“What Kind of Geek are You?”

Written by GeekGirlCon copywriter JC Lau

I didn’t self-identify as a geek for a very long time. As a child, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the 80s, but that wasn’t particularly geeky, because all kids my age liked the Turtles. In a third grade spelling test we were told to spell the longest word we knew, and I managed to get out “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, not because I was an academic overachiever, but because I thought that Mary Poppins was an awesome movie. I liked reading, but I was much more drawn to writers like Roald Dahl and, later, Jeffrey Archer and Michael Crichton, than Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. I didn’t even touch a Marvel or DC comic until I was about 20.

But the reason I’m writing about my unassumed geekiness is because I was once presented with the question, “but what kind of geek are you?” and I was speechless. That question left me stumped for days. How on earth do you answer something like that? I’ve had geeky interests my whole life, but they just haven’t presented themselves to me as geeky per se. I just thought that they were interests that everyone had. Everyone likes Ninja Turtles, right? Everyone wants to be a superhero, right? Wouldn’t that make everyone a geek?

You couldn't be a 90s kid without liking these guys. Image source: Turtlepedia

You couldn’t be a 90s kid without liking these guys. Image source: Turtlepedia

It’s almost like asking someone to label and subcategorize parts of their identity, or asking an equally unhelpful question as “but what kind of person are you?”, if geek identity is truly intrinsic to one’s identity. For someone who’s got a strong background in one area of geekdom, a question like “what kind of geek are you?” might be answerable, but what sort of response can you give if your geeky interests cover many different domains?

This is why I find the idea of geek identification tricky to understand and articulate. Sometimes, questions about identity are easy to answer, because there are reasonably straightforward categories (like that very irritating question, “but what kind of Asian are you?” or questions about your college major or nationality). But when the answers aren’t commonly accepted subcategories, or there are multiple possible choices whose boundaries are indistinct, it becomes harder to give a straight answer.

Geek taxonomy is a prime example of the latter. There are some types of geek with strong identification: gamers, fans of comic books, science and tech geeks, LARPers and cosplayers, and so on.

Even among sci-fi geeks there's disagreement. Image source: Geekyrant

Even among sci-fi geeks there’s disagreement. Image source: Geekyrant

But even then, the categories break down on closer inspection. Science fiction, for example, has its own subcategories and rivalries—so much ink has been spilled in debates about Star Trek vs. Star Wars, and in the world of comic books there’s a well-known DC/Marvel dichotomy.

So how does geek identity work if, like me, you like Firefly and Star Trek but you’ve never seen Doctor Who? Or, like my sister, if you’re a physicist and strongly dislike the idea of time travel? Or, one of my friends loves the movies from the Marvel Universe, but has never read a single comic book; where does he fit into geekdom?

If we all had singular, narrow interests, then we could easily say what kind of geeks we were. That, and if Marvel just stuck with making comic books about non-overlapping universes, if Lego only made blocks, and if the Harry Potter franchise was just a set of books and not films, video games, toys, and costumes. The expansion of areas of geekdom into other domains muddies the water when we talk about identity, but it also gives us greater opportunities to learn about other things to geek out about. Specifically, it gives us choices to determine what kind of geeks we want to be.

There are a lot of different subcategories of geek culture to pick from! Image source: Julianna Brion

There are a lot of different subcategories of geek culture to pick from! Image source: Julianna Brion

In retrospect, if I had to pick a subcategory of geek with which to identify, I’d say that I was a gamer. I’ve played games since I was about three, and video games are a huge part of my life. But to answer the question by saying that I’m a gamer implies that I’m just a gamer—it really misses a lot of other aspects of who I am. Sure, I’m a gamer, but I also dabble in RPGs, and I read comic books. I’ve dipped my toe into the waters of cosplay. I like dinosaurs and robots, and I wrote a thesis in college about the metaphysics of time travel and causation. Saying that I’m a gamer doesn’t encompass these other domains of geekdom.

The other consideration is that geek identity evolves over time. Sure, I didn’t read a comic book until I was 20, but once I did, the floodgates were open and I was catching up as fast as I could on the last sixty years of superhero comics. Playing RPGs in video games led me to playing tabletop RPGs, and to board games more generally, which moved me beyond Cranium and Monopoly to Pandemic and Galaxy Trucker. Watching Star Trek has renewed my interest in science and technology, especially when I found out that some of the tech in Star Trek is actually getting developed. I’m learning more about how to make costumes. I’m sure at some point I’ll finally get around to watching Doctor Who. My geek universe is expanding, and I’m discovering more of it all the time.

So, when people ask me what kind of geek I am, the answer is actually “all kinds”, even though I just might not know it yet.

What would your response to the question, “what kind of geek are you” be? Let us know in the comments!

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JC Lau
“Rock On!”

JC Lau

Previously disguised as a college professor and family lawyer, JC Lau is an Australian video game journalist and writer living in Seattle.

3 responses to ““What Kind of Geek are You?””

  1. Adrienne Roehrich says:

    That question is such a tough question. Sometimes it is meant from someone just looking to find out if you have similar interests, but I’ve also had it used as a thinly veiled “fake geek girl” labeling. Too easily, it runs the risk of asking one to prove their geekiness.

    Me, I’ve always identified more as a nerd growing up and didn’t assume any geek identity until I met folks from GeekGirlCon.But I have a long gaming history, interest in science, and sci-fi/fantasy (both literature and film), so I tend to talk about those when posed the question.

    • JC Lau says:

      Adrienne, I totally agree. I didn’t mention it in my discussion because I’m sure the “fake geek girl” test is a WHOLE other blog post, but it is indeed quite problematic: if you claim geekdom over a particular domain, there’s the risk you’re supposed to know EVERYTHING about that domain, which is silly. Being a geek really just should imply that these are things that you’re a fan of, not that you have encyclopedic knowledge of.

      That said, I found this amazing post by The Doubleclicks about how they handle the “fake geek girl” test, and this is the best response to the issue I’ve seen yet: http://thedoubleclicks.tumblr.com/post/115073266085/fake-geek-girl-test-in-real-life-sort-of

  2. Alexander Snow says:

    Although I would certainly fit the GeekGirlCon definition of “Geek” (in probably more ways than one), these concepts “Geek,” “Geekiness,” “Geekdom” do not exist in my worldview. To explain: I’m 53 years old and grew up as a hippie. And in those days, to be passionate about the things that are now called “Geeky” would have been called “Groovy” in those days. Everybody was expected to have their “thing.”

    That being said, I am a 53 year-old-man: and I am a Lifetime Member of the NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN and a Board Member of the Seattle Chapter, a Lifetime Member of the GIRL SCOUTS, I have 2,600+ Volunteer Hours with the SEATTLE AQUARIUM, and I have also volunteered with the SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, THREE DOLLAR BILL CINEMA, and the RAT CITY ROLLERGIRLS.

    For more than 40 years now, I have been a fan of Classic Science Fiction & Horror Movies, having discovered them when I was 11. I preferred the Horror Movies made at UNIVERSAL STUDIOS (the ones starring Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi) as opposed to the HAMMER FILMS (the ones starring Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee) and the Roger Corman movies staring Vincent Price (although I later came to enjoy those, as well).

    STAR WARS, on the other hand, I did not much care for when it first came out (I was 15 at the time). Of course, there would have been nothing Geeky about being a STAR WARS fan in those days: it was the thing to do! I, on the other hand, was a fan of LOGAN’S RUN.

    In addition to Science Fiction, I also enjoy actual Science.

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