As you may or may not know I am a huge fan of comics and board games, however at times I find myself embarrassed by this. It usually happens in situations involving my family, or people I don’t know too well. With my friends it’s fine, some of them occasionally wet their feet in the waters of comics and graphic novels and all of them are avid board gamers (hence the bi-weekly games nights). But with other people outside of my circle of friends I’m far less comfortable discussing some of my more geeky proclivities. Now this could be because of some in-built insecurities or shyness to do with me, or, my reaction to a perceived attitude towards said proclivities by the general public. I think there is some element of the former involved but I feel it is mainly due to the latter.
There are of course some games which I feel are immune to geek shame, card games like poker or blackjack or whole family games like monopoly or trivial pursuit. There are also games specifically for adults to enjoy (I dread the day someone pulls out this at our games night) but I won’t go into them here. Chess seems to have a certain geeky/intellectual feeling towards it, but it is not a game I would feel embarrassed having people know I play. The games I’m thinking of when I think of embarrassment are games things like Munchkin, Zombies!!! or Arkham Horror.
As an example, me and my friends have played poker at our local pub and on a few occasions we have had people watching and asking to join in. When we play Munchkin however it has seemed like there’s a different attitude. On one occasion there was pointing. Maybe it was the choice of game? Maybe it was because we were playing it in a pub? All I know is that I felt slightly uncomfortable about it.
While writing this I’ve tried to pin down a shared facet between the games I’ve mentioned above in an attempt to try and find a possible link. The three I’ve mentioned are very fantasy RPG based which I think could be part of the reason, and Munchkin is illustrated in a very cartoon-y manner which may lead some people at first glance to think that it is aimed at children. I could be way off the mark and it be nothing to do with these things, but I don’t think so. I think fantasy is generally regarded as the purview of children and as you grow up you should focus more on the real world. Which is why I think my geek shame extends to comics as well.
Comics are another area that seem to have a stigma attached, and like I mentioned above for certain types of games I think this is to do with fantasy. I can’t work out if it’s diminishing though with the recent, almost unbelievable, surge in the amount and content of comic book films. It’s not just Spider-Man, Superman and Batman who can draw in massive attendance, we now live in an age where you can see Thor and Green Lantern on the big screen. And these films are a far cry from Adam West’s take on the caped crusader. Despite this I still think there is a distinction in some people’s minds between the films and the comics.
My girlfriend was once ‘caught’ by her mum reading V for Vendetta. She said she noticed a change in attitude when her mum realized it was a graphic novel rather than just an ordinary book. I wonder if she would have noticed the same change in attitude if she was ‘caught’ watching the film? Similarly, my dad was shown round the film set for Captain America: The First Avenger and subsequently went with my mum to see the film, which they both enjoyed. But I can’t see him ever reading a Captain America comic or treating one the same as the film.
Based on the stories and concepts contained within them I would say that the majority of comics published these days are not aimed at children. DC’s Identity Crisis story line revolves around a violent sexual assault of one of the family members of the Justice League, and in terms of complexity anything written by Jonathan Hickman or Grant Morrison requires at least 3 readthroughs to even work out what’s going on let alone spot all the subtle clues and nuanced plot threads. Comics may have started off life aimed at the younger generation but seem to have grown up along with them. I hope one day to get my children into comics but I would definitely wait until they were a certain age before letting them read some of them such as Watchmen or the above mentioned Identity Crisis (my girlfriend disagrees with this). I realise of course that there are superhero comics out there aimed at children but they are in the minority compared to what I would consider the more ‘grownup’ comics (On the DC website I counted 4 out of the 89 comics published in January 2012 that were obviously aimed at children based on the title and cover art. This is about 4.5%).
And The Rest
Of course this isn’t restricted to just comics and board games, these are just two that I have a personal experience with and so have something to talk about. Things like role playing and video games could fall under the category of geek shame for some people. Like any good scientist I know that one data point (myself) isn’t enough for any concrete conclusions so I’ve added a poll at the bottom (feel free to suggest any answers I may have missed) and any comments from people about their experiences or takes on it would be greatly received.