A matter of comparison

When I got at my new job, I looked around for the fellow geeks. I was sitting next to the Java programming team. This seemed like a promising start. One of them mentioned that he basically ran Talk Like a Pirate Day. I thought, “Aha!” and tried to find common ground. Over the course of a five minute conversation I mentioned that I played role-playing games and board games, read XKCD religiously and dropped the acronym “NWN”.

Well, it turns out that you can be a Java programmer and celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day” and be significantly less of a geek than I am. Ah, the blank looks! “I play role-playing games. (Blank look) You know, like Dungeons and Dragons? (Blank look) It was like seriously demonized in the ’80s? Surely you read about that? (Blank look) So…. how about those Red Sox?”

I’m sure that all the rest of you have finished figuring out who you are. I’m still very much working on my identity. I’m a Christian, mother, programmer*, Northwesterner*, coffee-lover, board-gamer, outdoorsy-type, trumpet-player*, wife, RPGer, cook, NPR supporter, Presbyterian, reader*, road-tripper, stylish person (kind of), blogger, srs businessperson, extrovert, elder, Camel alumni, nature-lover, home-owner, New Englander (not really, but after 14 years I have some of that), tax-payer, card-maker*, woman, not-quite-middle-aged, voter, cook & hostess.

Several of these identity groups fall under the “geek” category: programmer, board-gamer, RPGer, video gamer. There’s also my deep and abiding love for Tolkein. So I think it’s fair to say that I do qualify as a geek.

The _problem_ though, is that I see myself as an amateur geek. I think I’ve made an entree into the geek world, but that when the real geeks get going I haven’t a snowball’s chance. I have good reason for thinking this. At my birthday, four folks stood in my hallways, discussing the latest deep infrastructure of some video gaming company. On late nights after social events, you can almost always find two of them on the couch discussing either comic books or 80s sci fi tv shows.

I think I’m an initiate geek because of the company I keep. It just so happens that my friends are a bad point of comparison. Four of my close friends work for video gaming companies. Almost all of them play RPGs (Role Playing Games) and board games with skill and frequency. We share a culture that assumes a familiarity with many of the tropes of geek culture. This is WHY and HOW we’re friends — in large part it’s what brought us together as friends in the first place. And in this context I am a padawan. I’m a level 2 cleric. I only do D6 damage. And that’s where I benchmark myself, as a person who plays RPGs but doesn’t read the books cover to cover.

But it turns out that even compared to a room full of Java programmers, I’m no apprentice geek. No, I have several levels on the lot of them.

It turns out that the real place to find geeks is in the design group, where they sneak German board games into the cafeteria. I’m still a senior geek in those circumstances, but at least they’ve heard of this stuff before.

What about about you? Are there things you do where you’re a Jr. partner, but in other circumstances you are the Grand Master? Do you ever get whiplash about whether you’re skilled or good at something, depending on who you compare yourselves to? And what do you think… am I a jr. or a sr. geek?

*The loss of these identities is one of the things I’m wrestling with. I am, for example, ceasing to become a programmer and haven’t lived in the Northwest in 14 year. I also don’t get a chance to play trumpet much.

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7 thoughts on “A matter of comparison

  1. This happens to me with cooking…many friends think I go way overboard with it, but when I talk to people who are really, really serious about food – especially when it comes to “authentic” cuisines – I feel pretty dumb. I cook what I like…just a lot of it 🙂

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  2. Computers! At school I am fairly competetent — in fact perhaps the best computer teacher at school. At home, I am — well — not very competent. Pick you audience, I say.

    You may remain a Pacific Northesterner! We want you.

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  3. And to answer your question, politics is the area that springs to mind for me. I can hold my own in many political discussions, but there is a handful of dear friends and family who can eat my lunch when it comes to Discussions of the Beltway. And I love it!

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