They’ve been around for as long as we can remember. They lurk on the fringes of society, in dark rooms illuminated only by the glow of computer screens, speaking languages undecipherable by almost anyone else! And they all look like Steve Urklel (from Family Matters)!
Or at least, that’s what we used to think.
Ever since personal computers and the Internet became an essential part of contemporary life (and Bill Gates the richest man in the world), geek culture has stepped out of the shadows into a more positive light in the public eye. Once simply regarded as creepy, weird guys with zero social skills, people are starting to understand that this stereotype isn’t as accurate as they thought.
Brendon Fernandez, 26, an actor, undergraduate and gamer, is probably one of the starkest examples of the contrast between the label and the truth. “‘Actor’ and ‘geek’ are not commonly associated terms,” he says. “I get calls from actor friends that go ‘Hey, my computer has a … thing’ and I end up telling them how to clear spyware, clean viruses and use programs. I’m ‘actor tech support’.”
Indeed, geeks are a lot more ‘normal’ than most of us realize. But if perceptions of geek-hood have been misconstrued, then what is a geek?
“Geek, to me, has a broad definition,” explains Peter Hendricks, 24, a freelance sound engineer and music enthusiast. “The term could be used for someone who has an obsession or fascination, usually surrounding technology. Although that could apply to a variety of subjects, like role playing games or comic books. This fascination usually outweighs every other aspect in his or her life. Yes, there are female geeks out there too … whether they like admitting it is another issue altogether.”
And that’s what they really are: guys—and girls—who are just intellectually passionate over a certain field or subject to such a degree that we tend to mistake it for an abnormal obsession. Of course, this is a vast scope of geek-hood; there are dozens of types of geeks and each has its own unique quirks and interests. So, we scoured the gaming cafés, comic shops and other specialty haunts, and rounded up some of the not-so-usual suspects for a peek into their passions.
Species: geekus comiculus
Status: Daneshvar (or Dan, to his friends), a 25-year-old IT consultant, isn’t one of those geeks who’d huddle around their comics, completely oblivious to the outside world. Well, OK, he does do that sometimes, but he’s also very adamant about correcting some of the misconceptions, not so much of fan boys, but of the medium itself.
“People tend to think that comic readers are boring or childish and live in a fantasy world,” says Dan. “Stick a book like Blankets or Arkham Asylum in these people’s hands, make them read the medium and have a decent discussion. Then see the look on their faces.”
Cred: Aside from superhero titles from DC Comics, Dan also sings praises to other, less cape-and-tights sort of books. “Off the top of my head,” he says with a deep breath, “The Sandman, Planetary, Global Frequency, Preacher, Blankets, Brian Michael Bendis’ issues of Sam & Twitch and Spawn.”
Like many geeks, however, Dan tends to get a little too passionate for his own good. “I explained, very loudly, to my colleagues what the Multiverse was and the part Superman plays in all of it … in the presence of my managers without even flinching.”
When we look at him dumbfounded, he adds with a sigh, “Just go read Infinite Crisis and Crisis on Infinite Earths, OK?”
Activities: As far as aficionado congregations are concerned though, Dan and his friends’ gatherings are in settings that most people wouldn’t normally associate with the comic-reading crowd. “We meet in a pub, drink lots of beer and discuss the future of comics,” he says, then adds with a cheeky smile, “and whether they could draw Supergirl just a little bit hotter.”
Trivia: “For the movie Sin City, no story boarding or scripting was done. Everything was lifted and remade into live-action scenes.”
Species: geekus wrestliorem
Status: With his shaved head, scruffy goatee and macho swagger, Jamie Tan doesn’t just seem like the sort of guy who’d watch wrestling, he actually looks like he belongs in the squared circle. Then, of course, he starts talking and his enthusiastically geeky demeanor shines through clearly.
The 30-year-old actor likens being at a wrestling event to being at a rock concert … only without the actual rock band.
“Professional wrestling is popularly coined as sports entertainment,” he explains. “That is, the ultimate combination of theatrics, histrionics, TV drama, comedy, sports, talk show interviews, current affairs, news, gossip, info-entertainment and daytime soap all rolled into one. It’s a total package of everything you can find on TV and stage.”
Cred: Jamie’s love for wrestling seems to know no boundaries, not even when it comes to his appearance. He even once signed up for a celebrity look-alike contest as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the beer-guzzling redneck of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
“Some people feel that I already resemble “Stone Cold” by virtue of my bald head and goatee. I get left alone quite a lot as a result of that,” he says with a laugh.
Usually seen sporting his wrestling hero’s trademark garb of a black “Stone Cold” t-shirt, rugged jeans and boots, Jamie has actually had some positive responses, from time to time. But they’re usually, as he claims, “from the people in the psyche ward!”
Activities: Aside from having attended almost every WWE event that’s ever been held in Singapore, however, don’t expect Jamie to mingle with his geeky brethren anytime soon. “I’m quite anti-social,” he says, comparing himself to—you guessed it—“Stone Cold”.
Trivia: “Wrestlers Rob Van Dam, Trish Stratus and Steve Austin all share the same birthday—18 December.”
Species: geekus bookwormbitis
Status: If you think that bookworms are nerdy, timid little girls who wear thick glasses, you haven’t met 25-year-old personal assistant Eileen David. “Most don’t believe it. I get disbelieving looks when people find out I adore reading,” she says. “They always tell me I don’t look like the type!”
“Being a book geek’s nothing really out of the ordinary actually,” she adds. “I just love reading! It’s a habit I’ve had since I was a kid, so for me, it’s kind of a natural thing.”
When her time’s not occupied with everything literary, Eileen’s just like any other woman. Well, mostly.
“I love clubbing, shopping, hanging out with friends. I don’t talk about books all the time! It’s more of a personal thing, just between my books and me,” she says. “But I do get disturbingly worked up when screen adaptations veer from the original book.”
Cred: Hell hath no fury like a woman separated from her books. “I once threw a major hissy fit that ended in tears when my parents dragged me away from a book warehouse sale before I was done browsing,” Eileen relates.
Ask her to list her favorites and you better not make any plans for the foreseeable future. “Where do I start!” she says with an alarming enthusiasm. “I have tons, and they tend to change from time to time depending on my mood or frame of mind. But there are some books I can read over and over again and still not get tired of, like Wilbur Smith’s River God and Warlock, Dan Brown’s stuff, Harry Potter! Oh, and anything to do with myths and ancient civilizations. Greek, Roman, and Egyptian—if it’s mythical, I’ll love it.”
Activities: But for all her obsession, don’t expect Eileen to get overly academic when it comes to literature. “I don’t go to poetry readings or book clubs or anything like that,” she explains. “Some of my friends are avid readers too, so we swap books and sometimes have a little chat about interesting books and storylines. But no, we don’t meet up specifically for the purpose of discussing books. It tends to come up in casual conversation.”
Trivia: “Author Clive Cussler’s life parallels that of his hero Dirk Pitt.”
Species: geekus fashionentium
Status: Most people would think that “fashion” and “geek” are mutually exclusive terms. Zaki Jufri very effectively puts that idea to rest. “I love the brand Maharishi so much that I’ve actually worked at Blackjack which sells Maharishi clothing just to get the clothes first!” he relates.
The 25-year-old Editor of Playtimes toy magazine actually stayed up all night once just to be the first to purchase the limited Nike x Maharishi line.
“If Maharishi opens a store here, I’ll be the first one to apply!” Zaki adds enthusiastically. “Hardy Blechman, the founder of Maharishi, was just here in town recently for the iDN conference and I think I was stalking him,” he continues with a laugh.
Cred: “I think that one geek stereotype is that the geek knows quite a bit about the subject he’s a geek in,” says Zaki. “And I actually know by heart some of the different camouflage patterns that Maharishi puts out and sometimes which season it’s from.”
Zaki’s geekiness doesn’t make people quite as uncomfortable as with some other geeks, but he does admit that people have been “very amused” with his extensive knowledge and collection.
Activities: You would expect a fashion geek to be out there at shows, hob-knobbing with the fashion elite. What you wouldn’t expect would be for him to be hanging out at online message boards.
“I usually chat online with other fashion geeks about the going-ons in the geek fashion world in forums like Superfuture and 5th Dimension,” relates Zaki.
Trivia: “There were actually Maharishi clothes made from ‘knife-proof’ fabric a few years back. How’s that for safe clothing?”
Species: geekus musiciorum
Status: “I still remember the first thing that got me hooked,” elaborates Peter Hendricks on his immeasurable love for music. “It was when I was 11 and watching the video for the song No Rain by Blind Melon. I still remember how it felt like [lead singer] Shannon Hoon was singing that song just to me. There is nothing better than that feeling of self-justification and familiarity that there is somebody out there feeling exactly how I felt.”
Indeed, Peter’s love for music extends well beyond the normal boundaries of bobbing your head along to the latest catchy song on the radio. On top of the emotional attachment, Peter also finds himself obsessed with factors as specific as the technical ability of a musician and music arrangement.
Cred: With such a deep-seeded passion, it’s no surprise that his influences are, to say the least, eclectic, stretching from rock to jazz to even Middle Eastern.
“Just a few that come to mind at the moment are Jeff Buckley, Thelonious Monk, Pearl Jam, Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Counting Crows, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Herbie Hancock,” he says of his favorites.
Ask him about his ultimate geek item, however, and Peter’s answer is instantaneous and firm. “My most prized possession has to be my guitar that I got while I was studying in Australia. It’s an Ernie Ball Musicman,” he explains, showing us his guitar with the utmost care. “It’s not a ‘classic’ by any means but the first time I played it, it just felt like the guitar that suited me the most.”
“Plus,” he adds, “I got it really cheap because my teacher was sponsored by the brand.”
Adding to his music geek credibility, Peter’s performed impromptu numbers with the house band at the Crazy Elephant blues bar at Clarke Quay a couple of times and has even recorded an album with his acid jazz band back in Australia.
Activities: “We usually meet up to talk about music that we recently heard. Sometimes we get together to write or play music,” he says, of meetings with fellow music geeks.
Trivia: “The name of the band Gin Blossoms is actually the term for the bursting of the capillaries in your nose and face caused by excessive drinking.”
Species: geekus toyretis collectius
Status: Paul Hendricks, a 26-year-old freelance graphic designer, is a man of few words … but lots of toys. Action figures, that is. His reasoning behind his hobby is a simple one: “I like toys, so I collect them. My taste varies,” he adds. “I’m into almost everything from vintage Star Wars to anime figures, although I’m not really into Transformers. They never really appealed to me. Maybe it’s their lack of articulation.”
Cred: Ask Paul for the action figure he treasures the most and he answers thoughtfully, “It’s hard to pick a favorite, but some finalists off the top of my head are the vintage Boba Fett, OVA Devilman. Mandarin Spawn, all the Super Friends figures and vintage Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow from GI Joe.”
So captivated by the aforementioned Boba Fett, a cult favorite character from the original Star Wars trilogy, that Paul even has a small toy shrine set up for the character.
Activities: His interaction—in the traditional sense of the word, at least—with other toy collectors is quite limited. “Pretty much all conversations or discussions are done on the Net over forums,” he says. “The only time I’ve met other toy collectors in person is if I’m trading with them.”
Trivia: “I’m sure someone out there reading this would know more than me. We geeks are everywhere … ”
Species: geekus gameribus
Status: Just because it’s a game doesn’t mean it can’t be taken seriously—that’s the sort of mentality that Brendon Fernandez, and other like-minded gamers have. Such a firm believer in the credibility of video games is he that he’s currently writing his thesis comparing acting to role- playing in Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs).
But parallels between his passions are not the only things that draw Brendon to gaming. “It’s the social interaction. Whether it’s talking to buddies about a great game at the coffee shop, or chatting with gamers from around the world online while you’re waiting for the level to load,” he says.
Cred: You would think that as a confident (and rather handsome) actor, Brendon’s geekiness might be less pronounced. You’d be wrong. When asked if he was guilty of perpetuating any geek stereotypes, he simply replies,
“If you mean starting a conversation about something you think is really cool, then realizing halfway that no one understands you, then yes.”
And that’s on top of spending up to 14 hours a day gaming, depending on his schedule.
Activities: “We game, or we talk about gaming, or we try to do something else … but end up gaming,” he says of hanging out with fellow gamers. “Or we open a bottle of wine and talk about politics, philosophy, history and/or literature … if the server’s down.”
Trivia: “The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) has a chapter in Singapore. We might have a games industry yet.”
Species: geekus RPGissermus
Stats: “I like power,” says 25-year-old NUS-student Tan Shao Han, with a gleam in his eyes that doesn’t seem to come from the reflection of his 20-sided-die.
“Not power over other people,” he’s quick to explain, “or power in a hobby. Rather I enjoy the exercising of individuality as power. Role playing games, or ‘RPGs’, are constructs of imagination and experience that game masters and players craft together.”
This die-hard role playing gamer (or RPGer) is an intimidating figure with a misleading monk-like calm to his mannerism most of the time. Get him into a RPG of any kind, however, and things take a complete 180 degree turn. From your run-of-the-mill, pen-and-paper type games like Dungeons and Dragons to fully-dressed Live Action Role Playing (or LARP), RPGs are Shao’s exciting escape away from the mundane.
“Within our current consumers’ scope of life, we seem to have limited the situations we can find ourselves in,” he explains. “We study, work, spend money on pursuing random hobbies, drink, f***, day after day. In RPGs, you get used to scenarios beyond the ones we have surrounded ourselves with—and in a way, you learn to see life as being a scenario you can affect, rather than passively be part of.”
Cred: If you were to ask Shao what’s the one thing he couldn’t live without as a geek, he’d scramble for a pair of anti-glare wielding goggles, which he’s used a number of times in LARP gatherings. “Because of them I got the nickname Goggleman. You cannot understand my power, mortal!” he says, with a loud maniacal laugh.
Yet with such an outspoken approach to his geek-hood, Shao rarely gets labeled as one. “It depends on how I exhibit my geekazoidry,” he says eloquently. “If I use my geek powers to explain and make things more lucid, I get lovin’ and respect.”
“Nobody likes a show-off, whether he’s a geek or not.”
Activities: Outside of LARP sessions, Shao and his fellow RPGers do meet up almost anywhere … you know, like us “normal” people. “We live life, like you guys do,” he says simply.
Trivia: “D4s hurt like a bitch, especially if you try to swallow them and have to throw them up thereafter.” For you non-RPGers out there, a D4 is a four-sided die used in role-playing games.