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My geek is better than your geek

23/05/2012

When you live in New Zealand there is one thing that it is hard to get away from – sports. Rugby is part of the national psyche, and the performance of the national team, the All Blacks, is said to be able to influence the outcome of elections. Of course, with all this sport come the fans. Hordes of enthusiastic people who get all excited over 90 minutes of 30 men throwing a ball around. If you think about it, sports fans is really just a type of geek. Sure, we may not think of them that way, society has trained us to think of them as a normal part of society. Truth be told, they’re just as geeky as roleplayers and Trekkies. Don’t believe me? Let’s check Google….

geek/gēk/

Noun:
  1. An unfashionable or socially inept person.
  2. A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest: “a computer geek”

While many would not consider sports fans to be socially inept, they certainly fall under the second definition. Anyone who can give you a play-by-play of the 1977 FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Manchester United is certainly on the same level of eccentricity as someone who can recount the Battle of Yavin in more detail than is shown in Episode 4.

If you can name all of these pilots, you might be a geek.

Why is it, then, that sports geeks escape the derision normally heaped upon geeks. Is it because sports are considered to be more socially acceptable than more ‘traditional’ geek pursuits? It is commonly believed that partaking in sports is good for you, and it is… to a point. My Mum is a nurse and has treated so many rugby players who have torn their anterior cruciate ligament that she actively discouraged me from taking up the sport. It’s also worth remembering that sports fans aren’t always players themselves. Those who cannot play, ref, and those who cannot ref, sit on the couch claiming they can. And that’s not so say that other geeks are not lazy either. There are some forms of LARPing that can be just as exhausting as a game of rugby.

It’s not even a case of sports having been around longer than gaming. 5,000 year old dice have been found in Iran, and a D20 dating back to the Roman Empire sold at Christie’s Auction House in 2008. It is unlikely our distant ancestors used these dice for something other than gambling and board games, but it is fun to imagine the Epic of Gilgamesh as being the first Choose Your Own Adventure book, with a die required to determine how well the hero fared on his quest for immortality. It also doesn’t help that gaming tends to be a much smaller activity than your average sport. It’s hard to get a stadium full of people whooping and hollering when they can’t see what’s happening. At least, not in a good way.

There are a few games that seem to have made the transition, however. Poker is a prime example. Half a dozen people sitting around a table, each trying to keep the straightest face possible while scrutinising those of their opponents, doesn’t sound overly thrilling, does it? What about watching someone play a computer game? In South Korea there are two TV channels dedicated to online gaming. StarCraft has gone professional, with players competing for big money, as well as the chance to accept an oversized cheque from an actual female.

On the upside, you can use the cheque to hide your embarrassing erection.

I think there is room for a little expansion in this market. Computer gaming is doing well, but there are some board games that could be just as entertaining to watch. Fantasy Flight Games’ Battlestar Galactica board game could be shown in a similar way to poker. Instead of guessing who is sitting on a pair of Aces, the players would be trying to figure out the identity of the traitorous Cylon. It would take some clever camera work and judicious editing, but it has potential. Wil Wheaton is doing something similar with his YouTube series Tabletop, though in a more limited and educational fashion.

But I’m getting away from my original point. It seems that sports fans get to be called fans and not geeks because that’s what they’ve always been called. It’s likely not a deliberate choice, after all the term ‘geek’ didn’t really come into common use until the 1950’s. Up until then it referred to circus performers and derived from an older English work meaning ‘freak’ (making the TV show title Freaks and Geeks tautological). In the end, I guess it comes down to semantics. Sports geeks are ‘fans’, Star Trek geeks are ‘Trekkies’, and so on. Maybe coming up with terms for different types of geeks might be a way of removing some of the stigmas associated with our geekdom.

Tom Hanks has a lot to answer for.

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