Last week my boyfriend took me to Game Grumps Live, which was (fortuitously, blissfully, fantastically) in Boston for one night. For those who don’t know, the Game Grumps are two super rad let’s players, Arin Hansen and Dan Avidan, who talk and hang out while Arin plays video games. (A let’s player, by the way, is someone who demonstrates gameplay through video or screenshot playthroughs, often with commentary.) Their YouTube channel is packed with videos, and they’re also the creators of some awesome bands, Ninja Sex Party and Starbomb.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first walked into the Wilbur Theater to experience “Game Grumps Live.” What I got were two guys as friendly and humble as could be, surrounded by adoring, laughing fans like myself who were incredibly happy to be there. We had a great time watching the Grumps play Mario Party, divided in loyalties between Team Waluigi and Team Toad (I was Team Toad!). Part of the time, only the Grumps played, but whenever there was a mini game they invited members of the audience up to play along. In-fandom references, jokes, and modest Mario Party stripping were plentiful, and by the end of the night I realized I hadn’t been so happy since I saw My Chemical Romance in concert when I was 14.
After the show, my boyfriend and I went to get nachos at Rock Bottom, conveniently across the street from the Wilbur. (We were at least partially hoping against hope to see a random Grump sighting after the show.) When we walked in, everyone there was either quietly enjoying their meal or glued to the bar, watching whatever sports game was on TV with rapt attention. My boyfriend and I looked at each other with a removed sense of dawning wonder. These people probably had no idea what we had just experienced or even who the Game Grumps were.
I realized in that moment that fandom is totally subjective, but also that it has different meanings for different people. Sports fans watch their games with the same fervor we in “geekier” fandoms watch movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos, or read books, fanfiction, comics, or manga, or play tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons and are super into d&d world building. Not a half hour ago, I had been cheering for Team Toad with just as much enthusiasm as the men and women in the bar were cheering for their football teams. I also realized that “weirdness” in relation to the quality and quantity of a person’s love for their fandom is subjective, too. If I had taken a sports fan sitting at the bar and plunked them in the middle of the Game Grumps Live show, they would have been the “weird one”, the non-fan. By the same token, my boyfriend and I were outliers sitting in Rock Bottom, the very obvious non-sports fans.
But noting the similarities and differences between our behavior at the show and the football fans’ behavior brought me back, as it usually does, to the notion of what it really means to be a fan, and what it means to be a geek. (For those who missed it, check out my Bo Burnham article from last year about similar identity questioning antics.) Sure, sports fans are fans too, but they exist in mainstream culture. In Australia, for example, it’s totally normal to be proudly wearing your rugby team’s shirt – and you know that’s it’s going to be easily available at the NRL shop. But with the idea of fan/geek/nerd comes the notion of a culture beyond the idea of liking something, or even of being a fan of something. The terms “geek” and “nerd” carry with them an almost powerful aura, an identity, representing a group of people who find friendship, solace, and validation in each other when a greater outside world doesn’t understand what they like or why they like it. That’s why cons were first created, after all, and why people like me flocked to fanfiction.net., fan forums, and chat rooms to talk about the things they loved with other people who really understood them.
Maybe we can’t measure fandom, and maybe we can’t compare people’s love for their fandoms. Sports are just as popular as cons. People buy paraphernalia for bands, movies, and sports, as well as theme parks and book series. But maybe also there’s a different type of stigma.
I guess the bottom line is, everyone is a fan of something. The only thing that separates us is what we choose as our fandoms, and how those fandoms are treated in mainstream culture. There has, admittedly, been a movement of mainstreaming nerd culture in the past decade (with shows like The Big Bang Theory and Geeks Who Drink, actors and stars showing off their love of Dungeons and Dragons and video games, books like Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet, and the rising popularity of comic book movies), all showing people that geek culture is something that’s not to be stigmatized or ridiculed. Geeks, nerds, fans, whichever term you identify with, are part of a culture, a movement, an identity. We are strong, we are many, we love what we love with our whole hearts, and we show support for what we love in any way we can.
Maybe if we can prove that our love for our fandoms is similar to the love sports fans have for their teams, we can begin to bridge the divide and erase the stigma. After all, all we in the Game Grumps audience needed were some foam fingers and some face paint (we already had shirts with iconic slogans, catch phrases, and images, although no numbered jerseys), and we would have looked like any other cheering sports crowd, although maybe a little more intense in the way that only geeks can be.
However, even that brings up a followup question: if is everyone’s a geek, does that mean no one is?
Image via Game Grumps.