A Safe SpaceApothne
Let’s tell a story, maybe one not so far from the truth, maybe wildly from it. But a story that’s not exactly a work of pure fiction.
You’re a nerd. You’re into video games. Spaceship video games to be exact. At school/college, some/most people are cool about it. If you were to mention to your friends that you play video games, most of them wouldn’t care. Maybe there’s another gamer in your group and you’ve bonded over that and chatted about playing video games sometimes.
However, not everyone is super kind about it. The word “Nerd” is most commonly used as a pejorative in your school, on TV and in movies. Nerds are very rarely portrayed in media, and when they are, they are only ever caricatured side characters whose entire identity is that they are a nerd. They aren’t really developed more than that. It’s a part of your identity that you didn’t choose, that you didn’t ask for, that has just been there your whole life and differentiates you from society.
Not only do your peers use it as a pejorative, but your authority figures sometimes too. Some factions of society think being a D&D Nerd means that you’re a satan worshipper and do blood rituals. Some factions of society think that violent video games mean you’re going to shoot up the school. They’re minorities compared to the whole, but on a near daily basis, you are reminded of the false stereotypes about that part of your life.
Let’s go further, let’s say you’re unlucky. Maybe you and/or your friends have been socially ostracised or otherwise made to feel “other” and “separate” because of your passion for video games. You’ve never tried to force them to play video games, but if you were to even mention it then maybe you’d get some evil looks, maybe someone would trot out one of those untrue stereotypes.
on a near daily basis, you are reminded of the false stereotypes about that part of your life
Maybe it’s worse, maybe you feel like you can’t tell your friends or even your family, or maybe you did and they rejected you for who you feel you are and won’t accept you until you change for them. Maybe you’ve heard of nerds getting beaten up after school, had their property taken or vandalised. I mean, things aren’t as bad as they were even a decade ago, liking video games was considered a mental illness until 30-40 years ago in most countries in your part of the world. The last generation had it a lot worse so at least you’ve got that going for you.
Hell, in some countries around the world liking video games means you’re going to be tortured and killed. Some people in public office believe you should receive electroshock therapy to “cure” you for liking video games, which is terrifying that they have some say in the way the country you live in runs, and that there are enough people who support their viewpoint to elect them.
Still, every Friday night you log into EVE Online and play spaceships with people from around the world who like video games too. You can relax, you don’t have to worry about anyone you play with taking your passion for video games the wrong way because they have that passion too! You have a group of people for whom that part of you is accepted and cherished. Maybe on Sundays you have a Tabletop gaming club. Same deal as Friday nights. People who don’t play are welcome to come hang out, but the main purpose of the meetup is to play and discuss tabletop board games.
Now, you don’t hate people who dislike board games or video games or aren’t “nerds”. Some of them are a bit rough to you about that aspect of your life, but Nerds and non-Nerds alike can be assholes. It is, however, nice to have just a few hours a week where you’re not constantly on guard about accidentally mentioning that part of who you are for fear of any variety from minuscule to massive negative responses. You don’t have to be afraid of being judged or criticised or experiencing any of the phenomena we established earlier. You’re not pretending people with different opinions don’t exist, you just have a space where you don’t have to be constantly ready to be on the defensive and argue for your own validity as a human at any given moment. You don’t have to represent what it means to be a “gamer” or a “nerd” or have to be able to answer any number of questions or arguments about such a broad and varied topic as video and tabletop gaming.
Anyway, It’s spring break. You and your whole year are going off to Lake Fanfest for a week of sun, water sports and hanging out. Your school is an athletic academy, so there will be tons of events, some professional athletes giving talks, and maybe there’s an announcement of the next terms sporting tournament. Your love of sport is as much a part of you as your love of video games, so you’re massively excited, but in honesty, the main reason for the event is for everyone to hang out and have a good time. You don’t share classes or even campuses with some of your friends, so it’s a great opportunity to have some beers (assume everyone is of age) and mostly just hang out. Even a few notable alumni turn up just for a pint and a laugh. Overall, the most important aspect is that it’s an opportunity to hang out with your community, and every year it’s fantastic.
Then one member of staff puts a message on the notice board:
“Would any of our glorious students coming to Lake Fanfest be interested in an Nerd gathering before the event kicks off? Shoot me an email if this is something you’d hit up, and I might be able to organize!”
Wow. One of the staff from your school is setting up a small event like what you do on Sundays only when the whole student body is there? You could meet so many people who share your interest and experience!
What’s your reaction to this?
Further, what’s your reaction if a vocal part of the school body starts shouting down the idea? What if they say that the event is there for sports and it’s not a sports thing so it’s exclusionary and shouldn’t be put on?
What if, in indignation, they say how they should be allowed to have a “popular kids party” where no nerds are allowed (despite them being entirely welcome to attend the Nerd gathering)?
How does this make you feel about the community, and your place in it, in the context of the situation we established?
Do you still want to go at all?
Do you feel welcome there?
The metaphor isn’t perfect. I’m not exactly the best writer in the world, especially for this type of article. I’m sure any number of commenters could split hairs and pick at what I’m trying to say here, but all I ask is that before you do; consider the underlying message i’m trying to get across. It doesn’t take a genius to see it. Even if you disagree with what I’m trying to say, just try to be kind. Don’t leap to accusing people of being extremists of any part of the discussion, take this situation for what it is.
Try to listen, try to be kind, try to understand, even if you disagree.