Geeky addictions

November 25, 2008

Not too long ago, harrysaxon made an interesting point about video games sucking his life away this time of year, and how he’s become obsessed with minutia within the games. I read his post and thought, yeah, this does illustrate the depth of his passion for this form of entertainment. And yet his use of the word “obsessed” is quite telling too, in that passion (as potent a word as it is) seems too small a word for the effect of gaming on his life. In many ways “addiction” would be a far more appropriate word.

And yet I can’t condemn him because I think a lot of geeks live with (I won’t say “suffer”, ’cause most of these SF-related drives are pretty enjoyable) some form of addiction.

In my own SF way, I’m admittedly an addict myself. Not as far along as harrysaxon, mind you, but certainly addicted to some extent. For me, it’s books. I tend to buy them faster than I’ve got time to read them and consequently the “in-box” pile towers higher and higher every month. I read an interesting review, or hear about a new title by a favourite author that’s about to be released, and I automatically do a mental check to see when I can get down to White Dwarf to buy it, including a calculation of how long after the release it’ll take for the store to get it in stock. Out on the street, I can’t pass a bookstore without getting a bit twichy (I had a friend in Winnipeg, David, who was much, much farther gone – he couldn’t pass up a bookstore at all – simply had to go in. Couldn’t help himself. And he was a big guy too, so there was no pulling him back until he was sated,). It’s that siren’s call of “Oooh! I wonder if they’ve got something on their SF shelf I haven’t seen before?!” And if I heed that call, then I can be poking around in there for quite some time, and it’s usually the case that I’ll end up buying a book or three. As I’m carting home my haul to add to the hoard, reality sets in and I have to do an inventory check to see how the new acquisition(s) will fit into the hierarchy of which new books get read first. Of course, with every new purchase, the whole damn system has to be reconfigured. Then there’s the whole problem of fitting in time for reading around work, quality time with my wife, cat and friends, cooking meals, watching TV and the odd movie, and various irritating chores around the house. Never mind the need to find room for all the damn books! (“Get a library card!” some of you will chorus. “Bite me!” I rejoin, ’cause the libraries around here don’t stock much in the way of new or good SF and besides, I NEED to have my hoard.) Then I listen to coworkers talk about their vacations to all sorts of interesting places and wonder why I can’t afford to travel, and then I have to admit it’s ’cause the books eat up my discretionary budget. I’ve dug my own grave in the piles of books at my place. And yet, I wouldn’t give this habit up. Yep, I’m an addict. Not as far gone as harrysaxon, mind you, ’cause I’m willing to shoulder the blame myself, (rather than rail against the video game companies for releasing too much product at a specific time of year when really, one could buy one game at a time over the course of the whole year, rather than all at once and get pulled in a thousand directions with no time for anything else) but I’m an addict none-the-less. I can admit that.

And when I observe other geeks, some form of addiction (present in varying degrees, depending on the individual) to their particular SF loves seems to be quite common. I had a buddy back in high school named Al who would spend every penny he had on comics, foresaking a new bike or clothes or a car or savings for college. Being somewhat of a comic collector back then myself, I remember guys like my friend were par for the course when I visited the comic shop downtown. In university, I knew people who would drop hundreds of dollars, easily, on die-cast figurines. And this was university – supposedly the realm of poor-ass macaroni-and-cheese-eating students struggling just to buy books. In broadcast college later there was a TV production student who did a lot of camerawork for me when I was putting together stories for my journalism diploma who was a fiend for Star Wars. His parents’ basement was a shrine to Lucas’ merchandise, with a specialization in action figures. Since then, I’ve been to SF conventions, and every time I go into the dealers’ room (an apt name), there are legions of geeks packed cheek-by-jowl with acquisitive gleams in their eyes as they zero-in on the tables hawking whatever they happen to be jonesing for, be it books or models or costumes or games or figures or you name it. And I should know, ’cause I’m one of them. Space (Canada’s attempt at a sci-fi channel) – back when it was worth watching – used to run a feature occasionally called “It Came from the Basement” (or something to that effect) profiling uber-geeks with their vast collections of whatever their SF fetish focussed on. And while I might watch and say “that’s more than I’d want to have”, I couldn’t quite bring myself to mock them or say that they were wrong, because this desire to have lots of the SF things we love is so powerful and so very common. I’ll bet you, as fellow geeks, can think of plenty of examples of people throwing themselves into their SF passions deeply and unapologetically.

So why do we do it? Is it simply because we love these things (whatever these SF things that are loved are to you) and want to keep them close to experience whenever we want to whatever degree we want? Is it because we have in some way incorporated them into our identity because we were mocked in our youth (and even adulthood) for liking them and thus held them closer in defensiveness because an attack on that which we like is something of an attack on ourselves? Is it some kind of genetic throwback, an anthropological holdout from pre-human days when things that made our ancestors happy were probably food sources and thus they were things our ancestors would want to cling to as much as possible because they gave life? Is it because these items represent some kind of stability in a world that’s largely beyond our control? Something else perhaps?

And how are our SF addictions any different from those harmless fetishes accepted by the mainstream? How is the guy who can recite every line of dialogue from the entire Star Wars franchise any different from the guy who can recall baseball stats going back to the 30’s? How is the girl who’s a Trekkie who makes her own costumes and writes fanfic any different than the woman who goes to the antique market every Saturday? We can draw these kinds of comparisons until we’re all blue in the face like Andorians, and they’d be fair assessments, but for some reason geeks are singled out and laughed at by the mainstream (I almost typed “meanstream” in there – quite the Freudian slip). Ultimately, I don’t think they are that different. If geeks are singled out for their loves, it’s likely because the mainstream doesn’t want to admit the ridiculousness of its own passions.

And so as geeks I think it’s important that we not pick on each other for having different addictions. Sure, geeks are as tribal as any other culture, but rather than getting into tiresome and embarassing sniping about Star Trek vs Star Wars or whether it’s better to collect comics than figurines, I think we ought to accept each other as we are. No, that doesn’t mean we’ve all gotta join hands and sing kumbaya around a camp fire, ’cause we’re all gonna have our likes and dislikes and personal addictions and we shouldn’t have to waste time on things we don’t like. Rather, let’s at least put up with each other and recognize that one geek’s slavishness to video games is as valid as another’s addiction to books.

So what’s your SF addiction? What can’t you live without?


  1. While I get what you’re saying about spacing game buys through the year, that’s just not how the gaming world works sometimes. We all do that to a degree, but it’s tough to do with a lot of games. A primary example is Gears of War 2 – right now, over half the people on my friend’s list are playing it at any given time. It’s very easy to get into a pickup game with friends. In 6 months, few will still be playing it, and you’ll be consigned to playing with strangers – and here’s the thing; the people still playing it in 6 or 8 months will be the die-hard fans, who can probably wipe the floor with you, or who aren’t interested in playing co-op with someone still learning the ropes. All multiplayer games have this trouble – they’re best played within the first couple months of release.

    Then, in the story-driven games, there’s the simple factor of spoilers to consider. Metal Gear Solid 4 was an excellent example – after following the saga of Solid Snake over 20 years, I did not want some kid on a message board saying whether he died at the end or not. I had to play it right away to be assured of avoiding that. If story’s not a big issue, though, I’ll generally put off single-player games, like Fallout 3, for several months; for example, I only recently finished Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, though I got it for Xmas ’07. That’s what I meant by “backlog”, a term you may not be familiar with in gamer context; these are the titles, many acquired this time of year, which haven’t been played yet; and there’s pressure to play them in game industry much different than books, as the technology continues to improve.

    And hey, sometimes I just can’t wait to play a game I’m really excited for, any more than we can wait for the paperback to come out with favourite authors’ new novels. Part of it is being wrapped up in gamer culture, too; you think I’m going to wait months to play a game that everybody’s playing and talking about?

    All that aside, there is a major problem with to the way video game releases are scheduled, when there is such a brutally dry period in spring-summer. It’s the same mentality as counter-programming in the TV industry. It is only to the detriment of consumers and developers, who have to see expensive games get buried because a suit decided they wanted to try to suck away some of their competitor’s sales numbers.

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