The Field Guide To Geeks

A handy guide to the geek types that members of mainstream society will encounter on a daily basis.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Chapter X: Role-Playing Games

Over the past several chapters, I've mentioned certain "Geek Subsets," or fandoms and fields of interests within the subculture. In this chapter, I'll be giving a brief history of one of these subsets.

Role-Playing Games

Back in the late 1960s, Gary Gygax created a strategy game called Chainmail, and later added to it with supplemental rules for fantasy creatures. By the mid-70s, the popularity of the game led to Gygax and his fellow developers expanding it under the name Dungeons and Dragons (later Advanced Dungeons and Dragons). Rather than simply moving pieces around a map, the players of Dungeons and Dragons would actually take on the roles of the characters they played, giving them personalities and character traits of their very own. The characters themselves were randomly assigned ability levels in various characteristics such as physical prowess, intelligence, and likeability through the rolls of dice. They were able to advance in ability and power through the successful completion of "adventures" and the slaying of their enemies.

What made Dungeons and Dragons different from previous strategy games was the detail put into the environment in which the adventures took place. Rather than being played on an abstract grid, the games took place in a world with a personality and culture of its own. Starting with Blackmoor and moving on to the still-popular World of Greyhawk, Gygax and his co-creators invented a fantasy world rich with enough mythology and history to sate the dreams of the most jaded Tolkien addict. Dungeons and Dragons became an astoundingly popular game. Published by Gygax and his cronies under the TSR imprint, the game soon popped up on the shelves of nearly every science fiction and fantasy fan in existence.

As other game designers and publishing houses caught wind of Gygax's creation, literally hundreds of gaming books clogged the market. Most were cheap ripoffs of the original concept (Tunnels and Trolls? Come on, you can do better than that), some showed a spark of originality. All were lapped up by the subculture like crack for poorly socialized smart people. Eventually, games moved beyond the fantasy genre, and began to cover such topics as space opera (Traveller and Star Frontiers), post-apocalyptic adventure (Gamma World), espionage (Top Secret and James Bond 007), and even soap opera (Dallas...and good lord, you so don't want to know).

The next major breakthrough in gaming came when Steve Jackson Games and Hero Games decided to create "universal" role-playing systems, meaning that they would have simple basic rules that could conceivably be applied to any genre whatsoever. Steve Jackson was more successful at this with their unfortunately-named GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) rules, as Hero Games couldn't help tweaking their system for every new genre.

At some point in the 1980s, a subtle change began to occur in gaming circles. Whereas previous campaigns (adventures that were considered to take place in the same world, using the same characters) had been largely oriented around the roll of dice and strict adherence to rules, a new generation of players discarded this in favor of character-driven adventures. Players obsessed over their fake people, giving them extensive histories and complex psychological motivations. Campaigns in which the characters were fighting evil slowly gave way to more morally ambiguous settings and adventures. Perhaps most importantly, TSR began losing their market share as a result.

By the early 90s, the gaming community was ready for a change, and White Wolf Games stepped up to meet the challenge. With the publication of Vampire: The Masquerade, White Wolf founder Mark Rein-Hagen and his designers took advantage of the recent popularity of the gothic scene and vampire novels to present a world in which the players portrayed angsty, blood-obsessed monsters caught in a society of intrigue and desperation. This played perfectly into the "No one understands the darkness of my soul" psychology of many geeks, and additionally served to draw in the goth crowd who had stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons years before. Soon basements and living rooms around the world were crowded with black-clad eyeliner-wearing femmeboys and spooky girls rattling dice and speaking in hushed, melodramatic tones.

In the meantime, TSR sold out to a company known best for an annoyingly addictive strategy card game.

White Wolf published a number of rather popular games in what they called their "World of Darkness" series. While none had the same cultural impact as their first major work, they all met with a certain amount of success in the field. Other game designers and companies took a cue from them, and started publishing their own works in which rules systems took a back seat to character development and role-playing. A renaissance of sorts occured within the community. with a new generation of "character over rules" campaigns popping up all over the place.

Eventually, White Wolf found a niche market in Live Action Role-Playing. LARPing had been the dirty little secret of the gaming world since Dungeons and Dragons first appeared on the scene. It seems that certain people enjoyed dressing up as their characters, and acting out their adventures at private homes and in public places. In fact, several urban legends had surrounded the disappearance of a troubled student from the University of Michigan who had allegedly enjoyed playing Dungeons and Dragons in the steam tunnels beneath the campus. While it was later discovered that his disappearance was totally unrealted to role-playing, the incident did inspire the exercable Mazes and Monsters book by hack writer Rona Jaffe, and a later TV movie starring Tom Hanks. As a result, TSR shied away from any discussion regarding LARPs. White Wolf had no such qualms. They published a boxed set of rules with instructions on how to keep people from getting hurt while playing, then sat back to watch the money roll in. Soon the same black-clad angsty individuals moved out of the basements and living rooms, congregating instead in backyards and rented spaces. This partly provided opportunities for increased role-play, but mostly gave them excuses to show off their costumes and props.

Today, the role-playing scene is in a state of flux. Companies rise and fall, games go in and out of style, and new genres are explored every day. One thing remains certain: For as long as geeks find it easier to socialize when they're pretending to be someone else, role-playing games will be a vital part of the subculture.

Monday, August 01, 2005


The Swashbuckler

Usually a former Geek Guy Who Just Realized Geek Girls Get Horny Too, The Swashbuckler is usually a fixture at Rennaisance Faires and SCA Wars, though he does not limit himself to these venues. Any excuse to wear a frilly poofy shirt and wave around a rapier is a good one to this type. He tends to speak in a bastardized Shakespearean dialect at inappropriate times. Can be found in public parks late at night, scaring the local homeless people by practice-dueling with his friends. There's an apocryphal story making the rounds that a group of SCA and/or Rennaisance Faire Swashbucklers scared off a group of would-be muggers with their swords. The Swashbuckler will either claim to know these people or to have been one of them.

Reasonably nice and approachable, though newcomers to the scene tend to take mock offense at slights so as to have an excuse to challenge people to duels. Those with any musical talent whatsoever will eventually join a renaissance/medieval music group. While most of the type tend to be progressive in their daily lives, they still long for a time when they could call women "My Lady" without getting smacked upside their heads. Will drink mead to excess, stare openly at the cleavage of women around the campfire, and often end up sleeping with the one who just showed up to sell her crappy jewelry.

Role-Playing Games: Oh, hell, yes. Especially prone to fantasy and (naturally) swashbuckling.
Books and Authors: History, books on swords and swordfighting, Alexander Dumas, Steven Brust
Music: Renaissance, Medieval, The Chieftians, The Pogues.
Movies: The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood (any, even the Costner version), The Princess Bride, Cutthroat Island, Pirates of the Carribean.
Television: Most disdain it, though they'll watch Riverdance and Irish music performances on PBS.
Poetry: Tons. Tread carefully. Some is good, but many do not understand that crap in iambic pentameter is still crap.
Geek Subsets: Society for Creative Anachronism, Renaissance Faire, Role-Playing games
Quote: "Ah, M'Lady, you do wound me so greviously with thy refusal to share in carnal delights. I shall return to my campsite smaller in spirit, though uncomfortably large in the flesh"

The Costumer

The Costumer usually belongs to a few different fandoms, all of which provide her with new and exciting costumes to create. She will spend hours upon hours getting the lace just right for the bodice, making sure that the Starfleet uniform is a perfect fit, and picking the correct pattern for her Catwoman outfit. Obsesses over trivial details in life as well. Can generally be found surrounded by fabric swatches and panicking two hours before the costume contest at the geekcon is ready to start. Is in constant demand by hardcore members of all fandoms. Can be bribed with decent alcohol and/or mind-blowing sex. Generally easy to approach, though the closer she is to a major event such as Halloween, the less rational she becomes.

Owns at least one sewing dummy, though probably more. Has calluses so thick that she can use them as pincushions. Her closet looks like the aftermath of Mardi Gras (including the beads). Prone to manic highs and fitful lows. Reasonably fashionable in her day to day life, though never to the same degree as she is within the subculture. Often an Earth Mother type. Usually (but not always) Pagan. Always wins first prize at costume parties. Often will also be a Sexually Liberated Intellectual Pagan or Fantasy Femme.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, especially live action
Books and Authors: Books of patterns and historical clothing styles, otherwise per fandom.
Movies: Costume Dramas (duh)
Music: Varies, though anything soothing is favored while working towards a deadline
Television: No. Too distracting. Okay, Star Trek and some other science fiction and fantasy stuff.
Geek Subsets: All
Poetry: Usually
Quotes: "Okay, what's wrong with this picture? I'll tell you: The design on the brass buttons should not be an anchor, it should be a cross. I know I told you that before I sent you to the store. Well, don't just stand there! We only have three days till the Con!"

The Collector

He who dies with the most toys, wins. Horrible 80s bumper sticker, yes. But also a literal belief of The Collector. The Collector does not play with the toys and action figures he buys. Instead, he keeps them carefully preserved (in climate-controlled storage if he can afford it), occasionally indulging himself by opening the locker to run his fingers over the cardboard and plasticine covering his most treasured possessions. Will go on for hours about the clean lines and sentimental value of his original G.I. Joe, but will never actually play with it. Can tell you the full history of Stretch Armstrong. May also collect comic books, though this is less common since the bottom fell out of the market in the mid-90s.

Can be spotted at cons in the dealers' room, haggling over the price and quality of a mint condition Superfriends coloring book. Generally at least slightly overweight, though excessively thin types are also known to exist. Not approachable in the slightest unless you have something of interest to trade. Has been known to cash in major investments to purchase a Strawberry Shortcake oven in its original packaging. Actual fans tend to give The Collector a wide berth.

Role-Playing Games: No, though many own first editions of the books
Books and Authors: Collectors' Guides, not much else
Movies: Varies
Music: Little in his life, none in his soul
Television: Some
Poetry: None
Geek Subsets: Comic Books, any movie or television franchise that spawned merchandise
Quote: "Get away from that! Toys aren't for children"

Sunday, July 31, 2005


I should state that I've enabled anonymous comments for this blog. If you have any sort of questions, comments, constructive feedback, or unadulterated praise, I'll be happy to hear it. Feel free to reply either here or on my LiveJournal site.

I'll soon be updating this with a glossary, so newcomers to this strange and wonderful subculture won't be lost in my references to various people, events, creative works, and controversies.

On to the types!

The Techie

Born to logic and reason, The Techie is naturally concerned with how technology is portrayed in popular culture. He generally disdains fantasy works, unless said works serve to parody or debunk the idea of magic. Can often be found associating with The Objectivist, with whom he shares an appreciation of "pure reason" and human scientific acheivement. Has a Masters' or Doctorate in either physics, engineering of some sort, chemistry, or biology, and an extensive working knowledge of the other listed fields. His room is littered with blueprints and technical specs. Usually Agnostic or Athiest in religious beliefs. Friendly if you shut up and let him talk. Has written twenty-page letters to Michael Crichton detailing all of the errors he found in Jurassic Park and Timeline. Scorns the Camp Counselor, but oddly tends to get along well with the Agent of Innocence. Sneers at the Dungeon Ninja, Fantasy Femme, and most others who claim "magical" knowledge. The only exception to this rule is the Sexually Liberated Intellectual Pagan, who scares him silly.

Can be spotted by the bushy beard, logical gleam in the eye, squint from hours of reading technical manuals, and (usually) lack of romantic companionship. Survives on takeout food. Has a minor tan from the glow of the computer terminal. Has spent much of his life desperately attempting to reconcile his love of Star Trek with the already outmoded terminology and technology seen in the series. Prone to extensive fits of depression coupled with a misanthropic attitude. This will eventually drive him to cyberpunk.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, science-fiction ones that start from a basis of realistic science. However, as few of these exist, he will eventually be forced to adapt an existing rules system to his specifications.
Books and Authors: Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov, Jerry Pournelle, some Robert A. Heinlein. William Gibson when depressed. Anything that places technology over character development.
Movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Television: Star Trek (all), anything on TechTV, The Discovery Channel
Music: Varies. Classical is popular, but most listen to whatever they grew up with. Especially fond of "in-joke" songs among engineers and scientists, most involving complicated dirty jokes based on mathematical equations. Or dirty jokes based on complicated mathematical equations. Whatever. Like anyone else understands them, anyway.
Poetry: No.
Geek Subsets: Role-Playing Games, Science Fiction, Star Trek
Quote: "Well, the whole concept of a cloaking device is a bit silly given current scientific knowledge, especially as it would take the energy of a sun to power one. However, I have drawn up some specs for a starship that could theoretically be rendered invisible to a number of different sensors. It's just a matter of fooling the devices through the proper application of...."

Space Cowboy

The Space Cowboy, much as in the Steve Miller Band song of the same name, is "[A] smoker...a toker, [and] a midnight joker" The burnout of geek subculture. Smokes marijuana regularly, and has experimented with LSD, ecstacy, and mushrooms. Really, really wants to try peyote and mescaline. Is generally welcomed at gatherings for the "party favors" he brings. Loves underground comics from the 60s, especially anything by R. Crumb. Giggles inappropriately. Some are addicted to junk food, others to organic. Will read anything with bright, pretty colors. The most likely to induct others into the subculture, generally through allowing his stoner friends to read through his comic collection.

Hangs out regularly with the Camp Counselor and Sexually Liberated Intellectual Pagan. Can be found in front of the television most days. Works an undemanding or creative job. Always starting creative projects, rarely completes them. Poor hygiene. Has a DVD collection based on whatever he was in the mood for at the time, meaning that you will find some of the oddest items possible on his shelf. Usually interested in pagan and occult matters, though an indifferent practitioner.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, though he rarely runs one.
Books and Authors: Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, Grant Morrison's comic books, anything by Neil Gaiman, metaphysics, High Times magazine, R. Crumb comic books, pornographic comic books
Movies: Anything with bright colors and explosions. Anything animated. Comedies ranging from The Marx Brothers to Monty Python
Televison: The Adult Swim lineup of Cartoon Network, other animated programs, Power Rangers
Poetry: Yes, quite a bit. Varies in quality, though mostly pretty damned bad.
Music: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Enya, William Shatner
Geek Subsets: Anime fans, comic books, fantasy, science fiction, role-playing games, Rocky Horror Picture Show
Quote: "Dude, did you see how Spock went nuts when the flower sprayed him? He was so high. They should have stayed on that planet"

Supreme Soldier

Almost always has a military backgroud, though a few truly sad examples of this type were considered unfit for various physical and psychological reasons. Spends much of his time at his local game shop, hunkered over detailed re-creations of various famous battles fought throughout history. The Supreme Soldier almost always has the Objectivist as his best friend, though those without military service records usually have to settle for a Dungeon Ninja. Mostly into science fiction and fantasy for the military elements. Unconditionally supports every single American military venture in history. Often has a sneaking admiration for Nazi Germany, though he admits that the death camps were a bad idea. Occasionally has a girlfriend, though she is rarely (if ever) a Proxy Geek. Usually either Pagan or Athiest. Some are Christian, though this is rare.

Plays strategy games online and over the tabletop. Can tell you the specifications of every firearm manufactured since the Civil War. Does not smoke or take drugs, drinks rarely if at all. Believes in Manifest Destiny. Thinks that most science fiction books would be better if they included more space battles. Must wear a military uniform to become sexually aroused. Practices with firearms at the local range. Constantly thinks and rethinks major battles in his head.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, but feels that the field went downhill after White Wolf Game Studios pushed the dramatic elements over strategy.
Books and Authors: Sun Tzu's The Art of War and other strategy guides, military biographies, alternate histories, war memoirs, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard's non-Scientology works.
Movies: Starship Troopers, Aliens, war movies, Yankee Doodle Dandy
Television: Fox News (if any)
Music: Wagner
Geek Subsets: Role-Playing Games, strategy games, science fiction, fantasy
Quote: "Okay, my society just got the A-Bomb. Dropping it on your capital. Dude, don't whine about the innocents. If you weren't ready to take the risk, you shouldn't have played the game"

Friday, July 29, 2005


Agent of Innocence

Quick history lesson here, folks. Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and let me tell you a story about a comic book company called DC. Their lineup pretty much hit the big time when Action Comics #1 was published, featuring a steel-bending, building-leaping man in red and blue tights who went by the name of Superman. He was quickly followed by Batman, The Flash (in a couple of incarnations), Green Lantern (same), Wonder Woman, and a host of heroes and villains that have become household names to even the uninitiated. Their universe grew and expanded, even weathering governmental pressures in the 50s and the rise of the rival publishing house Marvel in the 60's. The heroes even adapted to the decades in which they were written, addressing social issues such as racism and drug abuse in a reasonably well-scripted if somewhat idealistic manner. When readers started asking questions like "How could Batman be a young man fighting Nazis in the 1940s, and still be the same age in the 1960s?" the writers simply created another dimension in which the 1940s Batman existed, and had the "modern" one interact with him every once in a while. The same went for other older characters like Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow. As DC accquired other properties through the years from rival houses, they shifted those characters to alternate Earths of their own.

In 1985, everything in comics shifted. Frank Miller wrote Return of the Dark Knight, a vision of an older Batman coming out of retirement to wage a brutal war against criminals. Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, a similarly gritty apocalyptic tale exploring what would drive a person to put on a mask to fight crime in the first place, and the world-shattering consequences of such a decision.

And DC blew up their universe.

Needing a major event to streamline their continuity, and wanting to keep up with the darker themes that Marvel Comics were beginning to flirt with, DC created a "crossover" event called Crisis On Infinite Earths in which all of their titles were completely revamped. When the dust settled, many of their characters had died, the alternate Earths had been destroyed, and the entire universe started over from square one. Between these three events, what is largely referred to as the "Dark Ages" of comics had begun.

Still awake? Okay, good.

The Agent of Innocence believes that the farther you go back in time from 1985, the better comic books get. Today, comics fandom as a whole considers the Crisis a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the universe was certainly more streamlined. On the other hand, the rebooting meant that some sentimental favorite storylines had been "retconned" (short for "retroactive continuity," or "This shit never happened, Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia") out of existence. However, the Agent of Innocence has no such qualms about the matter. To him, while Dark Knight and Watchmen were certainly interesting, they have done more harm than good by destroying the good guys/bad guys concept of morality. The Dark Ages were just that, a time of darkness and despair for the comic book industry in general.

Can be spotted at geekcons in the dealers' room frantically perusing endless boxes of 60s comics to find the missing pieces of his collection. Tends to slavishly worship any artist or writer who flagrantly disregards the Crisis, or reintroduces a previously discarded element of a comic book (Krypto the Superdog, Bat-Mite, Earth-2) back into the storyline. With a gleam in his eye, this type will passionately orate for hours on the adventures of the original Legion of Superheroes. Abhors the computerized coloring used nowadays, and has probably written to several different comic book companies about it, as well as maintaining an extensive essay on his blog. Do not, repeat, do not ask him for his opinions on Wolverine.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, superhero ones
Books and Authors: Pre-"Crisis" Legion of Superheroes and other comics, Astro City
Movies: Superman, any 50s or 60s science fiction movie with Futurist architecture.
Television: For cretins, though some Justice League fans can be found;
Music: Varies, though there seem to be a number of classical and renaissance fans
Poetry: Does his ode to Superman Red and Superman Blue count? And no, don't ask what that means.
Geek Subsets: Comic Books
Quote: "Of course Sprang's material looks dated to your cynical eyes. You've been brought up on garbage where comics sell by how much blood they can splatter across the cover. But look at the awesome clean lines on the giant pool table Batman and The Joker are fighting on. Notice how it distorts your sense of perpective. See how he actually manages to smile. You can believe that he really enjoys his mission, that justice is its own reward. None of that psychotic sadistic avenger crap...."

Indie Freak

I take it that you know someone who maintains a record library of about a thousand bands you've never heard of, ones he forces you to listen to incessantly even though it sounds like cats being fed into a woodchipper? Or a friend who will strap you to the couch in order to pop in a DVD of a Croatian filmmaker whose work seems to be the product of a really bad week-long meth binge? Right. Indie Freaks. And geek subculture has their own version of the type, just as annoying and arrogant as his film and music counterparts.

The Indie Freak reads comics you've never heard of, ones that make absolutely no sense to an outsider. He will expound at length upon the artistic styles of his favorite pencilers, using words that he picked up while attending his one art appreciation class at community college. Comes across as utterly maniacal when doing so. Will roll his eyes at DC and Marvel comics. Partners up with Geek Film Geek for movie nights. Masturbates to comic books featuring women being pleasured by alien tentacles (has this in common with Japan Addict). Reads others about real people in everyday situations to the detriment of being a real person in an everyday situation. On the plus side, there is a good chance that he will sing the praises of your crappy self-published first effort about your psychotic post-relationship breakdown.

Role-Playing Games: Most dabble
Books and Authors: A series of books on art interpretation (untouched), Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, various comics you'll never read.
Movies: Mostly arthouse. Otherwise, see Camp Counselor.
Music: The same as your music geek friend, though some have an unhealthy obsession with death metal
Television: For the most part, no.
Geek Subsets: Comic Books, Geekcons (volunteer)
Quote: "Dude, have you checked out Another Damned Day? It all takes place in the mind of one guy sitting in a diner, trying to figure out what he's going to put in his comic book. So meta"

The Advocate

He's a geek, and he's proud of it. The Advocate is shameless about his love of the subculture, and yet consciously takes steps to avoid falling into the mass media stereotype. This type tries to walk a balance between proud devotion and ironic detachment. Not as cynical as the Camp Counselor, not as embarrassed and paranoid as the Mainstreamed Geek, The Advocate will openly admit to being a huge fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, comic books, role-playing games, or whatever other interest piques his fancy. Has a job, an apartment, and a girlfriend or boyfriend. Does not dress up in costume (Excepting for a lark at the local geekcon costume contest), but happily approaches those who do. Will invite both subculture and non-subculture friends to his parties, though this usually ends up being an awkward situation at best. Wears his "Geek Pride" and "Spock Lives" buttons to work on occasion just to spark a reaction. Generally friendly and outgoing, The Advocate stands a good chance of making it to Geek God status someday.

Can be spotted at geekcons with a boyfriend or girlfriend (Usually a Proxy Geek). May or may not collect comics. Can associate with types ranging from Sexually Liberated Intellectual Pagan Girl to The Objectivist, though he tends to be a bit condescending to Dungeon Ninja. Reasonably intelligent and creative, and will openly defend the rest of the subculture to anyone in his presence who may make a disparaging comment. Sees fellow geeks as generally quite creative and intelligent. Does not fully realize that he's caught between two worlds, and possibly never will. May come from many different religious backgrounds, though most often considers himself nominally pagan.

Role-Playing Games: Yes. Frequently. A wide variety.
Books and Authors: Most fantasy and science fiction, mainstream and critically acclaimed comic books, books on mythology and the occult.
Movies: Superhero films, science fiction films, fantasy films, horror films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Music: Varies wildly, though many have a taste for folk music
Television: The Simpsons, Star Trek, Superhero cartoons
Geek Subsets: All, though not particularly into any specific one.
Quote: "What do you mean they're idiots for standing in line for two weeks for the movie? Okay, let me put it this way: You like baseball, right? Okay, well what if baseball was only played once every couple of years, and generally by the two best teams in existence? And being there on opening day gave you bragging rights for years? You don't think that you or your drinking buddies would be in sleeping bags at the stadium for a month beforehand? Yeah, I thought so. I know those guys at the theater. They rock. Me? Naw, I've got other shit to take care of. I'll catch it in a week or two"

Thursday, July 28, 2005

FGTG VI: The Professional Edition

First off, I'd like to thank everyone for the positive feedback I've been receiving in regards to this site. If you'd care to receive notice of updates, and you have a LiveJournal, simply friend eris_rising. That's my account, and I've devoted it entirely to keeping the rest of you informed as to my progress here.

On to the special edition: While the Geek God is near the top of the geek heirarchy, he is not at the very top. This entry is dedicated to those who have managed to move from the dark caverns of mere fandom to the bright, sunny skies of pulling down a paycheck for living the geek dream. Excelsior!

The Sidekick

The Sidekick is the lowest of the high. He has little to no fame on his own, but has managed to work his way up the social scale through attaching himself to other, more successful types. Examples include the owner of your local comic book shop (The one who gets artists to show up for autograph sessions), actor Jason Mewes (Known entirely for playing "Jay" in various Kevin Smith films), and anyone who ever had a minor role on one of the Star Trek incarnations. Will sometimes take bribes of food, drugs, or sex from fanboys hoping to meet their favorites, but only the last of those bribes has a chance of actually working. Tends to hold the geek status quite seriously. Known to lord it over lesser mortals. If in entertainment, then he actively seeks out those who wish autographs in order to show feigned reluctance. If a comic book store owner, then he occasionally deigns to regale his customers with anecdotes about the time that "Alex" or "Kurt" (Always on a first name basis) dropped by the store to chat about old Silver Age comics. Simultaneously obsessed with the subculture and somehow above it. Tends to hustle drinks at the hotel bar during geekcons.

Role-Playing Games: Naw, that's kid stuff
Books and Authors: Every comic book in existence for the store owner, generally mainstream tastes for the others.
Movies: All those listed in previous geek types for store owner, mainstream otherwise
Music: Varies
Television: All listed for store owner, whoever is auditioning for the others.
Geek Subsets: A bit above that sort of thing
Poetry: Varies, but usually nothing beyond a brief flirtation while in high school.
Quote: "Do you know where the bar is? I'm supposed to be meeting with some of the Marvel people there"

Success Story

He's finally made it. After years of toiling, years of rejection letters, years of picking the brains who came before him and asking for advice, the Success Story is now a name brand in the industry. Maybe he's writing and drawing a small press but critically acclaimed comic. Maybe he's gained more mainstream acceptance in his field, and is currently writing one of the bigger titles. Maybe he's even had his property optioned by Hollywood, or (if not a comic book writer), is writing or directing a movie with an actual budget. Whatever it is, the Success Story can be spotted by the numerous starry-eyed fanboys trailing behind him at cons, barely kept at bay by the equally sychophantic volunteers. Examples of the type include director/comic book writer/actor Kevin Smith, comic book writer Neil Gaiman, comic book artist Alex Ross, and White Wolf Game Studios founder Mark Rein-Hagen.

Tends to not be seen at the hotel bar after the first day of the geekcon, when he was unable to have a drink in peace due to the constant autograph requests. Generally reasonably friendly, as those who have actual status know better than to use it against those who got them there. Usually open to a conversation if approached politely, but you will only find them at private parties. Will wander around the convention floor in costume so as not to be recognized. Generally on a cellphone with his agent/publicist/publisher. Other geeks can gain status by being photographed with them. The few assholes who are still taking their status too seriously from their pre-fame days can generally be easily spotted and avoided.

The best way to find out about the secret project the Success Story is currently working on is to wait until he says that he can't discuss it. Respond with a casual yet sincere "Hey, I fully understand that". Within one minute or less, you will be given a complete rundown, including several juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, quite often. If a game designer, then obviously so.
Books and Authors: A select number of mainstream and "cult" comics, works on popular culture, Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art, works on mythology and history.
Movies: Various superhero and science-fiction films, Ray Harryhausen films, old cult classics you've only heard about but never seen.
Music: Varies wildly, though many seem to enjoy old school punk.
Television: Rarely, though the various incarnations of Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League receive rave reviews.
Poetry: If yes, then a small, tasteful volume of their works is owned by every fan.
Geek Subsets: Whatever they're known for. They pretty much run these subsets.
Quote: "Larry, tell them that I'm not doing it unless I'm getting a cut of the gross, not the net. And merchandising. Got that? Well, you're my agent, you work for me on this. Right. Okay, drinks at nine, right after I finish with the movie panel"

Living Legend

Even those who have never picked up a comic book or read a science fiction novel have heard his name. His influence can make or break a lesser career. Even the Success Story will nervously await his opinion on his latest work. He doesn't pay for a damned thing at the geekcon, and can spend the entire weekend doing blow with hookers in his room if they have the simple honor of putting his name in the program. The Living Legend don't work in the industry. The Living Legend is the industry. Examples of the type include Marvel Comics Publisher Stan Lee, director George Lucas, special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, Dungeons and Dragons designer Gary Gygax, and writer Harlan Ellison.

Can be spotted at cons by the aura of majesty surrounding them. Protected by an impenetrable bubble of assistants, meaning that you will not stand a chance of getting anywhere near them. Many tend to be notoriously prickly, even to the point of outright rudeness. All of them have been the subject of legendary unfavorable anecdotes. Some of these anecdotes are exaggerated, but sadly many have the ring of truth to them. Alternately scorned and ass-kissed by others in the industry. Those few who are approachable have learned how to end a conversation politely while simultaneously plugging their latest work. Tend towards being opinionated, publicity-driven, and occasionally arrogant. Feuding with at least one other Living Legend, probably more. You will be forced to take sides if you are in the subculture.

Role-Playing Games: Probably not, even if he's known for creating one.
Books and Authors: Golden Age science fiction, pulp novels, works on history, historical biographies, Sun Tzu, their stock portfolios.
Movies: They claim to enjoy the latest work based on their creation, but actually spend most of their time watching Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, and other "classics"
Television: The news, Wall Street Week.
Music: Jazz, classical
Geek Subsets: Above such petty, mortal concerns
Poetry: Doubtful
Quote: "I'll need a private limo waiting on call for me, a fruit basket in my room, and total privacy whenever I'm not on the panel. Also, I'll need all meals to be comped. And see what you can do about making sure I'm on a different floor from the Marvel people. I don't want to take the risk of running into Stan while the lawsuit is still going on"

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Mainstreamed Geek

The Mainstreamed Geek would blanch at the thought of having the "geek" term applied to him in any way, shape, or form. Sure, he's hit the conventions, though he wore deodorant, dammit! Yes, he has a collection of comic books taking up half his basement. And, yes, he owns every Star Trek movie and all of the DVDs for the television shows. But that doesn't make him a geek. It simply means that he has certain popular culture interests that others have chosen to view in an elitist manner. And if those smelly fanboys with their Lobo t-shirts would quietly fade away, then maybe he could be a bit more open about it.

In public, the Mainstreamed Geek will generally not brush off his geek friends. He doesn't have to. He's given fair warning that if approached while with his "normal" friends, you will not bring up anything related to the subculture. If you forget this rule, then he will never speak to you again. Will read his Star Trek book at work, but will lock himself in the bathroom stall so that no one can see him indulging in his filthy, filthy habit. Generally has a high-paying job, dates outside the subculture (but rarely with any great success), and takes great pride in keeping up with important topics. You know, like hockey. When his interests are discovered, he will stridently defend science fiction and fantasy as important genres. Otherwise, he'll joke about "Those pointy-eared Star Trek types" with his co-workers.

The Mainstreamed Geek has also been referred to in the past as The Closet Geek. However, a group of people who have no real geek interests took over this term once the subculture became oddly cool.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, but tends to hide the books when company comes over.
Books and Authors: Owns an extensive science fiction and fantasy library, generally of writers with crossover appeal. Hides his Star Trek books behind the work-related material.
Movies: Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, with a smattering of art films to maintain some semblance of credibility.
Music: Classical, The Beatles, listens to Dr. Demento when no one else is around.
Television: Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits. However, also watches Law and Order, CSI, and Survivor to keep up with his mainstream friends.
Geek Subsets: Could be any, but Star Trek and Star Wars are the two most common for this type.
Poetry: Are you kidding?
Quote: "...and so the first quarter projections are looking pretty good. Hey, is that a Stargate SG-1 button? Damn, did you see the last episode? Yeah, I couldn't believe it when...shh, the boss is coming!"

Proxy Geek

Pity the poor Proxy Geek. She (usually she, though there are a few males of the type) fell for a geek, and is putting on a brave face while surrounded by some of the oddest people she's ever met in her entire life. Now part of the subculture by association, she desperately attempts to be a good girlfriend by diving wholeheartedly into her boyfriend's interests. Proxy Geek is the one sitting quietly at the table while people roll dice around her as she frantically tries to decipher her character sheet. Generally attempts to develop an honest appreciation for comic books, science fiction, fantasy, or whatever else he might be into. Is usually friendly, willing to try to keep an open mind about whatever bizarre hobbies pique his interest. Will learn to cobble together a costume for the Renaissance Faire or SCA War, and grins gamely at the horrible jokes told around the campfire.

Ideally the Proxy Geek will develop an honest interest of her own in her boyfriend's hobbies, and eventually become one of the other types listed in the guide. If this does not happen, then the relationship almost inevitably becomes a strained one as she suffers a nearly schizophrenic detachment while attempting to figure out just what the hell a pre- and post-"Crisis" universe is, and why she should give a damn. At this point, a breakup is coming in a matter of days. Another possibility is that her boyfriend will slowly break away from the subculture in the interests of maintaining the relationship, and become at best a Mainstreamed Geek.

Role-Playing Games: Sure, if he's into them
Movies: Tends to carry over her tastes from her pre-geek life. Julia Roberts movies are not uncommon.
Books and Authors: Tends towards the mainstream, but many also enjoy historical novels and romances.
Music: Is developing a taste for Renaissance music, though she probably has some Alanis Morrisette stashed away somewhere
Television: American Idol, Survivor, Friends reruns
Poetry: Back in high school, sure. It's probably still at her parents' house. She will never show it to you.
Geek Subsets: Any, though role-playing games (tabletop and LARP) and SCA are most common.
Quote: "Wait, so is this a d4 or d6? All right. He hit me? Oh. So what can I do in response? Oh. Well, which of those is the best idea? Okay..."

Devil's Advocate

Joel Schumacher brought an interesting and fresh take to the Batman movie franchise. Lucas's later Star Wars films are more dramatically interesting and complex. Lana Lang is the greatest character on Smallville, and you bitches just can't appreciate a good character when you see one. Enterprise rocked. The Clone Saga in the Spider-Man books was brilliant.

Yeah, I'll stop there. You get the idea. If there is a popular opinion within geek subculture, Devil's Advocate will disagree with it. He may actually believe what he says, or it may simply be an act in order to get a knee-jerk reaction from people. It's entirely possible that even he doesn't know anymore. Either way, you can count on him for some of the most entertaining and interesting online screamfests you've ever seen. Tends to troll LiveJournal communities and forums by posting something like "Superman IV would have done better if they'd known how to promote it," then sitting back to watch people choke on their Mountain Dew. Will make friends with people who agree with him on specific points, and are glad for the support. Will lose these friends when they disagree with him on just about everything else.

Can be spotted at geekcons by his Jar-Jar Binks t-shirt

Role-Playing Games: Rarely, as few game runners will allow his character concepts.
Movies: Star Wars I-III, Batman Returns, Batman and Robin, Elektra, Superman III-IV
Books and Authors: Whatever comic book is getting critically slammed this year
Television: Enterprise
Music: Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow
Poetry: No
Geek Subsets: Science Fiction and Superhero Movies, Comic Books
Quote: "You know, that scene in Superman III where Clark was fighting himself was beautiful. It nearly brought a tear to my eye. No, seriously. No, I mean it. Well, go to hell"


The Camp Counselor

The Camp Counselor delves deeply into the subculture, but mostly for some of the sheer cheesiness it manages to produce. He's heavily into B-Movies, Ed Wood, Golden and Silver Age comics with ludicrous villains and/or plots ("Can Superman Defeat The Menace of the Toy Brigade?"), and anything from the directorial hand of Ed Wood. Many will scorn Mystery Science Theater 3000 as not being "pure" camp or kitsch, others rabidly take notes on the running commentary. Enjoys any entertainment with bright colors, over-the-top acting, and stilted dialogue. Often collects Pez dispensers. Wears political buttons from the 1960's for "ironic" effect, though if pressed, he will not be able to tell you just what ironic effect they're supposed to create. While he does not shun his geek comrades in public, he secretly considers himself to have a better sense of perspective on the whole thing. Deeply regrets the demise of the "Late, Late Movie" format on television. Watches Santa Claus Conquers The Martians every Christmas. To the Camp Counselor, Adam West is the only "real" Batman. He does not realize that by following the same aesthetic standard, in twenty years his spiritual children will be digging the Joel Schumacher Batman movies out of their local Wal-Mart bargain bins.

Role-Playing Games: Sometimes. If you have one that takes place in the 1950's and involves flying saucers, he's there.
Books and Authors: The aforementioned Golden and Silver Age comic book collections, various biographies of Ed Wood and Roger Corman.
Movies: All mentioned, plus anything from Troma Films, Logan's Run, the Planet of the Apes series.
Television: The 1960's Batman series, Star Trek (Original Series), Wild, Wild West, old 50's science fiction shows, anything by Sid and Marty Kroft
Music: Anything played by Dr. Demento
Geek Subsets: Comic Book fans, Rocky Horror Picture Show
Quote: "Now, this is the scene where the alien crashes into the White House. Look close, you can see the strings. KA-POW! God, isn't that great? Er...where are you going? Oh, okay. Well, take care. Hmph. Philistine"

Fanfic Lesbian

The Fanfic Lesbian is one of the odder ducks of the geek world. First off, this type is exclusively female, much like the S.L.I.P. and Fantasy Femme. Secondly, she is only interested in geek popular culture insofar as it allows her to create fanfiction involving the male characters from the source material having hot, sweaty sex. Yes, that's right. Despite the fact that the members of this group tend to be more attracted to women than to men, the Fanfic Lesbian will only write "slash" (fiction in which two popular culture characters have sex with each other) with male subjects. Popular topics include Harry and Draco from the Harry Potter series, Lex and Clark from Smallville, and Kirk and Spock from Star Trek. The last of these is widely considered to be the first slash pairing. Fanfic Lesbians tend to congregate in LiveJournal groups in which they share their masturbatory writings with each other, and constantly search for gay subtext within the source material. Stating that the attraction between Lex Luthor and Clark Kent on Smallville is probably not canonical within the context of the show will get you immediately scorned within a Fanfic Lesbian community, and possibly barred from making any further comments to the group. Tread cautiously.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, online ones in which they play out their fantasies.
Books and Authors: Harry Potter, each other.
Movies: Troy, Gladiator, Spartacus.
Television: Star Trek (all), Smallville, Lost, Starsky and Hutch
Music: Varies. Generally songs about female empowerment.
Geek Subsets: Smallville fans, Harry Potter fans, Fan Fiction.
Quote: "Hey, did you see that scene with Lex and Clark in the locker room last night? And you notice how it cut away once they looked at each other? I already have ten pages of a twenty-page fic about the missing scene there, and the moral will be that butt sex cures everything"

Geek Film Geek

Okay, I know that I said that I wouldn't be including film geeks in the Field Guide. And by the popular definition of the term, I still won't. However, there is a certain type of film geek who runs rampant in the subculture, and I would be performing a disservice to my readers if I did not give at least a brief outline of the type.

Back in the early 90's, convenience store worker and comic book fan Kevin Smith created a smart, witty independent film called Clerks. The movie revolved around the goings-on at a local convenience store, and was obviously an exaggerated version of his own life, with certain philosophical musings and popular culture references scattered throughout. Clerks went on to a certain amount of box office success. Unfortunately, this inspired an entire generation of slave-wage working comic book junkies to pick up their own cameras, write their own screenplays, and somehow assume that anyone would give a damn about what they had to say. The Geek Film Geek had existed in certain forms previous to Smith's film, but it was only after its release that the type became commonplace.

The Geek Film Geek can be found at or near the front of the line on the opening day for any superhero, comic book, or science fiction movie. His DVD collection is awesome to behold in volume, if not in variety. Is currently writing a screenplay. Tends to get into long, friendly debates with Source Material Purist about every comic book adaptation ever filmed. Usually gets at least get a decent grade in film class due to his enthusiasm more than his innate talent. Will prattle on for hours about editing, angles, and casting. Scours Wizard Magazine for news about upcoming adaptations. Other geeks quote Monty Python, Geek Film Geek will recite entire scenes if not forcibly refrained from doing so. Was the first to play "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," and was the first to stop playing it once it became old. Camped out in the Star Wars line, though not in costume. Tends to work in a video store. Will quit better-paying job to work in a video store. Owns two DVD players, a Laserdisc player, and several VCRs in various states of disrepair. Believes in the "Rule of Two," meaning that the second installment in any movie franchise is better than the first. Has every Star Wars book in existence, and plays the online game. Thinks that once movies went from using scale models to CGI visual effects, the heart of film was lost.

Role-Playing Games: Yes, especially Star Wars
Books and Authors: Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes, any Star Wars book, various screenplay collections.
Movies: Too long and varied a collection to list. Name it, he's seen it. If it's one of the first two films of a franchise, he likes it.
Music: Movie soundtracks.
Television: Only occasionally
Geek Subsets: Hong Kong action films, Star Wars fans, Rocky Horror Picture Show
Quote: "You have done well, young Skywalker. Kneel before Zod. You know what they call a Quarter Pounder in France? We are the Knights Who Say..."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Japan Addict

Let's face it, folks. Western geek culture is still just a subculture. Did you know that in Japan, Manga (Japanese for "comic book"), Sentai (Japanese for "Power Rangers stuff") and Anime (Japanese for "crappy cartoon," according to a poster at the late Fametracker forums) are considered mainstream adult material? If you know a Japan Addict, then you know all of this. You know this since you've been told it repeatedly. In every single damned conversation. Yes, the Japan Addict is a fixture at various geekcons, generally found in the Anime film room or on the merchants' floor where he's desperately seeking that one undubbed, unsubtitled Anime that was released two weeks ago to great critical fanfare in an underground publication you've never heard of. Can give you a complete rundown of all of the Power Rangers series shown in Japan, along with a shot-by-shot analysis proving their superiority to the American version. When he was ten, he wanted nothing more than to build a giant robot, and deep in his heart he still hasn't given up on the dream. Will wax rhapsodic over the romantic story arcs and Shakespearean themes in a story about a boy and his pet monster. Scorns all American versions of his favorite works, and yet still owns them. Admits that Transformers wasn't all that bad. Will take Japanese as his language credit in college in the interests of further understanding his bootleg tapes.

Role-Playing Games: Battletech, anything in which the person running the game will allow him to play a giant robot or robot pilot.
Books and Authors: Manga. Don't worry, you've never heard of any of the titles.
Movies: Varies, but the title generally contains the words "Battle," "Crisis," "Force," "Wing," "Hero," "Fighter," "Monster," and some sort of color in seemingly random order.
Television: The various Power Rangers series, but only the original Japanese version. Subtitled, not dubbed. Dubbing is for gaijin wussies.
Music: Shonen Knife, various Asian pop artists neither you nor I will ever know the names of.
Geek Subsets: Manga fans, Anime fans, some tabletop role-playing games.
Quote: "God, Teen Titans is derivative. If you want real action, check out Purple Hero Battle Crisis. Now, that's awesome, especially when Yuki finds out that Hakiru is her brother after they sleep together"

Geek God

The top of the pack, or nearly so. He's been in fandom since he was ten, and now he's in his forties or fifties. Has hit every major convention in the United States, a couple of minor ones, and has probably travelled overseas to others. Hell, he's had a good hand in organizing them. Can apply his Klingon makeup in less time than it takes you to get showered in the morning. He was there for the original "Save Star Trek" demonstrations in the 1960's. Check your back issues of Silver Age comic books, and you'll eventually find his name in the letters column, alternately praising and criticizing the various writers and artists. Not only does he know that Heinlein and Bradbury had a falling out, but he took sides in the conflict (With Heinlein, natch. Geek God disdains Bradbury). Generally incredibly friendly and approachable, if a bit quirky. His intelligence is intimidating. During trivia contests at conventions, the other team will often forfeit rather than face his encyclopediac knowledge. His house is filled to the ceiling with books and back issues of various fan magazines, as well as tapes of his favorite shows and movies (he hasn't quite gotten around to getting a DVD player yet). Can tell you the history of every fan controversy, conflict, uncertainty, argument, and truce. Has probably written some science fiction and/or fantasy, and may have even been published in a minor market. On a first-name basis with the creative talents in the field. Has a job, a life, a partner, and owns a house (or at least has a decent lease on an apartment or condominium). Still tends to blanch at the terms "Trekkie" and "Sci-Fi" long after anyone else has stopped caring.

Role-Playing Games: Yes. He's consulted with the designers, in fact, and has rewritten the rules to his liking. Better be a great player. This guy still has a copy of Chainmail somewhere in storage.
Books and Authors: Wide and varied tastes, but you can count on the complete works of Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov.
Movies: Again, wide and varied, but count on a large collection of pre-Star Wars science fiction, especially a number of obscure "classics" you've never heard of.
Music: Classical and Renaissance
Television: Star Trek (original series), Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits.
Geek Subsets: All of them at some point or another.
Poetry: Probably, but doesn't make a huge deal out of it. Occasionally publishes some amusing doggerel in a convention program.
Quote: "Oh, yes, Harlan Ellison is notoriously difficult to get along with, so I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to accompany him to the restaurant. I only wish that we could have warned the waitress before he started throwing his food against the wall and yelling at the busboy"

The Objectivist

The Objectivist read Heinlein at a very young age, and was immediately impressed by his love of logic, rationality, and freedom. He or she eventually graduated to Ayn Rand, and became absolutely insufferable after that. Believes in the need for a completely free market, a strong military (The only thing he's willing to pay taxes for), and privatized space travel. Will corner you and argue for hours over the economic system portrayed in Dune. Has maintained a blog since before the term was invented, and uses it to portray his ideal of a capitalistic technocracy. Tends to quit jobs when he is passed over for promotion in favor of someone "obviously less qualified". Is fired from other jobs for arguing with co-workers. Owns a gun. Avoid if possible.

Role-Playing Games: Yes. Generally tries to work the rules to come up with someone who is smarter, stronger, and generally more skilled than anyone else in the group.
Books and Authors: Anything by Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand. Steve Ditko.
Movies: Starship Troopers. He doesn't see it as a satire. The Rambo series. Red Dawn.
Television: News. Star Trek, though he's disturbed by the socialist implications of the Federation's economic system.
Music: Rush.
Poetry: Who has time?
Quote: "Look, maybe you don't mind that a good officer in Starfleet makes the same as some leech who never gets off of Earth, but how the hell are you going to inspire people to greatness that way?"