The Saturation Complex of Geek Culture

I had mentioned in a post earlier that there is a prevailing idea that misconstrues how geek culture came to be. I can’t really say where this came about, although I strongly suspect that films and TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s paired with gendered conceptions surrounding geek culture are to blame. Whatever the cause, it has fueled this conception, leading to a sort of alienation complex as the geek community shifts and changes.

As a result, there is this saturated version of history, which relies on the idea that women and minorities have not been a part of geek culture until very recently (as in, within the last decade). As a result, there has developed a constant push against women and minorities joining in on geek culture, with particular “tests” placed against women in order to test if they’re “qualified” to partake in the geek community. These blockades grow increasingly pointless as geek culture continues to gain popularity, and yet for some reason persists. Perhaps I can explain why.

You see, it all starts at the source of geek culture: Science Fiction (Sci-Fi). In the saturated version of geek history, the first Sci-Fi author was Jules Vernes, best known for his book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. As a result, this causes men who believe this start to think that women and other minorities have no real right to enter and write about Sci-Fi.

However, if you make one quick Google search, you’ll find that this version is incorrect. While Jules Verne was one of the earlier Sci-Fi writers, the real first Sci-Fi author was Mary Shelley, who published Frankenstein in 1818, a whopping fifty years before Jules Verne. This makes the Sci-Fi genre not a “boys only” club, but a club founded by women.

Shelley wasn’t the last female Sci-Fi author, either. Well-known ones include Octavia E. Butler, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Suzanne Collins. Sci-Fi has never been a “boys only” club, although it is often pushed to appear that way.

Comics, by contrast, didn’t really diversify until recently. In its early days, the comic industry was very much “boys only”, mostly outright refusing to hire women and other minorities. This isn’t unusual, however; the entertainment industry as a whole was that way.  That isn’t to say that women and minorities weren’t in those realms, but it was very difficult to break in, particularly from the 1920’s-1970’s. This realm makes it a whole lot easier to promote the saturated history. Since women and other minorities were barred, it was easy to say that they didn’t belong and exist in the space. Despite the fact that the majority of comic readers in the present era greatly outweighs the “traditional” readership (white men), there is still this stigma that pushes women and minorities away.

The same goes for the video game industry. Women and minorities were mostly barred in the early days (as they were discouraged and stigmatized from getting STEM degrees in college), meaning that they couldn’t break in until more recently. This has created a frictional environment that extends beyond game development and into game playing, leading to online harassment and common claims of not being a “real gamer” to anyone that doesn’t fit the geek stereotype. To be honest, the “fake gamer” argument is ridiculous: if you play games, you’re a gamer. You don’t have to be best of the best, but if you play video games as a hobby, then you qualify.

The reason there is such a push back against diversity entering geek culture mostly stems from a victim complex among the “traditional” geeks. Despite the fact that geek culture has been gaining continuous popularity over the last two-three decades (exploding after the premiers of Walking Dead and Game of Thrones), the news for some reason has not hit the geek community. Or, rather, it has not processed.

The “traditional” geeks seem to be in denial about just how popular geek culture is, moaning and groaning how they are such victims and such a minority, while at the same time fighting against anyone that doesn’t fit their own characteristics and pushing them away. They like to act like they’re still the kids that get severely bullied, although just about any kid with a computer nowadays has access to video games and anime. It’s a bizarre complex that sticks out like a sore thumb.

One thought

  1. I love this and I did address some of this in one of my essays:

    This is more about pop cultural, in general, which includes music, movies, TV and gaming.

    I’m currently working on part two, which should be posted this weekend or Monday, which goes into more detail about what Pandering is, and examples of how it occurs.

    i was a teenager in the eighties when electronic gaming was just getting popular. I played games too, and no one seemed to think it was a gendered activity, then. As I got older though I did start to get more pushback from guys about playing games. RPGs had always been classified as an activity for White men (and Black people joked about that a lot), while tabletop games in general, (like Monopoly, or Life) was a family activity. At some point this all started to only be associated with White men. I don’t see this changing any time soon, now that gaming has become a heavily monetized activity.

    Just like with the birth of computers where women were prominently featured in their creation (Coding, for example), I think of this as erasure of women’s contributions, and appropriation by men once they decided there was prestige or money in it.

    This has happened quite a few times throughout history, where men decide they can gain something from what is usually considered a women’s activity, they take it over , and push women out of it (often pushing them into other types of careers that then become feminized. There are other activities where the opposite occurs, women move (or get pushed) into positions that men don’t think of as especially important to them, after which, men begin to devalue that activity, like nursing, or knitting.


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