SF Tony Avatar

Life Skills for Fanboys:  Fixing the Face of Geek

written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2014

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.


So last week, I bitched and moaned about Geek Image.  This week, I’d like to provide some constructive criticism and concrete things to try and fix that image.

Respect Your Fellow Geek

You don’t have to like them and you don’t have to say, attend that Furry Dance Party if it’s not your thing, but respecting your fellow geek is paramount to changing the Face.  Getting ostracized by the “norms” is probably what made you a geek to begin with.  Why would you put your fellow geek traveler through such uncomfortableness?

Now respect doesn’t mean you have to tolerate geeks when they’re being arrogant pricks.  In fact, pointing out that issue is exactly what’s going to improve the geek community.  But it’s the way you point it out that makes the difference whether or not you are respecting the geek community.

I was at a Dex Con one year and the hotel simultaneously book a get-together for a particular brand of car owner.  Now ten seconds after you took a look at the people who attended this car thing and you understood clearly that most of those in attendance were there to get drunk and get laid.  Fine.  More power to them.  (Geeks are doing the same thing, albeit with Magic Cards and dice in tow.)  The car people started calling us out on being geeks.  Sneering, laugh and generally being drunken and snide.  I’m happy to report the Dex Con crew hung together.  We quickly shut down those car assholes.  (We outnumbered them about two to one, so it wasn’t hard.)  It could’ve easily gone wrong.

For instance, back in the day when every Goth kid in a 100 miles showed up to gaming conventions to play Vampire all weekend, there was an air of “Well, we’re geeks, but we’re the cool geeks.”  Had that division reared its ugly head during the car people confrontation or had we’d be outnumbered, the division would’ve made us appear weak to outsiders.  We need solidarity, at least amongst people who are not members of the community.  So keep internal squabbles internal.  Don’t air our dirty laundry in front of the “norms”.

Prepare for Outsiders

No matter how many cons I attend, I’m always amazed at how few organizers take the time to cater to people who have never showed up at a con before.  Sure, geek communities tend to be cliquish, but they can get down right obtuse when an interested outsider asks, “Hey, why are there Storm Troopers in the hotel lobby?”

A con big enough to have registration desk, a dealer’s room and various other rooms (especially those held in a hotel) is big enough to have at least on “Civilian Liaison”.  It would be this person’s job to give layman’s explanations on what the Hell is going on in the hotel.  Additionally, I think some of these interested outsiders are potential recruits for the community, so it would serve the community to offer discounted “try-out passes”, so they can roam around the con, get the feel for what’s going on, check out some panels and maybe try a game or two.

Even if you didn’t pick up a new fan, I think it would serve the Geek Face very well.  “No, the comic book convention wasn’t my thing, but I was shown around by one of the con organizers.  They were a cool bunch of guys.”

That would be a better reaction than what I usually see:  A confused outsider trying to get a grasp at what’s going on and geeks either too busy and unprofessional to help.  Or worse, making snide comments like, “Duh.  We’re playing Magic cards.  Only the most popular card game in the world.”

The Ethos of Geek

What are geek values?  Well, I’d say, for one, you’d have to look at comic books.  Superheroes in particular are supposed to be the best and the brightest.  These dogooders are all about the good deeds.  They right wrongs and look out for the weak.  They, like us, were often ostracized by a society that didn’t understand them.  So when a problem arises, think to yourself, “What would Superman do?”

Gamers are all about the game.  Yes, they can be a little competitive, but you can’t compete if you don’t have other players.  So gaming is about being inclusive.  Another value.  We include people and instruct them on how to play.  And we’re fair about it, because there are rules that we all play by.  InclusionFairnessEquality under the RPG.

And those of us that love sci-fi and fantasy, we read.  We like to explore new worlds and new ideas.  Thought is important.  This is another value.  ABT.  Always Be Thinking.  We’re supposed to be the smart ones, remember?

Deal with the Issues

Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked about a lot of geek community issues.  If you agree that some of these behaviors are a problem, it’s time to do something about them.  Cons are often very democratic institutions with volunteers and chairpersons.  During the planning meeting is the time to deal with these issues.

Things like grooming, being professional and talking and acting like a professional are issues that definitely need to be addressed by con organizers.  Certainly geek attendees can have some leeway.  Some are young and don’t know.  But there’s no excuse for a five time, veteran con volunteer to have a huge stain on his shirt, while he openly chastises fellow geeks when he should be keeping time in a panel room.  Volunteers can be fired and should be if their behavior gets out of hand or doesn’t change.

Leadership of a con comes from the top down.  If you’re not a well-dress professional who acts professional at all times, then neither will your staff.  Set the example, give clear instructions and correct behavior that is out of line.  You’re not just doing this for your convention, but for the Face of the Geek Community as a whole.  (You don’t have to be a Nazi about it, people are there to have fun after all.)  But if you’re not making the effort, don’t be surprised when people start complaining about your con.

As for attendees, well, be a friend to the geek community.  As the saying goes, if you see something, say something.  Again, I’m not asking you to rudely apply your own personal rules to another person.  But there are times at a con when things get out of hand.  It is at those times someone needs to step up and say, “Whoa, wait a minute.  What is happening here?  Is this really in the best interests of everyone at the con?”

If a cosplayer has a bad costume, don’t let a fellow geek pick on that person.  Say, “Hey, back off.  At least they tried to make this con interesting, you’re just being negative.”

If a geek drones on and on during a panel discussion and gets off topic (and the moderator is asleep at the wheel) don’t be afraid to politely say, “Excuse me, I think we’re getting off topic here.  No offense, but can we refocus and discuss your fan fic at another time?”  (Unless, of course, the panel was about fan fic.)

If someone looks confused at the registration desk (especially if it’s an outsider), don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, are you looking for something?  You look at little lost.  I’m a veteran at these things.”

I mean, in general, if we’re all just extra friendly, polite and nice whenever we’re at a con, how could that not help our image?  And let me make this crystal clear, I’m not suggesting that we go around imposing our will on other people.  Some people that look like they need help, don’t or don’t want it.  You don’t want to make a bad situation worse.  But if you’re calm, alert and at least aware of the image the geek community should or should not be presenting, we can, as a group, help each other and avoid some of the problems I’ve mentioned these past few weeks.

Now get out there geeks.  Do some good!

Previous Columns

The Face of Geek Needs Work

Obesity at Cons

The Art of Conversation


The Line Between Fans and Pros

Geek Elitism

Convention Panels

Convention Volunteers

Food Gifts

Women and Cons

Get Your Room Party Together

Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons