Geeks are supposed to be the loners. The outcasts. The freaks with no friends, and no desire to make them. We live on the fringe, and in a world with 24/7 high speed internet and online pizza ordering, we need never see the light of day, let alone another human being. And yet, for all of our alleged social awkwardness, we’re the ones with the largest circles of friends.
It was always a cliche to one degree or another. Sure, geeks often appeared as loners, sitting in study hall with noses buried in their books, or trapped in 4th period high school lunch with a handful of ostracized friends, popularity always escaped them, and there were always those unfortunate loners who really did live on the friend, but in truth geeks are a gregarious lot, one that tends to be drawn together by a mutual passion for obscure arts, be it hacking together computers, playing Dungeons & Dragons, or playing on the chess team.
As I stare down my 35th birthday, I look around at my friends … and find that I’ve got a lot of them. I’m not talking about friends as a popularity contest or as links on MySpace, but rather friends as people I like to hang out with, people I can rely on to help move furniture or talk to about the frustrations of life, the universe and everything. And oddly — at least, it seems odd to my geek brain — I find that others don’t have the same extensive circle of friends.
That’s a gut feeling that’s backed up by at least a little research, as the Associated Press’ article “Lonely Nation” (Internet Archive) illustrates. Based on the research, the number of close friends the average person has is two, down from three in the 1980s (a close friend being described as a confidant that you could share a life story or three with). They also point to the increased number of singles reported in the 2000 U.S. Census. The article is short on demographics and the anecdotes aren’t enlightening, but going on experience, I think that geeks — particularly adult geeks — are more likely to have a larger circle of friends than their non-geek counterparts.
And I think the reason why lies in all those “anti-social behaviors” that we started back in high school. While geeks can and undoubtedly do follow solitary pursuits, I’m inclined to think that’s more the exception than the rule. Take gamers for example: by their very nature, role-playing games foster larger circles of friends because you need at least 4-5 people to play (and often more than that). The ongoing storylines give people a reason to keep coming back, and as a result its possible for gaming groups to stay together for years. The same holds for groups who are focused on board games — you need 4-5 players, and while the storylines don’t keep people coming back, the quest for new games does.
Going beyond gamers you find geeks constantly drawn together by their interests, be it building robots, obsessing about Star Trek, promoting an operating system or attending science fiction conventions. Sure, you can be a solitary geek … but the natural tendency — particularly when you factor in any kind of fandom — is for like to seek like.
Even online, the ties that bond can be strong. My Geezer Gamers clan has an annual BBQ weekend down in Texas, and clan members have helped each other get through some tough times, from divorces to chronic unemployment.
Of course, geeks can get lonely too. To be a gamer in search of a game — particularly in a location where the prospects are dismal — is to live in a special kind of hell, and one I remember all too well in the two years it took from graduating college to starting up my present gaming group. The thing is though, even when they don’t have a group of friends, geeks are looking for them, and given enough time, usually find them.
The Long Game
And then the groups thrive. My own gaming group has been together for 10 years, and it’s evolved beyond just the game. There have been weddings, births, Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve celebrations and all the “normal” stuff you’d associate with a good group of friends, it’s just that every week we get together to throw some dice.
The question for geekdom is: what does the future bring? Will the social aspects of geekdom survive the evolution of MMORPGs into something that features actual role-playing and world building? Can it survive another 30 years of Friday gaming? Can it survive the marriages, the moves, the divorces? Can it, in short, survive life?
I hope so. I don’t think about my golden years much, but when I finally do retire, I intend to be spend my days gaming with as many of my friends as possible, playing in 3-4 role-playing campaigns, getting together for weekly games of Settlers of Catan, and watching Lord of the Rings and Star Wars marathons until I fall asleep under my afghan.