It’s significant that it’s Olivia Munn – a woman whose career started on the G4’s Attack the Show, and who name-checks Wonder Woman in the title of her autobiography – being accused of being a fake geek. Being a regular at San Diego Comic Con and cast as Psylocke in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse are apparently supposed to be marks against her, signs that she cynically manipulates innocent and unassuming geekboys (which presumably includes casting directors and agents) in order to boost her own profile. Every geek shibbolethshe passes is to be seen as a sign of just how devoted she is to her deception.
Meanwhile, nobody bats an eye at the fact that Henry Cavill is playing Superman without demanding a deep background check to prove that he “deserves” the role. Hugh Jackman may be an icon as Wolverine, but nobody cares about whether or not he has an encyclopedic appreciation for the character’s long and convoluted history. Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds may be lauded for being unabashed comic geeks, but nobody cares whether Mark Ruffalo is playing the Hulk because of the paycheck rather than out of a love for the character.
Similarly while Mayim Bialik – who has a PhD – is complimented on being good at faking being a scientist, nobody accuses Jim Parsons and the rest of the Big Bang Theory (and before it comes up: the folks who call BBT “nerd minstrel show” are a. not helping andb. being really offensive…) cast of being fake geek boys, nor is Chuck Lorre ever accused of “nerd appropriation” despite BBT being one of the most cynical cash-grabs at the nerd community in history.
And while folks may be annoyed at Ian McShane’s dismissal of Game of Thrones as “tits and dragons”, nobody is accusing him of somehow duping naive fans into believing that he’s “one of them”.
It’s all part and parcel of the same self-mythologizing that far too many nerds indulge in; we’re a “persecuted minority” (despite all of pop-culture catering to us) because we weren’t popular in high-school and people made fun of us for loving Star Wars. The idea that a woman – particularly someone as conventionally attractive as Olivia Munn – couldn’t possibly be a geek revolves around the idea that no attractive women could a) have a history of being bullied or unpopular or b) enjoy geek properties without said background. The “only” reason they could be displaying an interest in The Flash or Black Widow or Captain Marvel is because they’re trying to get geek (read: male) attention.
Geekdom may have been the refuge for the socially awkward and the bullied, but it was hardly their exclusive province. Being bullied doesn’t make you a geek, nor does being a geek mean that you had a shitty time as a child. Plenty of nerds had a perfectly lovely childhood and plenty of bullying victims don’t fall into the classic geek narrative; Tom Cruise, anyone? Similarly, loving nerdy shit doesn’t automatically go hand-in-hand with poor social skills or being socially awkward. RichardFeynman was, among other things, a noted ladies man as well as a brilliant theoretical physicist
For that matter, being a woman doesn’t magically gift you with an ability to navigate all social situations nor does it keep you from being bullied for being smart, geeky or from fitting in.
The idea that geekdom was always the last refuge for “beta males” and other boys who were excluded by the cool kids, bullied by the jocks and rejected by the cheerleaders and queen bees is an artificial construct. Yes, boys and men who didn’t fit in did and (and still don’t) find “their people” amongst the others on the Island of Misfit (Yet Still Collectable) Toys… but it was never exclusively theirs until outside forces decided that it was strictly a boys club.
Heaven forbid a woman actually take a magnifying glass to our beloved hobby and actually try to unravel and figure out why things are the way they are in the effort that somehow she might change things? Why aren’t there more female protagonists? Are you protecting Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider or are you empowering her? And god dammit, where’s my Buffy game?
Shame on all of you.
My wife and I had dinner with the always amazing Warren Spector and his brilliant (and sharp tongued) wife Caroline last night and this very subject came up. Caroline was rather eager to speak up about it. We went back and forth on the subject and, I’m paraphrasing, but the takeaway that she said to me (and I’m sure she’ll do a great talk or article about it) is that we’re not supposed to be this crowd.
We’re the gamers, the dorks. We’re the ones who were on our computers during prom. We’re the ones that were in the back of the lunch room who were playing D&D instead of tossing a football around on the quad. We were supposed to be the open, friendly ones, the ones who welcomed all into our wonderful geeky circle.
We’re not supposed to be a mob that’s storming the gates with our pitchforks and torches.
It’s late February, a week before the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where Epic will be unveiling UE4 for the first time outside of the office. Reps from Microsoft, Sony, Nvidia, and the most influential game developers in the industry will be seeing the demo behind closed doors; the NDA-only affair will be Epic’s first and best chance to convince them that the future of gaming is unlike anything they previously imagined. “There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of our engine team and our studio to drag this industry into the next generation,” says Cliff Bleszinski, Epic’s design director. “It is up to Epic, and Tim Sweeney in particular, to motivate Sony and Microsoft not to phone in what these next consoles are going to be. It needs to be a quantum leap. They need to damn near render Avatar in real time, because I want it and gamers want it—even if they don’t know they want it.”
CLIFFYB TO THE GAME INDUSTRY: “Just spend yourselves in to obsolescence already and get it over with!”
All I can think of is that quote from Naughty Dog, where they talk about how the generational leap from Playstation 2 to Playstation 3 was a very dark, uncertain time, and how jumping from Playstation 3 to Playstation 4 has them absolutely terrified.
As talk grows of developers already working on PlayStation 4 titles, Naughty Dog has revealed its fears over the “difficult” transition to next-gen hardware.
Speaking to Eurogamer, studio co-president Evan Wells called the move a “double-edged sword”, explaining that: “The geek inside you is always excited about a shiny new toy, but then the practicality of it starts to set in: this is going to be a lot of hard work.”
Wells explained that the switch from PS2 to PS3 was “the period that Naughty Dog had its darkest days and we lost people on a weekly basis - people just couldn’t get through it”.
That article was published barely even five months ago. As backroom whispers start to grow in volume over the “Xbox 720” and the “Playstation 4”, Naughty Dog is staying firmly planted on Playstation 3 with The Last Of Us. After The Last Of Us, it will probably be two or three years until the next Naughty Dog game hits Playstation 4, most likely putting them squarely in a position where there might be less pressure to transition as quickly as they did to release Uncharted.
Epic, on the other hand, just shipped Gears of War 3 and the latest Infinity Blade, and are quite clearly chomping at the bit to go bigger and more expensive. But with the death toll of small (and not so small) studios seeing such a dramatic rise with this generation’s overblown production budgets, it’s hard not to wonder if Epic’s push to stay on the bleeding edge might be unhealthy for the game industry as a whole.