If it’s not clear already, I’m a nerd. And usually I’m ok with that. But something’s been bugging me lately…
I like nerdy academic disciplines like science, maths, and computing. I do vector calculus just for fun. But I also invest a lot of my time in, and thoughts and Tweets on nerdy media. I love Star Wars. I think deeply about the impact of the new films on the Expanded Universe. I’ve seen and enjoyed basically every comic book adaptation from the last decade (except Gotham. Fuck Gotham), including every Marvel TV show and movie. I actively speculate over the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve got a Zelda-themed Wii U. I’m only barely scratching the surface. I’ve already subjected this blog to an epic two-part rant about Pokémon (pretending to wrap it up in science hahaha)… and, of course, I was chair of Imperial College’s Science Fiction Society.
What I’m trying to say is, “nerd” is a label I wear with pride. A large part of my own self-identity is invested in enjoyment and consuming of various “franchises.” I like to maintain the illusion that despite these properties being created, owned, and propagated by massive TNCs, somehow I have a personal connection to them. They were made for me to enjoy. I’ve been rewarded for my devotion to minutiae of Marvel comic book continuity by their adaptations on the big screen, etc. etc.
So what’s been bugging me? Loot Crate.
What’s Loot Crate? How it works is, you pay a monthly subscription fee (up to £20 a month), pick from one of a small number of pre-set options, and once a month Loot Crate delivers to you a box filled with what it describes as “awesome geek and gamer gear.” What kind of gear? Mostly, it’s figurines, toys, posters, t-shirts, mugs, and other, generic, kitschy paraphernalia that other people apparently have room in their not-hovels for.
Now, to be clear, I’m not having a go at Loot Crate, its customers, or anything like that. If you get pleasure out of using this service, that’s awesome. Enjoy your cool stuff. I’m jealous. I also think it can be a great present for your nerdy friend or S.O. What bugs me is what the existence and success of this business says about me and my interests.
Think about it. For a random collection of kitschy items from dozens, if not hundreds, of entertainment franchises and brands, spanning film, TV, comics, video games, board games, books, and more, to be a successful business model, an assumption has to be made: every single fuckin’ nerd likes exactly the same shit.
Now, to. be. clear. although presented caustically, that fact alone isn’t intrinsically bad. I’m just making it sound bad because it feels bad to me. If it doesn’t to you, that’s fine! And remember “every single fuckin’ nerd” includes me! For reference, this is my room:
The thing about it that bugs me is it makes me question my autonomy. I have a worldview in my head of me choosing carefully, and with love, every franchise I follow. I’d like to believe I don’t like The Legend of Zelda because everyone else does, I’d like to believe I like it because it’s a good series of games. It was worth investing time into, because in exchange I’ve received a lot of joy from it. I’d like to believe I’ve made a similar choice for Back to the Future, Batman, The Avengers, Futurama, and all of the other myriad franchises I can look at the dozens of posters in my room to remind myself of.
But if you can hand out goodies from basically any of the franchises I mentioned, and loads more, and still expect the person buying it to be pleased with it, enough to spend £20 a month, then that has to bring into question the degree of autonomy involved in choosing to follow a franchise, right? Why do I love Ghostbusters? Because it’s good, or because being part of the Nerd Club requires that I like it? You have to be willing to ask that to yourself.
I know on some level I’m just being silly. There’s a few good counterarguments. Firstly, not every franchise I see in the Loot Crates interests me. I have no interest in almost all anime, I don’t follow most major video game franchises like Fallout, Call of Duty, Skyrim… and I actively hate horror movies. There’s a lottery aspect to it: you’re not guaranteed to get what you want in the crate. That’s part of the fun of opening it, I imagine. (I do think it wouldn’t work if most people weren’t interested in most of the things in the crate, though.)
Similarly, there’s lots of franchises I like that aren’t “mainstream” enough in the nerd community to ever be in the crate: my favourite TV show right now is Steven Universe, a cartoon on Cartoon Network. I’d be very surprised to see characters from that in a Loot Crate. Why do I like that show? Because it’s amazing. No one told me to like that. (I told my friends to like it, though!)
On some level, talking at all about stuff this nerdy being mainstream is still surreal to me, even though we’ve accepted the Marvel movies dominating the box office, Game of Thrones smashing the Home Box Office, and eSports beating football in TV ratings. Nerd is mainstream now. Sure, I “liked it before it was cool.” Sure, I remember getting teased in school for playing Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, but you don’t get a bloody medal for that! That’s not something that makes me special; none of these franchises are.
So where does that leave Loot Crate? I think the take-home message is take pride in being a “nerd,” but keep it in perspective; you’re not the only one!