Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I'm a Nerd Wannabe

An Examination of My Nerd Pursuits

Given the crossover between metal and a whole lot of nerd pursuits, I don't think it will come as any surprise to anyone that I've been into some really nerdy things in my 31 years. When I say that, I'm referring to the kinds of things usually mean when they say "nerdy," even though people can be nerds about anything.

The weird thing is, I've never been able to fully commit to nerdery, or any other subculture for that matter. I've often said I'm a wannabe nerd, because I want to do the things that nerds do, but I fall short. I've got some theories on that, but it's better to start at the beginning.

Science Fiction

Of course, the ultimate nerd thing is science fiction, and that's where I started. Here, I'm using the term broadly to encompass true sci-fi as well as stories that take place in space or the future.

It started with Star Wars. What else? I grew up with it. Every year some channel would play all three movies in three nights, and so we would miss the first one and record Empire and Jedi. My brother and I watched those VHS tapes every day for a whole summer. I drew space battles all the time in 2nd grade.

By the fifth grade, I was reading the Robotech novelizations, and a year later I was on to the BattleTech books. There was a pretty dry spell there for a while, but late in college I started onto classic science fiction books, which I still read today. Dune and the Hyperion Cantos are great examples. I discovered Firefly late (thank you, Aaron!), and love it intensely.

But otherwise, there's a lot about sci-fi that I can't commit to. I've never really cared for Star Trek, because it's objectively terrible. I've never watched Dr. Who or Battlestar Galactica. And Star Wars was ruined, that's a matter of public record. A big part of me wants to be the guy who dresses up like a Storm Trooper, but aside from building a model AT-AT I just can't do that.

Comic Books

Comic books were my next nerd pursuit, but I never made it very far. I had a subscription to the G.I. Joe comic for a while, until it ended, and had a few issues of some TMNT comics. But, as you can tell, that interest was just collateral to my interest in the worlds surrounding my toys. I also had Spawn #6, which had excellent art, but I never got around to getting another issue. My brother and I did have some Marvel trading cards, but that wasn't out of any affinity for the characters.

Some of the art is cool, and I like the movies, but that's mainstream. Something about comic books makes them the least appealing form of nerdiness to me.

Video Games

I played video games almost as far back as I can remember. We had an Atari 2600. But, seeing that I skipped the 8-bit generation (other than playing at friends' houses) I didn't get into it until the Sega Genesis. Streets of Rage 2 was my first game. But the Final Fantasy series has almost always been my favorite since I watched my cousins play the original. Unfortunately, I had to play them with friends until the Playstation era. I faithfully played the games until XI. I tried it, but less than a month into that grueling experience I quit.

Since then, I've been the quintessential casual gamer. I got a Wii several years after it came out, and I never buy new games. I play mobile apps more than consoles.


A teacher once read The Dark Is Rising series to my class, or at least part of it. I really liked those books, and I've collected them myself.

But I really have to thank my childhood friend Bryan for a lot--he introduced me to metal. But before that, he got me into fantasy outside of video gaming. I read a lot of Dragonlance novels from the 7th grade through the 10th, and came back to them early in law school for a short time. I read The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion in law school. Tolkien brought me to some pretty high heights of nerdiness, as I've read more than one biography, and I have a book of Middle Earth geography written by a geography professor as well as a dictionary and bestiary of Middle Earth. All of which I've read, cover-to-cover. I can't speak Sindarin, but that's still pretty far afield from anyone who's only seen the movies.

Still, I can't bring myself to read much of any other fantasy. I've read the Narnia books and the Earthsea books, and other Weis/Hickman books aside from Dragonlance, but most of the book covers make me cringe. And my real obsession with Tolkien only lasted a couple of years. I still love the Tolkien stories, and I'll collect the occasional neat item, but I'm not going to read another scholarly work on the topic.

Tabletop Gaming

Perhaps the biggest gap in my nerd repertoire is that I've never played Dungeons & Dragons. That's not because I was instilled with any fear of its evil power, but simply because the opportunity never presented itself.

I did, however, take up Magic: the Gathering. I love that game. A friend introduced me to it in high school, and I quickly became fairly good at it. For a short time, I was very into it, developed a perfect knowledge of the game's complex rules, and played quite competitively in Type 2 play. I even organized my own small tournament of about a dozen or so players. But, when Type 2 rolled over and I could no longer play the deck I had honed, I gave up on it. I wasn't about to sink another $100-200 into it.

Miniatures games like Warhammer 40K intrigue me, but I've never gotten into it. I've had the pleasure of playing one of the modern board game geek games (Caylus) once. But only once, sadly. I still want to play M:tG. If anyone is up for it in the area, get in touch.


I was a teenager in the late 90's, when anime was just starting to get a foothold in the states. It's then that I discovered Robotech was an anime before it was a book series. I didn't care for Dragon Ball Z, but I discovered Vampire Hunter D, Ghost in the Shell, and Ninja Scroll. I dabbled in Gundams and a few others. In college I fell in love with Cowboy Bebop, Akira, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

For a long time I thought I was an anime fan. But I watched a lot of anime, and didn't like much of it. Eventually I pretty much gave up on it. Part of me wants to be the guy who loves it so much he's even into J-pop, but I can't do it. To be fair, I do own a few samurai swords and I have a love of the art of Hiroshige, but my Japanophilia is not as strong as some.

So, Why Just a Wannabe?

I've had a couple of periods when I might have crossed over into full nerdhood, but they were short-lived. Yet I've never been able to fully identify as nerd, even though I'm part of the generation that first decided to "own" it.

As the group was originally defined, there is no social barrier to entry into the nerd universe. It's supposed to be for anyone who's not cool enough. Most of them are so excited about what they're into that they'll want to indoctrinate you, if you're genuinely interested. In a sense, that makes it a little bit pathetic that I've never been able to get fully into that universe. But I have a few theories about why.

First, I'm going to toss my discerning taste out there as a point that stops me. I don't mean that in a way to toot my own horn. The vast majority of Japanophilia is an obsession with crappy anime and crappy music. The vast majority of fantasy and sci-fi is garbage. People who are really into those things are into a lot of stuff that's just shit. To be one of them, you have to be into that.

Dovetailing with that, I've also entertained the illusion that I was too cool for some of this stuff. Which obviously is not true. I identified as metalhead, and deluded myself into thinking that was somehow a step above nerd. Sadly, that led me to be more dismissive of some very awesome nerds in my life than I wish I had been, and that can only have made my life less rich.

But more importantly, lack of commitment has stopped me. Nerdhood is all about commitment. You have to be all-in. Collectible card games and miniatures games require massive investments of time and money. While casual video gaming is cheaper than ever, real hardcore gaming just gets more and more expensive. The massively multiplayer online gaming world which once intrigued me is a giant commitment in time and monthly fees. The monthly fees are another thing that stopped me from really getting into comic books. I'm a bit of a completist, like most nerds (and metalheads), but I like to be able to make my commitment and just have the full set. A new issue every month is anathema.

But most of all, my anti-social nature has stopped me. As much as people have historically mocked nerds for lacking social skills, they are an extremely social bunch, among themselves. You have to be social to play games these days, either on the tabletop or in hardcore gaming. You have to be social to be able to share anime or comic books with friends. Anyone who has tried to be my friend since childhood knows I don't like to be in groups of more than three or four people. Anyone who's tried to be my friend since law school knows it's almost impossible to get me out. It's the same reason I don't usually do live music.

A huge part of me has always wanted to be a part of this world, but I've never really done it. Still, if it's not at least a little bit nerdy, it's not all that interesting to me.

I suspect there's a lot in my story that's going to make sense to some of you. Let me know.


  1. I've never really considered myself much of a nerd. I suppose there are a few things that I do that may be considered nerdy. I collect baseball cards and am involved in a fantasy baseball league, though neither are traditionally nerdy. I did collect comic books, though my titles were the Aliens titles as I am a huge fan of that series, and I used to get the toys when they came out. That was when I was in elementary and junior high. I dated a girl that was a big Marvel fan and that is how I became interested in the X-Men which has lead to the Avengers, etc., but I was never into the comic books, nor am I now. I enjoy the movies though. I liked the Tolkien movies, but never read any of the books. I don't know. I think I have always been just outside the nerd spectrum. I guess. I have no idea.

    1. It's OK to be nerdy about jock things.

      I also had some of the Alien toys, and there were Terminator ones around the same time that I was also into. I'm sure we probably sold them all on a garage sale.

      All the metalheads I knew in high school were like me, kind of into nerdy things but with some delusion about being too cool to hang out with actual nerds. (Magic seemed like an exception because of its vaguely occult overtones.) Also, there were at least two guys who really got into metal that were definitely farm kids, through-and-through, and I hung out with them, too.

      Anyway, I've always had the impression there's a huge nerd contingent among metalheads, or some kind of crossover there. Blind Guardian is proof of that.

  2. I feel where you are coming from, especially the small groups of people bit and nerds being more social. I am big into science fiction, but hate a lot of it too, but I think a large portion of all things will always suck. Never got at all into anime or table-top gaming, knew a ton of people that were but it didn't appeal to me.

    I never read any fantasy until fairly recently, less than a year ago I read the first Earthsea book and absolutely hated it. The main character had the personality of a stale saltine. (Not fantasy but Dune is great, I have Dune Messiah but won't commit to the series beyond that if the rest of the books will be about the ancestors of the characters I actually know.) I also never really identified as a nerd, I'd rather watch the Bruins or work on benching more weight than go to comicon

    Hey Metallattorney, what was your favorite Aliens toy? I liked the one where you'd push a button on the back and it would explode apart. I loved those so damn much.

    1. The first Earthsea book was good, I thought, because of the vivid descriptions of things, especially all the darkness in it. A lot of it appealed to me because of the ideas in it, rather than the characters themselves. Then again I've read a lot of Asimov, so apparently I'm a glutton for ideas in fiction over character.

      That said, I know good fiction when I read it, and I think you're safe to stop at Dune and Dune Messiah. I can give a slightly less enthusiastic recommendation to Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune. After that, it becomes indulgent. I've never read any of the posthumous books from the series, but I'm told they're literary necrophilia, to be avoided at all cost.

      Never read Heinlein. That's an imperative sentence, not a declarative one.

      I soured on sports early in life because I wasn't good at them and didn't want to take the time to practice. It wasn't until my 20's that I developed a deep love of football. Weightlifting, as a "sport of solitary personal perfection" (to quote John Hodgman) has always been an exception to that rule, and I've spent a lot of time on that.

    2. Apteronotus: I had that one, the scorpion alien I think. I liked the bull alien, the one that you pushed the button and its head would thrust out. I also had a classic movie two pack with the Predator from the first movie and the Alien from the first movie. I liked that one a lot.