Friday, March 27, 2009

RL, meet Nerds

This article's title has changed about a million times since I started writing it.

What is a nerd? A miserable little pile of secrets? Our classic example of the nerd is a white male, overweight, who has no social life or redeeming qualities. He spends his life surfing the internet and playing video games and has no sense of reality.

Obviously not all nerds are like that. Today, nerds come in all shapes and genders. Most nerds are pretty self-realized compared to the average person, too. My nerd friends tend to more aware of their faults and more thoughtful of the world around them. My non-nerd friends don't have the same degree of self-awareness and tend to just kind of float around the people they know, not realizing what other people think of them.

I feel like the difference between nerds and normal people is the general desire to achieve things. It seems sort of weird since most nerds tend to be slackers, but we also tend to want to be good at almost anything. I think the real distinction is that nerds will actually look into what it takes to improve themselves, think about it a bit, and magically through the power of learning be better at it.

Non-nerds tend to want to skip the sitting down and learning part, and want to get right to the being better, but the end result is that most non-nerds tend to fall short of nerds in anything that requires extensive study. Non-nerds tend to learn things by doing them over a period of time, while we tend to learn things just by thinking about them. Carl Jung would call this 'intuition.'

The problem is that real life is not a meritocracy. Socially, people like to hang out with people that are similar to each other. The problem is that nerds and normal people aren't very similar (we tend to think very differently on things) and it causes a sort of rift between us.

In college, I remember when I was in math (easy math, like logarithms and stuff, I was an arts major) and people in my class asked me for help, because I understood the problems better than the other people at our table. I tried, as nicely as possible to explain things to them. I distinctly remember not deliberately insulting anyone's intelligence, but I was an elitist at the time, so it's possible I might have been rude at some point. Anyway, while the people at the table thanked me for my help, they mentioned that the math was so hard (lol) and I was pretty weird for understanding it without having ever done it before. At the same time, I thought they were totally retarded, even though I never said anything out loud.

That's a bad attitude to have, but I think it is very common among nerds. Normal people don't really understand us because we understand things better, and we don't understand them because they can't figure out simple things.

What ends up happening though is that we go online, because the internet is far more of a meritocracy than real life is. If you are good at something, people tend to notice. If you aren't very good, the internet is really harsh about letting you know that you've failed. On the internet, we get to meet people like ourselves who understand things the way we do. In the world of the internet, the normal people that go there for social reasons tend to flock to the nerds that can do things well.

For some reason or another, we can be a lot more socially open in a virtual world. I think this is more because we have a barrier of expertise to rely on. When you are a purpled level 80 warrior, you don't really have to explain your skills to people. People can see you and know that you have experience and knowledge. I think this is more true than the actual excuse that we can be more expressive because there is a shield of anonymity. I also think it is because people are more receptive to being talked to online. If you walk up to someone and say "Hi" in a game, people respond back. But for some reason, RL isn't the same.

This is not to say that there are not people who do things (mostly bad things) because the internet is anonymous. There are definitely people who do. But most of the people who are more open and expressive probably aren't open because they are hiding behind a screen. If anything, I think most people want to express themselves as much as they can in the internet world, rather than hide behind some incognito face. In an average guild chat, most people will give their real age and occupation if asked. Sometimes kids will lie, but most older people don't. Even more strangely, they will give away information about themselves, like their location or even the restaraunts they eat at. These people aren't trying to hide themselves behind a screen.

Virtual worlds give nerds (and really everyone else too) the chance to express ourselves fully without a lot of the fear of ridicule that one might get somewhere else. It's kind of odd to talk about video games in a public place in real life, but in a chatroom, forum, or even in another game it seems totally normal.

I like that in virtual worlds, nerds and normal people generally get along. Sometimes they even develop romance together! This is so different than real life, where it's really unusual to see the same occurrences.

Maybe one of these days I'll try explaining how to deal with real life, but honestly the rules of society are weird and really don't make sense. So really, the point of this post (was there one?) was that nerds are mainly reclusive because RL is weird and makes no sense.

Being able to sort your friends in a buddy list or guild window helps too!

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