By Rachel Simons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Despite its rebranding by the mainstream social conscious, nerd culture has for the majority of its existence been the culture of outcasts. For those uninterested in sports–the other realm of the fanatical–nerd activities can be more solitary. You can just curl up with a comic book, grab a mouse or controller, or simply just do as much research on any nerdy topic that strikes your interest.
With the rise of the internet, nerds are finally banding together. However, the web’s message boards and blogs have also exposed a not-so-surprising trend: even in a society of misfits, the social hierarchical inequalities and prejudices toward women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals present themselves.
Justin Woo, contributor to NerdProQuo, explains that, contrary to what many may think, nerds are not more progressive than mainstream society.
“A lot of this stems from anti-jock resentment,” Woo says. “We didn’t have girls, popularity, or physical skill, but we were good at school, coding, and certain imaginative stuff like making comics and video games. Yet having those skills doesn’t actually mean that we’re ahead of the curve in terms of identity politics or social justice.”
Unfortunately, these types of biases in nerd-dom rear their ugly heads in a myriad of ways. For instance, David S. Goyer, screenwriter on the upcoming Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, infamously claimed last year in a Scriptnotes podcast that the Marvel character She-Hulk was only created as “a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could fuck.” It should be noted, though, She-Hulk is actually the Hulk’s cousin.
More recently in the comic book industry, co-creator of Image Comics, Erik Larsen, went on Twitter to criticize the more practical and less revealing costume redesigns of DC and Marvel’s superheroines. He claimed that “the big two [are] placating a vocal minority at the expense of the rest of the paying audience.” Specifically, he named the new Ms. Marvel’s outfit, which was created to reflect Kamala Khan’s young age of 16 and her modest upbringing as a Pakistani-American Muslim.
Instead, Larsen said the character should have been given her predecessor Carol Danvers’ much skimpier leotard and sash. He called the current costume “hideous,” “unflattering,” and “unnecessarily cumbersome.”
While all of these comments are insensitive and awful, they are only the words of individuals. GamerGate, however, is a movement that spread across all corners of the gaming world and grew to the point of infiltrating mainstream media. It lead to numerous death threats, rape threats, and doxxings (the act of releasing a person’s private information on the internet).
Originally, GamerGate started under the guise of looking into the ethics of gaming journalism, but turned into something else entirely. The game developer Zoe Quinn created a browser-based choose-your-own-adventure game called Depression Quest, which lets players experience what it’s like to have depression. Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni created a blog that alleged she cheated on him with writer at the gaming website Kotaku, possibly for a positive review of Depression Quest. However, the writer never reviewed the game nor mentioned it except for within an unrelated article.
GamerGate supporters subsequently cried corruption and declared that she only gained any recognition because of her relationship and the fact that she is a woman. Subsequently, Quinn was harassed by thousands of nameless gamers on the internet who sent her death and rape threats while also trying to steal her information.
Since then, GamerGaters have done the same to several other big female names in gaming; media critic Anita Sarkeesian and actress Felicia Day are perhaps the most well-known. Additionally, they have also doxxed and threatened many people who have simply come out against them and decried their methods. One such person, the senior writer and editor for Cheat Code Central Angelo D’ Argenio, had to change his banking information after being doxxed twice and receives death threats for the articles he writes for the site.
“Their behavior is not acceptable and a lot of it comes from image board anonymous culture where nobody is arguing in earnest,” comments D’Argenio. “[To them] it doesn’t mean anything, but that in itself comes from an area of privilege. When you have privilege you can afford for your actions to be a joke.”
Besides being personally threatened, D’Argenio also has had to turn down appearances at conventions because of GamerGaters being among the staff. One such con, called Magfest, wanted to actually stack D’Argenio’s panel with GamerGate sympathizers when he planned to give a talk about actual corruption in gaming journalism. D’Argenio is not alone in this experience; Sarkeesian cancelled a talk at Utah State University last fall following a terror threat on the event.
However, GamerGate is not about ethics in game journalism. According to D’Argenio, there is corruption in which video game publishers will give journalists incentives to give their games good reviews.
“There are all these problems in game journalism, but people wanting representation is not one of them,” explains D’Argenio. “The GamerGaters only noticed as soon as a female game developer got some publicity. They are not actually upset about the ethics in gaming journalism.”
To be fair, while there is a lot of hate and negativity to deal with, progress in nerd culture is being made. The aforementioned Ms. Marvel has become the most recognizable Muslim character in Marvel’s canon and is currently nominated for one Hugo Award and five Eisner Awards.
On the movie side, more female and POC character are stepping into leading roles. Over the next few years, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg will headline films from Marvel Studios and Warner Bros/DC.
In books, the Why We Need Diverse Books campaign is educating the public on why diversity in literature matters and how we can spread knowledge of these works across the country.
Additionally, in video games, Mortal Combat X was the first in franchise history to feature an openly gay character and still managed to become the bestselling Mortal Kombat of all time.
Even on Cartoon Network, a station that has been criticized for canceling its diverse shows in the past, now has a series called Steven Universe, which features non-binary gendered aliens and shows a same gendered couple.
While there will always be bigots and detractors in the nerd world, if well-written, well-crafted progressive media keeps being made, then there will certainly to be an audience for it. Some may not want to admit this, but nerd culture is mainstream culture now and an entirely new generation of nerds is waiting to openly share their love of nerdy things with the planet. Everyone else better get ready.