Responsible Nerdery 

It's not impossible to fold your lifelong pleasures into a grown-up life.

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For schoolchildren all over the city, it's still summer break. Responsibilities are few, and going back to school seems like a lifetime away. Their days are filled with the usual summer fare: games and play, time spent at parks and on trails, sleepovers for as many days as parents will allow.

When I had my summer breaks, my days would be spent in week-long sleepover binges of role-playing games. It didn't even matter what we were playing; there was no plan. We'd grab a random stack of RPG books, roll up characters, and be playing an adventure in an hour. My son has been doing this all summer with his friends, and I marvel at it.

As an adult, it's a lot harder to be a nerd for things, because you have to do it responsibly. How do you maintain a relationship with a spouse if you're playing video games for 8-hour stretches? How do you have a stable home life if you have a group of people over every night to play tabletop games? As you get older, it gets even harder. How do you balance time spent being a geek with your growing responsibilities—as a person with a day job, as a partner, as a parent?

It's not as easy as it looks, but there are definitely ways to get that balance. Having loved ones that are fellow nerds can make it much easier. I can get a role-playing game together with my son and his friends if I want in on that. My wife will play card games and some board games with me and our mutual friends. They'll all come to conventions with me, and deal with me going out of town occasionally for one. They have to put up with a little bit of that anyway, since I'm a semi-professional nerd.

Society-at-large has a dim view of this sort of life of nerdery. We're told we need to grow up. We're accused of infantilizing society by not taking serious issues seriously. These critiques are largely without merit, though, made by people who simply don't understand the value of geekdom. We learn critical thinking skills and creativity playing role-playing games. We learn moral and ethical lessons as valuable as those in faith traditions from stories like Star Wars and Star Trek. Science fiction and fantasy at its best shows us reflections of our world, and helps us understand the plight of others. We can take these lessons and use them to become more responsible citizens.

Sure, I'm using people in tights punching each other to get to that point, but how is that aspect any different than following a professional sports team?

No, telling someone who is into nerdy things to grow up isn't helpful. If they're anything like me, they have grown up, because I've been able to fold that identity into my adult responsibilities. I don't get to play video games as much as I used to, and having friends come over for impromptu RPG sessions is a thing of the past. But I can balance my life and my interests, even if my interests are "infantile" in the opinion of the same bullies who didn't like my interests when I was younger, either.

It's not wrong to love the same things you loved as an adolescent once you're an adult. You can manage to keep a hold of those parts of your identity without "out-growing" them. There's no reason to discard your interests. You just need to help them evolve in a way that makes sense for your life. Sometimes, that means you'll look back with longing and nostalgia for the days when you had it better and easier, but that's just part of being an adult.

Uncle Ben once told his nephew that, "With great power comes great responsibility." What he might have said, if he'd been given the time, was that finding that equilibrium would be more difficult the older you get. But that doesn't mean it's not worth striving for. CW

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