based (http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross?region=world-wide). Games and tech are rapidly becoming part of everyday life, especially for young people in developed countries. I agree that there's still something joining 'people like us' around the world, but this is surely on the point of going nova.

Whatever real tribalism that remains often seems like a defensive, destructive thing: like the Browncoats who made "Serenity' into a mad geek totem pole rather than the mass-appeal film it really was, and hurt it severely in the process. For me, at least, 'Geek Culture' makes me wonder if we're not clinging to the idea of a small, special club with a 'keep out' sign on the door...

Thank you as always, Julianne, for pushing the discussion.


Colin Rowsell

I think somewhere between Julianne's comments and Colin's comments there's the fundamental truth I was trying to get at, that for those not interested in technology, there's just a mass of people all considered geeks (with a faintly negative connotation)

However, if you get closer, this group can be sub-divided almost endlessly.

As an example, suppose I pick on console gamers as geeks. Especially among younger gamers you'll find that their resources stretch to one console. This is why, whatever the generation there's always a similar debate to C64 vs Spectrum, Amiga vs ST, ps3 vs xbox360 etc.

Whatever a person has they defend vigorously, because it would be unthinkable to them that they'd bought the 'wrong' product and they'll waste breath attacking a rival system. (while one rich kid with both sits in the background asking 'Can't we all just get along?')

Lines are drawn in the sand.

It doesn't end there though, because if you focus on the users of one console you can sub-divide again. Along with gamers who like games regardless of genre, you'll find people who are only interested in certain types of game and regard other game types as boring.

So if we had a tribe called ps3, a number of followers would break away and try to identify itself by becoming the 'ps3 gamers that only play [insert genre here] games' tribe (which is a really bad name for a tribe)

This can get broken down and broken down, eventually you will always end up with a tribe of one. (unless you're schizophrenic, then you may only get half)

I agree with what you say (Julianne) about people being capable of much more (or less) than an expectation, but if 'geek' has become a club and symbolic of a type of individual, rather than an actual description of an individual, it is effectively a marketing tool to get to a certain demographic (I'm aware I'm writing in the forum of a computer gaming magazine)

As Colin points out in his post above, people define themselves not only by what they like, but also by what they don't. I can think of a number of friends who would be highly offended if they thought that geek meant being part of a gang, rather than an aloof idiosyncratic individual.

Yours (aloof and idiosyncratically)


Well, M, your friends can be aloof and idiosyncratic all they want. And when they're done with that, they can come over and play bass and guitar while I sing in Rock Band. And then we'll go see the new Indiana Jones movie. You can come, too. But you are Not in charge of naming the band, as you've shown your tribe-naming skills to be ... lacking. ;)

But that's how I am. Perhaps I'm weird that way. I see both The Mysterious M and Colin seem to see the tribe thing as a way to keep people out. I see it as a way to include people who might be interested, or find a commonality upon which to build another friendship.

M mentions tribes as marketing tools; well, sometimes I use it as a way to think about my readership for The Escapist and WarCry (our other media property) to understand what they'll be interested in, to direct the content we publish. It's nothing nefarious, simply trying to figure out what will make my readers feel happy they stopped in during their lunchbreak or in their precious freetime in the evenings.

Truly, yes, we can all be broken down into our own little tribes of one, as we all are complex enough that no one is completely the same. But what good is being different if no one else is around to see it?

I think we might be surprised by the kinship we would feel with fellow geeks who dislike something we like. I don't care much for Battlestar Galactica, but I would bet I would get on more with them and have an interesting discussion about how much it isn't as great as people think it is (he he), than I would with, say, your average football fan. It's quite obvious that there are vast differences in the Geek Tribe, but that still does not get rid of the fact that the tribe exists. A Catholic and a Protestant, to reuse an analogy, would still find more in common with each other than with a Hindu or Muslim. (probably)

Another example: my flatmates and close group of friends largely share the same ideas: we are libertarian, embrace diversity and are generally atheists or non-literal theists etc. (although one does have tendencies towards eugenics) Yet we have far more disagreements than I did when I met a conservative creationist, because we have so much more in common. We are our own tribe.

Every group can be sub divided endlessly, but there's always going to be that dividing line where we can look and say a person is this, or that, and be largely accurate. I myself hate the Aristotelian method of categorising everything, but it can be applied. Sort of.

Ultimately, we're all commenting on a forum devoted to computer games. We're geeks. Strip that of both positive and negative connotations, and just have it as a description.

I see both The Mysterious M and Colin seem to see the tribe thing as a way to keep people out.

For the record, if I am now 'The Mysterious M' then Colin is going to have to do better with his 'superhero sidekick' name.

Yours (fighting crime and pushing his luck with the brackety sig thing)


I dunno. It has kind of a Batman and Robin quality.

Viva le GEEK

Well next time you're in Paris actually say hi to us. We don't bite.

Well next time you're in Paris actually say hi to us. We don't bite.

Who? Where?


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