I am secretly a nerd. Now, I’m just going to go ahead and cut off those people who say that is not so secret, because of how obviously nerdy I am. Yes, its apparent I am a nerd, but the true breadth and depth of my nerdiness is a secret concealed to most who know me. My wife only discovered the true extent of my geekiness after we were married, and for good reason. If she knew the shocking secret I plan to reveal to you now, I think she might have thought twice about marrying me.
I play D&D. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I’m willing to play D&D, I just don’t have anyone to play with. Whoa. That is pathetic. D&D is, I think, along with Magic Cards,the nadir of nerdiness. It is the line no hipster will publicly cross. It’s fine and good to watch Battlestar Galactica (the new one anyway), and its fine to play video games, and even to dig comics. You can admit those facts about yourself and lose a moderate but acceptable amount of social capital. As long as you dress normally, and wait until people know you well enough to divulge that information you’ll be okay.
There’s this scene in Freaks & Geeks (an excellent and sympathetic depiction of geekery), where the geek clique is making plans to play D&D. There is one holdout. “I dunno, guys….it’s really nerdy”, he says. Eventually he caves and winds up having a good time. I know what his hesitation was about, because I can see D&D from the point of view of someone who hasn’t played, too.
I think it is the play – acting (I suppose I should probably call it role – playing) aspect of the game that makes most people balk. There’s something about pretending to be an elf swordsman with your friends that seems profoundly childish. It hits at what people really find unsettling about the very nerdy, which is that most nerdy pastimes are essentially just refusals to give up on childhood. Most nerdiness is really just an unwillingness to grow up – to stop playing make – believe and obsessing about the shows you watched as a kid, or to stop enjoying the adventures of the Caped Crusader.
That unwillingness to fully enter adulthood creates discomfort in the non – nerdy. It’s like talking to a grown man whose brain somehow became frozen at age nine. The nerds socially astute enough to notice that discomfort are often hostile, and they create a reverse marketplace of social exchange, where your worthiness as a person is determined not by how socially skilled or mature you are, but by the degree to which you have eschewed those “artificialities”.
There’s something pathetic about the staunch refusal to give up on childish pursuits that eventually becomes the contempt with which nerds are widely regarded. To a certain degree, this pity (or contempt) is merited. There are many nerdy people whose refusal to move out of their Mom’s basement and empathize with people who don’t give a shit about Boba Fett is a sad rejection of living. They are like grown Linuses, terrified of losing their Spider – Man bedsheets. They desperately need to grow up or forfeit their claim to a productive, useful life.
I am not one of those nerds. At least I think I’m not, anyway. While I fully understand that nerdiness can mire you in pre – adolescence, I also think there is something healthy about being able to revisit childhood and return again. Growing up, in many ways, means submitting to bullshit superficialities, to surrender your imagination to the tedium of a nine to five existance, and to become a cog in the machine. Healthy geekery is a refusal to submit to the ridiculousness of adulthood, even if only in secret, while at the same time moving on from fourth grade. It is having friendships with different kinds of people and respect other interests, and, not for nothing, to have consensual sex with a living human at some point or another. To do that, you have to do some growing up. Just don’t do too much.
Maturing to the point you stop playing make -believe is a bare minimum of normalcy. That’s why the part of us that is not utterly ridiculous revolts against the idea of doing that again as adults. That’s understandable. Most normal D&D players keep a balance between the strategy elements of coordinating rules and the elaborate mechanisms for determining who wins a fight and talking with a preposterous accent or something like that. Most people who play D&D can do that. Some can’t, and it is those sad cases that force people like me to conceal my interest in D&D from almost everyone in my life. My wife is strictly forbidden from revealing this secret to anyone, even family and close friends. I choose when to come out or risk being ostracized. Jokes on 30 Rock and Community are making it easier, but it’s never easy.
But I am not a complete nerd. And I am not alone.
A short list of people cooler, funnier, better looking, richer, or just plain more important than you who have admitted they enjoy D&D: Robin Williams, Moby, Jon Favreau, Steven Colbert,Vin Diesel, Mike Meyers, Tim Duncan, Ben Affleck, Duwayne Johnson, Matt Groening, Matt Damon, Judd Apatow, Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson), Eddie Izzard, Jenny McCarthy.
I’m sure there are more. I don’t think the number of celebrities who confess they play will ever reach the critical mass necessary for D&D to be de-stigmatized. I’m not positive it should be. I’m just saying that someone you know might harbor this geeky secret, and if it’s someone you love, be kind. It’s very hard admitting that you play a character named Brutus who comes from the Tarsian Empire, can wield two swords simultaneously, and once he reaches 4th level will take a Multi – class feat so he can do some spell – casting. I’m just saying is all.