The Post-Geek Aesthetic

by Dan H

Dan opens himself for ridicule.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine decided to self-identify as "post geek". We mocked him thoroughly for this. The years have passed, and I'm beginning to see what he was getting at.

"Post Geek" is a lifestyle choice in which one does geeky things, but not in a geeky way or, as the originator of the term put it "being a geek, but not being all about the being a geek."

Now okay, this sounds like so much verbal weaselling, the lifestyle equivalent of "this is not a call centre, it is a centre from which calls are made." However I've noticed some small changes in my behaviour and attitudes recently which I think nicely indicate the transition from "geek" to "post-geek".

Case 1: Game versus Gamestation

In the Westgate centre in Oxford there are two game stores within spitting distance of one another. Game is an enormous chain, there's branches of it all over the place, even in major department stores. It's a bit soulless, kind of corporate, but it's got a decent range and the store is well laid out. The staff, while they don't always sound like they're hardcore gamers (more on that phrase later) are personable, well presented, and polite.

Gamestation, on the other hand, is what you might call a gamer's game store. It's darker, more crowded, has an extensive pre-owned and classic game section, and while it doesn't always have the biggest set of new releases, you can find some interesting stuff there if you look in the right place and get a bit lucky. The staff are generally classic geek types: they know their stuff, they wear slightly grubby teeshirts, and they give the vague impression that they'd rather be playing Counterstrike.

A couple of years ago, I would have been all about Gamestation. I would have felt that it was extremely important to buy your games from a game store for gamers, and not from some slick corporate outfit. Recently, though, when I have wandered into gamestation, trying to find a suitable way to spend the disposable income which comes with my comfortably paid regular job, I have found myself thinking things like "gosh, this place isn't terribly well lit" and "the rock music they're playing in here isn't terribly conducive to my shopping experience" or even "I wonder if I could pick this up cheaper in HMV".

In short, these days, I prefer to shop at Game, because when I buy something from a shop, I want to walk into the shop, see what I want, and pay for it with as little fuss as possible. I don't want to bump into some guy playing on the instore X-Box, I don't want to flip through fifty pre-owned games on the offchance of finding the one I'm looking for. I want to be served by somebody who bothered to shave that morning.

Case 2: This Is Hardcore

I play quite a lot of computer games. More precisely, I have played the beginnings of quite a lot of computer games and, there are several games I have played through more than once. There may even have been a time when I would have aspired to the coveted status of a "hardcore" gamer.

A lot of modern games (particularly modern CRPGs) are lambasted by the "hardcore" crowd for the simplifications they make. Oblivion gets slated for doing away with crossbows and throwing daggers. Jade Empire and Bard's Tale get it in the neck for getting rid of inventory management. People claim that modern games are too simple, too easy, aimed too much at the "casual" gamer.

Now it's true that modern games lack some of the elements that older games lacked. As games have become more technologically sophisticated, they have been forced to cut back on some of their earlier excesses. If Neverwinter Nights 2 had contained locations as large as the ones in the original Baldur's Gate the game would have been unplayable on even the highest-end machines. Old games had a scale which modern games can't have. Furthermore, many of them demanded an investment of time and energy which the "casual gamer" (who, we are told, is all the modern market caters for) is not willing to put into a simple game.

It's taken me a while to come to terms with this, but I am perfectly content to be a "casual gamer."

I have a job, students, a girlfriend, and a DVD habit to support. I have far, far better things to devote my time and energy to than video games. If game developers can spare me the pain of working out how to fit that eighth suit of full plate into my character's inventory, or the precise set of pre-combat buffs that I need to get past Stock Kobold Battle #7 then I am more than happy for them to do it. I want a computer game to be something I actually enjoy playing, not something that makes me feel better than other people because I can dock my Cobra manually.

Case 3: East of Java.

This is the hardest, and perhaps the most personal of the examples in this article. Secretly I have begun to wonder, just occasionally, whether coffee might not taste better with a little bit of milk in it. Just a little bit mind you. Just sometimes.

Sitting down and typing this out, I'm genuinely surprised at how hard that was to admit. It's not often that I find things genuinely hard to type (I think the last sentence that gave me difficulty was "sometimes, accusations of rape are in fact false") but that one was a killer. For well over ten years now I have Drunk My Coffee Black and to consider any alternative still stings some part of my pride.

For reasons I do not readily understand (although I think it ties in to a culture of staying up late - another thing I'm no longer hugely fond of) black coffee is a tremendous totem of the Geek mentality. People who actually take milk deserve nothing less than naked scorn and derision and of course the sole criterion on which a coffee should be judged is its strength, the sheer quantity of caffeine it dumps into your system.

I'm rather undermining my own credentials here, but part of me still thinks this way, and the more I catch myself in it the more embarrassed I become about the ways in which I self define (or self-defined). It rather worries me that I don't decide how to drink my coffee based on what I feel like at the time, but instead on some ludicrous notion about what my choice of hot beverage says about me as a person.

In Summation: Being Post Geek

The Post Geek motto is like William Hague's famous failed slogan: "In Geekdom but Not Run By Geekdom".

I like black coffee, I like computer games and science fiction TV shows before they go bad. I read the occasional webcomic, I play the occasional RPG. I don't believe that Sandman is great literature or that Hot Fuzz was anything other than a good comedy. I don't believe that the internet wields any particular power, or that anybody cares Which Simpsons Character I Would Be.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to play my girlfriend's copy of Jade Empire.

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Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 16:08 on 2007-03-02
So let me get this straight ... you expect the guy who sells you your copy of Warhammer Mark of Chaos to have shaved but you still teach physics while resembling a homeless guy who has accidentally wandered in off the street? Bless you my little darling ... and get your paws off my copy of Jade Empire.
Jen Spencer at 17:54 on 2007-03-02
Damn straight! If you can get it cheaper in HMV, then I say go to it. I like growing up a bit - the little crappy things that once obsessed are put in perspective, and generally one becomes less of an arsehole. :)
Arthur B at 11:05 on 2007-03-03
"Casual gaming" means not running your Weapons of the Gods game more than once a week? Makes sense to me, "hardcore" gaming seems to involve letting your entire social life revolve around it.

The thing I've found about the transition is that it's so painless. It's the reverse of painless. It's great fun trying to establish a grown-up existence.

See you at the next post-geek support group meeting.
Kia at 13:41 on 2007-03-07
So is a "post-geek" someone who's changed from actively conforming to a geek stereotype to actively conforming to a post-geek stereotype (said stereotype being illustrated by the examples here), or someone who's graduated from actively conforming to a geek stereotype to making up their own mind? Either way, it seems an awfully slim definition on which to hang the label of a nascent subculture...

And should people's personal preferences in computer game purchase and coffee drinking actually matter to anyone? It's all a matter of individual choice, until either camp starts telling people that their choice is somehow better!
Arthur B at 14:12 on 2007-03-07
I don't think it's a matter of conforming to geek stereotypes so much as subscribing to geek groupthink. The difference is slight but real - stereotypes are about what other people think about "geekdom", whereas groupthink is about how a particular clique, gaggle, or subculture defines itself.

For example, there was a thread on a while back about "casual gamers", which caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, there was some quite incredible expressions of hostility towards casual gamers. Secondly, at least six different definitions of "casual gamer" cropped up, ranging from "people for whom gaming is not their primary hobby" to "people who don't make every single session of every single game they are involved in" to "people who can converse about non-gaming topics". groupthink ( being a particular grouping which could be classified as "geeky" if you wanted to) is hostile to the casual gamer, because the casual gamer is not hardcore enough, not dedicated enough, is suspiciously willing to drop the game in order to spend time with his girlfriend. The post-geek outlook doesn't really care either way, so long as people are keeping a healthy hobby/life balance.
Arthur B at 14:23 on 2007-03-07
Hmm, forgot to bring in the conclusion to that thought - here it is:

The thing is, there is a certain tendency in any subculture to get a little smug. "I'm in with the in-crowd, I'm part of the clique, I belong with the people who belong in this wonderful welcoming group of folk who share my interest (hobby-based, musical, religious, sexual, whatever) - how can those outsiders, those mundanes who are so freaked by our various activities ever understand me?" I think a big part of becoming "post-geek", or "growing up", or however you want to put it is to realise that, while other people's superiority complexes are dumb and groundless, *so are yours*, and while attaching labels to other people is a waste of energy, attaching a label to *yourself* - either explicitly, or by conforming to the expectations of said label - is just as pointless. Like the man said, "being a geek, but not being all about the being a geek".
Wardog at 16:32 on 2007-03-07
Dan is defining a nascent subculture? Dear me, call me shallow but I thought he was having a joke...
Claire E Fitzgerald at 16:46 on 2007-03-07
And all this commentroversy is to ignore the article's *real* failing
Claire E Fitzgerald at 16:46 on 2007-03-07
[Cont]...surely if there's one sign of 24-carat pure geekdom, it's the ability to get exercised by a satirical article in a humourous webzine? But then, I can't possibly be a true-blood geek, because I'm still sniggering at the phrase "docking my Cobra manually". PS - I am Moe.
Arthur B at 01:25 on 2007-04-17
Exhuming this article from the grave to point out that's Be A Better Nerd series (navigable via the links at the bottom of the page) could well be the most crushingly harsh post-geek statement to date. I especially liked the articles entitled "Nobody Invited Your Brujah", "Your Orange Kilt Does Not Make You Special" and "I Find Your Lack of Pants Disturbing".
Michal at 09:25 on 2011-09-03
I found that if you replaced "games" with "books" in this article, I'd be the sad little man being denigrated here. Actually, mostly in regards to Case 1, where I do slink through poorly-lit used bookstores in search of obscure out of print volumes. I always have some book or the other on the go, sometimes multiple books at once, and re-read often (compulsive with reading, I am). However, I do not drink coffee, as acid reflux means that if I do so, I will actually vomit a little in my mouth.

Fortunately, reading seems like one of those "far, far better things to devote my time and energy to than video games" things. I've found I can't even play computer games any more, as the time commitment is too great and I realize far too quickly that I'm just repeatedly clicking on things. Gaming actually feels like I'm wasting time these days. This actually leaves me a little bit sad.
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