The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

12:48:00 PM

This post is from ongoing research notes for a paper under current development for a class at NYU entintled, "Self in a Ludic, Digital Culture."

As my high school graduation was drawing near in 1990, the pep-squad published a lighthearted document for the yearbook. It listed all of my classmates, 62 of them, and it ascribed to them qualities such as "Most likely to become ...," and so on. It was a sort of tabulation of what one's status and image had been percieved to be in the school.

Granted, it was a small, private, prep-school in Miami, FL, but even then, I recognized that, while there weren't many of us in each class, there was nonetheless a representation by all of the social strata one thinks of in any American high school. There were the jocks and the popular kids. There were the nerds and the debate team. There were the band kids, and so on. Most of us had to occupy several roles, but we all enjoyed the privilege of being the vanguard in one of them. We each were totemically the representative jock or nerd or band kid and so on. When I read that document in the yearbook, it struck me that I had held the privileged status as the totem role-playing gamer for my class. I was the kid who does stuff like Dungeons & Dragons. Next to my name, it read "Most likely to become a Jedi Knight."

I was neither shocked nor upset. Truly, I could say with all earnestness that in my heart of hearts, I was saying that refrain Luke Skywalker utters to Obi-Wan-Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope, "I want to be a Jedi Master!" I really did want to be one, and later on, I persued the idea vigorously with immersion in Buddhist scripture - the closest approximation I could find to the ethos of the Star Wars Trilogy. Months after my graduation, I was enrolled in Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and one of my perfunctory classes, Intro to Sociology, included a professor whose curriculum had us survey high school archetypes. His conclusion: you are not an American unless you attend secondary school here in the United States, and that you carry your sociological role throughout the rest of your life, both personally and professionally.

To be sure, while I most of my social interactions were through the music department as the school's official electric bass player and as an orchestra member since middle school, I had been, indeed engaged in role-playing games with my fellow classmates in graduating classes of 1991-1993. I was the only one representing my class, and our society drew from the entire school, including those in the institution's middle school. We were few, but proud.

Suffice it to say and despite a strange obliviousness to the notion (I always thought of or attempted to be one of the "cool kids"), I am and have been considered a gamer - a ludite. I embrace it now, and to that end, am hoping to document the social value, perhaps even the necessity, to be a gamer in the modern world. Gaming is a form of literacy. I believe it will be a kind of literacy that is and will become increasingly important as the years progress.


There is evidence to suggest that American culture is currently undergoing a paradigm shift much in the same way that it shifted from a primarily agrarian society to an industrial one on during the First and Second Industrial Revolution. The First Industrial Revolution was characterized by the advent of steam power and mechanization - work, production and labor being done by machines rather than merely tools in human hands. The Second Industrial Revolution was characterized by the advent of mass production, interchangeability of parts, and the arisal of consumer goods. Both of these historical events brought broad-sweeping changes in the very fabric of civilization whose reach extended into state-craft, war, the evolution of new economic models and so on. These events also brought along with them new problems and social issues such as the redressing of labor laws such as the problem of child labor in a mechanized society. Ethical issues were raised, and social problems were created such as city slums. Work and leisure were separated. Mass production has led to globalization. A new paradigm solves issues of its predecessor but opens doors to new ones.


The advent of and the widespread proliferation of the World Wide Web and innovations in consumer electronics have, in short, laid the foundation for a new paradigm through a revolution in communication technologies - a Third Industrial Revolution, so to speak. Successful navigation of a highly connected, digital world will require a great degree of literacy, education and specialization. Literacy in a digital environment will likely take the shape of one's aptitude for engaging one's community through the mechanism of role-playing or game mechanics. However, some are already clamoring, particularly Jaron Lanier, that personal identity, the self and individuality are being sacrificed in the process. His reaction is that of introducing terms such as "hive mentality" and "digital maoism."

This paper will make a brief survey of the modern concept of self and individuality that arose concurrent with the first and second industrial revolution. It will discuss the "community building" aspects of role-playing games. It will analyze the how work and leisure were separated by mechanization. It will attempt to show that revolutions in communication technologies are reuniting work and play, and it will explore not only the potential for the creation of digital slums, but also the ethical quandaries of the usage of tabulated data these technologies have made available. Ultimately, it will explore how individuals can constructively create personal identity in their community as the ludification of culture progresses.

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