Geekshy

It always smells like shoes.

I don’t know why, but O’Hare to me always smells like the Keds I had when I was five. It’s not a horrible smell – not smelly socks. It’s the smell of well work rubber soles and stretched canvas. It’s oddly comforting. I find a seat at the bar of the Red Carpet Club. I fire up my laptop, prepared to waste an hour deleting email and consuming random information which I will quickly forget.

I nod to the gentleman at the end of the bar. He’s perhaps 50, with the sandy brown hair and carefully shaven face of a terminal businessman. His laptop is open, but his eyes aren’t fixed in the glaze of information consumption. They’re darting around the screen. I look at his hands. His right hand on a small, silver Microsoft Optical mouse. The movements are minimal – there’s no rapidfire clicking. His left hand hovers in a claw over the WASD keys. Fingers dart methodically to the function keys at the top of the cramped Lenovo keyboard.

I’m sure of it. He’s playing World of Warcraft.

Until my early 30’s I was shy in public. I’d be loud, gregarious, even egomaniacal with friends. But in a bar, at a party, or at a business function, I would be reserved – the first one back to my room, making excuses to avoid the after-dinner drink. As I headed towards the ridiculous age of 40 I started realizing I had nobody left to impress, and decided to be someone else. I decided to become my friend Jason. Jason has always been aggressively cordial. He shakes everyone’s hand, tells everyone a story, and smiles at dogs. He knows everyone’s kids birthdays and seems completely immune to self doubt.

And so at times like this, at the bar, sitting next to a stranger, any natural inclination to hide stayed hidden underneath layers of Jason-inspired bravado.

“What server?” I ask.

The man’s eyes dart up from the screen. His eyebrows pinch in, and he pulls the laptop screen to half mast. “I’m sorry?”

“You’re playing WoW right?” I ask. “What server? I’m on Blackhand.” I haven’t actually seen his screen, so it’s possible I’m mistaken. But now I’ve flown the flag. I just have to wait and see if he salutes.

His eyes relax. A touch of red hits is cheeks. “Oh, umm, yeah. Cenarion Circle.”

“I have an old Tauren on Cenarion Circle,” I say.

Part one of the secret handshake has been successfully made: we've established the first point of common ground. “How long have you been playing?” I ask. This is not-so-subtle code for “what’s an old guy like you doing playing WoW?”

“My Son got me into it,” he says. “He’s at college and thought it would be fun to play together.” He chuckles under his breath. “And here I am in the airport playing by myself over a beer.”

“Yeah I know, it’s pretty addictive,” I say.

Secret handshake part two: we have both acknowledge the intensity of our common ground.

“That’s cool though, that you play with your son. My daughter will sit and watch but I haven’t gotten her hooked yet.”

“How old’s your daughter?” he asks.

"Eight."

"Great age." "Great age" is code among parents for "thank god I've got those years behind me."

The handshake is complete. We’ve established the common ground of gamer. We've acknowledged our self-aware and possibly indefensible love for the state-of-being that is geek. And now we have, like newcomers to a 12-step program, acknowledged that there is a power greater than ourselves: our children.

We spend the next half hour talking about games. He’s a secret junkie – nobody he knows plays games other than his son. His wife doesn’t particularly approve. She feels it’s childish. And yet, here he is in the bar, gaming in plain sight, albeit with a bit of embarrassment. I tell him about my not-so-secret addictions, about turning a hobby into a career, about my commitment to mainstreaming the medium. He’s paternally amused.

He looks at his watch. “Oops, I’ve got to run, plane’s boarding.” He closes the lid of his laptop, slams the last of his beer and starts reassembling the bits and pieces of his road warrior armament: laptop, mouse, power cord, blackberry, glasses, headphones. Each item disappears into a designated compartment of his black leather Tumi case. He extends a hand.
“It was nice meeting you,” he says. I shake his hand – for real this time.

“Pleasure’s mine,” I reply. “Stop by the site some time.”

“Sure thing,” he says, turning and walking out through the maze of haphazardly deposited luggage and tan leather chairs.

He won’t. Somehow, I know that he will go back to playing in his carefully constructed home office. His wife will be at her bridge group, his son won’t be online, but he’ll still be grinding his Human Priest. To break from the game and visit a gaming website would be to admit to himself that he’s playing the game for reasons other than paternity. It is, I fear, one step too far for him right now.

Perhaps when he retires, he’ll have his own “What Would Jason Do” moment. He’ll let go of the geekshy and just decide to embrace it, realizing he has nothing left to lose. Perhaps he’ll say “What Would Julian Do?”

Comments

Kid2: "Wow. How old _are_ you guys?"
Me: "35"
Kid2: "..."
Kid1: "What are you doing playing Halo?"

The ideal response where would be
"Kicking you in your diapers, Princess"

This assumes you are actually doing better than said whippersnapper.

Another awesome article Rabbit. I always find myself at social gatherings talking to people about games. I just ask myself, "what would Julian do?"

spider_j wrote:
RonShatMyCarl wrote:

I am twenty, but I always find that when I am playing Halo, COD, or TF2, that I would much rather be playing with, well, you old guys. I find that it is much better than the screaming children or annoying teens. So game on!!!!!!!

KingGorilla wrote:

I am 24 motherf*cker.

I'm not offended, I've been a old guy since I was younger than RonShatMyCarl.

Not too long ago I was in a bar in New York, I complained that it was too crowded with kids(from NYU) and that the music was too loud.

KingGorilla wrote:

I am 24 motherf*cker.

I knew that someone would get offended despite the fact that no offense was intended. I wasn't only talking to you but more about the article as a whole. Chill out a little, but man it sure a good thing that you censored the u out of that or it could have been really, really offensive.

RonShatMyCarl wrote:
KingGorilla wrote:

I am 24 motherf*cker.

I knew that someone would get offended despite the fact that no offense was intended. I wasn't only talking to you but more about the article as a whole. Chill out a little, but man it sure a good thing that you censored the u out of that or it could have been really, really offensive.

I think he was joking.

Way to go, Julian! Soon you'll be offering advice and recommendations to complete strangers in the game aisles, and interrupting Gamestop employees when random mom asks what system she should get her kids.

I love seeing other gamers when travelling. One thing I always do after boarding a plane is fire up pictochat... just to see if anyone else is out there.

RonShatMyCarl wrote:

I am twenty, but I always find that when I am playing Halo, COD, or TF2, that I would much rather be playing with, well, you old guys. I find that it is much better than the screaming children or annoying teens. So game on!!!!!!!

Exactly the same situation here. age and all.
I always pray that I am not that annoying youngun, I don't think I am but feel free to let me know if it ever comes up.

I guess I could say a thank you, for beginning to pave the way.
Excellent article.

The other day I made a comment about "kids these days," and the guy I was talking to laughed, pointing out that I'm only 25. I then informed him that I've been complaining about "kids these days" for at least ten years now.

Really, "kids these days!" and "terrorism!" are my default punchlines. They're like a comedic sauce that goes good with everything, even if some people make faces like I'm putting ketchup on steak.

I'm right there with ya, professional gamers, trying to get along in the executive world and still refusing to give up my gaming ways.

I travel on business trips with the "work" laptop in one bag and the 17" widescreen gaming rig in the other. There's one TSA agent at the airport who calls me as "Mr. Gamer" at this point since she's happened to be the person who had me fire up the computers on a few different trips (to prove that they aren't full of plastic explosive or something, I suppose). It's an OK nickname to have - she's a big ol' gamer, too.

Luckily the Fortune 400 company I work for places a high premium on creativity so even on the trips I make with my boss in tow I can keep my inner geek a little more on the exterior.