Not geeks, nerds. There is a difference. A geek is someone who is good at something that most people don’t quite understand (for example, the computer geek, the comic geek, the film geek etc.). A nerd, however, is someone who is good at something that most people don’t quite understand and fantasises about some aspect of it. Now, I write stories. This involves activating my imagination to create characters that inhabit other worlds. I am good at writing (I like to think), certainly better than most people I know (although this is at least partly due to them never actually trying to write a story), and I fantasise. I take myself to a quiet place, isolated from everyone I know for a period of time, and I daydream. This is what all writers do. How is this not nerdy behaviour?
However, my nerdery goes beyond writing made-up stories. I also play a tabletop game that many of you will know about: Warhammer 40,000, henceforth known as 40k. I have played this game for longer than I’ve been writing but not all that long, considering my age. I got into it when I was 27.
I have a friend who has been playing for years. I met him when I was in university but only found out about 40k the year I finished (he was a year behind me). All I saw was that he played a game that involved rolling many dice, playing with toy soldiers and spending hours doing so. At the time, it was no different to D&D in my mind. I took the piss out him. More than I should have, to be honest.
A year or so later, I was in what seemed like a very difficult period and spent a lot of my time worrying and stressing out. One day, I went to my mate’s house for a chat and a drink and he offered to teach me the basics of 40k on the pretext that I should, at least, know what I was taking the piss out him for. He played a small Imperial Guard army and I played his Necrons. He let me win, the sneaky bastard, and I was hooked. I played a few more games, borrowing some of his other armies and a couple of another gamer that became a mutual friend. Eventually, I built an army of my own and have spent many hours on the game, learning how to use the different parts of the army and how to paint them to look pretty.
I enjoy the game for many reasons but the actual playing of it is not high on the list. First, it is the first hobby I’ve had since I learned to play the guitar in my early teens. It provides a much-needed escape from the day-to-day concerns that I have. Primarily, although the building of each model takes hours and is a complete ball-ache, when they’re built, I get to paint them. This is almost a Zen exercise, focussing my concentration on a single point of a brush, ensuring that each stroke serves a particular purpose.
Second, it gives me a reason to meet mates that doesn’t depend on alcohol and loud music. This is a good thing because it means that, apart from being unhappy with the amount of time it takes to play a game, never mind the travel-time to a mate’s house or the hour it takes to set-up a game, my wife is much happier with me meeting mates.
Third, it opens up my imagination. For me, key to enjoying to game is what is known as “forging the narrative“. That is, all of the conversations that take place during and after the game that describe what happened beyond the simplistic, “I rolled some dice and the result meant that you had to take some models off the board.” Instead, we get, “Ooh, my wraithlord just jammed your chaplain’s crozius right up his arsehole!” and such-like. It opens my imagination (in sometimes unhealthy ways), enabling me to look at a kitchen table with some plastic soldiers on it and see a battlefield scene from a film with a budget that would embarrass James Cameron.
The point of this post is this: I don’t think I would have ever tried writing without having played 40k. I had never considered writing as something I could do, I never thought I had a story in me. Playing the game brought me into a setting where not only was open discussion of daydreams not disparaged, it was actively encouraged. It opened up the possibility of telling stories that I had just made up. I went from playing a game to fantasising about it. Publicly. And that is exactly what all writers, in fact, all artists of any stripe, do. We fantasise and then tell or show everyone what we are fantasising about. And, to add to the nerdiness, the best of us are fervently enthusiastic about it.
So, face it. Join me in embracing it…
You are a nerd.