Rise of the Nerds?

© NBC, Parks and Recreation
© NBC, Parks and Recreation

As many of us have noticed, there has been a steady rise in the amount of popular nerd culture present in mainstream media in recent years that being considered a ‘nerd’ is no longer something to be ashamed of. However, not everyone is of this same mind set that Ben Wyatt has from Parks and Recreation.

Recently, Sci-fi poster boy Simon Pegg has come under fire for his comments in his interview with Radio Times and his criticism that science fiction and genre films are infantilising our tastes leading us to consume “very childish things”. Though Pegg has responded on his website to the reaction his controversial comments have created, it does lead us to question how accepted nerd culture is within mainstream society?

Comic books and science fiction are two groups within nerd culture that can be said to have been accepted into mainstream society. By simply comparing the amount of people who attended Free Comic Book day on the first Saturday of May in Sydney this year to previous years shows a staggering increase in their popularity.

©Deborah Lum The line for Kings Comics at 6:30am for Free Comic Book Day May 1st, 2015

However, few of these attendees would know of the other sub groups within nerd culture that exist and are still fairly marginalized by mainstream society.

Tabletop games and miniature painting are just two of the many sub groups that make up nerd culture that are still marginalized by society.

The humble board game, also referred to as tabletop games nowadays, is given new meaning from the games that we’ve played as a child. No longer are we limited to snakes and ladders or Monopoly with games like The Settlers of Catan that families and friends can easily get into.

Miniature painting is also an aspect of nerd culture that is not as well known due to the fact that many people consider it to be very ‘nerdy’ and time consuming. However, if you’re willing to invest the time and money you will be able to create fantastic figures. These miniatures can be used for miniature war games that can run for an hour or more and you can paint the miniatures to your own design and use them in table top war games or enter them into competitions.

Speaking with Matt and Jim, two males in their 20s who are considered by society to be nerdy due to their interests, tell us some of the reasons why they think these aspects of nerd culture are less accepted by Australian mainstream society.

Matt believes that advertising is a major factor as to why society is less accepting of table top gamers. He tells us that board games “that are more widely known just don’t have the funding to advertise. You’ve got your Hasbro games and stuff like that where you have corporate backing and then you have your games like Zombicide where they’re barely scraping a profit. They can’t afford to advertise on mainstream tv or cable, it will all be demos run at game conventions which are generally attracted by nerds. You don’t get a lot of people who would consider themselves nerdy in some way going to game conventions”

This can also be said of miniature painting, with most advertisements appearing in magazines that are marketed specifically for people interested in painting. Of course you also have to be willing to go up to demo players and painters in order to learn, and people aren’t willing to learn if they consider it too ‘nerdy’.

Board games used to be a way families and friends connected with each other however, with the rise of technology and inventions like the Ipad video games, less people are taking the time and money to invest in a board game and those that do are sometimes unwilling to open themselves up to the experience.

“If you’re not in a mindset where you are actually wanting to invest the time and energy into playing these games, learning how to play them properly, it’s just very time consuming to actually know what you’re doing unless you’re playing with someone who knows what they’re doing and generally people don’t want to,” Matt states.

Jim offers another perspective stating that “it’s also a change in culture as well, when our parents were younger if you were a boy you were outside playing sport so the nerds are the ones inside, in the dark rooms, but just free time and stuff now, it’s changing. Board games are getting a bit more popular and people are looking into board games to spend time with each other and also just with how everyone are in offices a lot of people, sport isn’t as needed anymore I guess. It’s not a main culture thing I guess.”

Jim adds that accessibility and price are also reasons as to the unpopularity of these aspects of nerd culture. Unless someone you know plays a board game it is unlikely for you to realize the potential fun they can bring. Not to mention that the average board games costs about $100-$200 in Australia.

©Andrew Lum Valderynn the Archmage painted as Dumbledore from the popular Harry Potter series
©Andrew Lum Valderynn the Archmage painted as Dumbledore from the popular Harry Potter series

The same can be said of miniatures with the price ranging from $6-$80 for metal casted figures. The cheapest options available would be Reaper miniatures who use plastic casts to create figurines that are affordable and easily washable, with some painters adding a new twist to the characters.

Matt tells us that he thinks mainstream society is less inclined to accept these lesser-known hobbies of nerd culture because they see it “as a waste of time. Like when you think about how much money, just me personally, how much money I spend on plastic miniatures, trading cards, board games, it’s a lot of money… I think people deem nerd interests as a waste of money.”

Advertising, accessibility, price and merit seem to be the major reasons as to why these aspects of nerd culture are not as accepted by mainstream society in Australia.

Sorry Wil Wheaton, but Tabletop will need to work a lot harder if you want to make table top games an acceptable part of nerd culture within Australian mainstream society.