It's a neat coincidence that I had a post planned out in my head when the recent story dropped regarding a young woman and her adventures with online dating and a Magic: The Gathering world champion.
I'm not going to link the story because it doesn't deserve the ad revenue, but the gist is: boy approaches girl on online dating site, they agree to meet for a date, she loses interest because he plays Magic cards seriously enough that he's won world championships, and then, instead of just going on with her life and chalking it up to the crapshoot online dating so often is, writes a pretty mean-spirited blog post, publicly outing him and playing herself up as a victim for having to endure dates with such a horribly geeky human being.
And coming off my annual trip to PAX, a nerdly nerd-fest if ever there was one (I got the slip of paper from my dice cube signed by Wil Wheaton!) it should be easy for me to pile on and call Alyssa Bereznak a terrible and judgmental woman. To say that it's possible to be socially well-adjusted and play video games, or Magic, or D&D (my current geekly weapon of choice). Both of these things are true.
But to leave it at that ignores the reason why people like Ms. Bereznak have a negative impression of geeks. It's a reason I encountered more than a few times over the course of my weekend at PAX: compared with just about any other subset of society, we're considerably more likely to lack social skills, to let ego and arrogance run wild, to think that daily showers are optional.
"More likely" isn't the same as "likely" - I'm not saying this applies to the majority of attendees because that simply isn't true. But if you took 10 PAX attendees and 10 people at random, I'd bet on the rate of incidence being higher in the former group every time. It's prevalent enough that every year I've attended PAX I've had negative experiences: A Q&A on anything turning into a personal storytelling session that makes the audience question portion of local political debates seem concise. People overestimating their abilities on the Rock Band stage and screwing my friends and I out of the song we only needed a drummer for. And of course, the several-times-daily occurrence of being overwhelmed by a wall of nerd-stink because people decided not to shower.
And I want to stress - these negative elements aren't so bad that they ruin PAX. PAX this year was a blast - I tried new tabletop and videogames, met a ton of awesome people, and sat in on some really great panels. But on the heels of PAX, I know there's going to be people who read that article and believe that the reason they're social outcasts is because they play Magic, or D&D, or video games. They're going to identify with the fairly normal hedge fund investor who happens to have a geeky indulgence that he's absurdly good at. And they're mistaken on both counts.
Once you leave high school, very few people look down on you for being a gamer, and the minority that do are lame and not worth your time. If you're looked down on, it's more likely because you smell awful, consider being unemployed and watching animé all day in your parents' house a perfectly acceptable existence, and can't recognize that a Q&A is a time for questions and answers, not long-winded personal stories that don't really end in a question.
I'm okay with being an asshole for pointing this out, but if you look like you took a quick glance in the mirror before you left the house, people notice, whether you're in regular clean clothes or an elaborate cosplay outfit. If the things you're working on in your life demonstrate ambition and drive, people notice, whether you're trying to launch a new collectible card game you've designed from scratch or putting in crazy hours at your day job because the work's gotta get done. And if you respect that other people are busy and have a finite amount of time, again, people notice.
It's the simplest of rules: you get what you give. Demonstrate respect for yourself and others, and you'll find the people around you doing the same in return. Hopefully then we can stop wasting our time moaning about being social outcasts and get back to work being awesome people who are passionate about their interests, however geeky they may be.