Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Down - But Up Again - Side of Gaming

Wil Wheaton - of Star Trek, Big Bang Theory, and YouTube's TableTop host - attended (as he often does) a gaming convention in Denver.  As he states in his post on the topic, a young woman asked him if he was ever ridiculed for being a gamer, or, a "nerd."  She was apparently being bullied in school for things that seem so silly now in our adult years: having the audacity to like school, or being interested in science, or for enjoying games that aren't sports.

His reply has gone viral.  Here's the vid, with the transcript below:

When I was a boy I was called a nerd all the time—because I didn’t like sports, I loved to read, I liked math and science, I thought school was really cool—and it hurt a lot. Because it’s never ok when a person makes fun of you for something you didn’t choose. You know, we don’t choose to be nerds. We can’t help it that we like these things—and we shouldn’t apologize for liking these things.
I wish that I could tell you that there is really easy way to just not care, but the truth is it hurts. But here’s the thing that you might be able to understand—as a matter of fact I’m confident you will be able to understand this because you asked this question…
When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not about what you said. It’s not about what you did. It’s not about what you love. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. They feel sad.
They don’t get positive attention from their parents. They don’t feel as smart as you. They don’t understand the things that you understand. Maybe one of their parents is pushing them to be a cheerleader or a baseball player or an engineer or something they just don’t want to do. So they take that out on you because they can’t go and be mean to the person who’s actually hurting them.
So, when a person is cruel to you like that, I know that this is hard, but honestly the kind and best reaction is to pity them. And don’t let them make you feel bad because you love a thing.
Maybe find out what they love and talk about how they love it. I bet you find out that a person who loves tetherball, loves tetherball in exactly the same way that you love Dr. Who, but you just love different things.
And I will tell you this — it absolutely gets better as you get older.
I know it’s really hard in school when you’re surrounded by the same 400 people a day that pick on you and make you feel bad about yourself. But there’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing—and we’re all doing really well.
So don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something they decided is only for nerds. You’re loving a thing that’s for you.

I was...lucky.  I was good at - and liked - Teh Sports (Go Sports! Yay!), and hung out with gamers and "jocks" alike. I never had to suffer what some of my friends did, and I spoke up and spoke out.  In retrospect, I should have done it even more.  In retrospect, nobody should ever have to apologize for or have someone stick up for loving what (OR WHOM) they love.

I hope my kids don't GAF, and love what they love, and stay interested in what they are interested in. But it was nice to hear Wheaton's remarks, because he really worked to encourage the young woman.  I feel like there's a cultural shift under way, where being nerdy is cool.  Knowing stuff is popular, and gaming is just recreation, not a stigma.  May this shift grow exponentially.


  1. I never got teased for what I said I liked or didn't like because I was so shy I seldom told anyone what I liked or didn't like. So I just got teased for being shy. But my kids wear and own their geekiness proudly. If people say they are weird, their response is "you bet I am, and I like being weird."

    So yes, I agree, things are changing and that is good. But I also think there remains and will always be an element of confidence in all of this. If you are confident, teasing hurts less.

    And Wheaton's reply is pretty great.

  2. But I also think there remains and will always be an element of confidence in all of this. If you are confident, teasing hurts less.

    Agreed, Jay. I've never lacked for confidence, which certainly contributed to how I was treated in my youth.

    That's confident and comfortable your kids are in their own skin. It's exactly what I'm trying to get my boys to understand as well. Like what you like!

  3. I guess my own experience was similar to both of yours. I was into some sports, though I would categorize myself as decent, but not exception by any means. I was also able to get along with most people. On the other hand, I wasn't wearing a Star Trek uniform in school or carrying my game collection around with me. I typically only talked "geek stuff" with other people that were interested in talking about those things.

    WIl made some good points, but I think a lot depends on where you are and the make up of the community. One thing that he suggests is absolutely true. It does get better. Middle school and high school are very artificial environments. Once you get out of there, peer pressure is much less prevalent and it is easier to associate with like minded people.

  4. Steve: could you elaborate on what you mean by community? Wil's comments seem to me to be based on his understanding of human nature and the underpinnings of emotional aggression. While I would never suggest that Wil Wheaton should be considered as an expert on those things, I am having trouble grasping how his comments fail to account for location and the make-up of the community.

  5. If we are strictly dealing with the acceptance of geek/nerd behavior, and not bullying in general, then I think that how the community looks at and values education will make a difference. It may not be a huge difference, but it is still there. I went to a small, class C school (as were most of the schools in my area). It was also a university town and a rather large percentage of students went on to higher ed., with at least a fair number going to Ivy League schools. While the jocks certainly enjoyed a favored status, being smart, liking science, and getting good grades also enjoyed prestige. Contrast this to some of the schools 30 or 40 miles away, and this was not the case.

  6. Ah, I see now. Thanks for the clarification. I did not read Wheaton's comments as saying anything about the communities, just the psychology of those who bully. And while I can see how a community attitude could move some individuals who do not actually "feel bad about themselves" to bully someone because that is what everyone else is doing, I did not see how that could be "a lot" of the problem. I think I get your point now.