When We’re Shunned by Society

Screenshot from Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Geeks have a history of being unloved. I have felt an outcast, particularly growing up in the church, for enjoying things like video games. Magic: The Gathering and comics were spoken about as worthless, vile and even deadly, yet I found joy, hope, community and even God in these passions. It’s tempting to turn my back on the society that rejects me. And yet, if we contribute to it instead, we foster joy instead of hate (plus, we make a better name for ourselves).

In Horizon: Zero Dawn, you play an outcast from the Nora tribe named Aloy. When she encounters other people from the tribe, they throw rocks at her, ignore her, or treat her with disdain (sounds familiar). Her adopted father trains her in hunting, combat, and survival so when she comes of age she can participate in the Proving, a series of physical tests (sounds less familiar). Passing the tests would mean rejoining the tribe.

Why do these people, why do I, strive to give back to a culture that doesn’t understand?

Understandably, Aloy isn’t even sure if she wants to join them because of the way they have treated her. After she defeats a Sawtooth, the final challenge of the Proving, her adopted father says, “For years you’ve trained to win the Proving, but only for yourself. As a brave, it will be your duty to fight for your tribe.”

“My tribe?!” she replied. “You said I wouldn’t need them.”

“But I never said the tribe wouldn’t need you.”

Aloy could turn her back on society and leave them to die without her. But she doesn’t. Instead, she steps into the role of protector for several tribes. She sacrifices her future for the very people who spurned her.

Most people can identify with rejection at some point in their lives. Geeks, especially, understand the pain of being outsiders. We have sat huddled in corners while our schools celebrate athletes and pretty people. We’ve felt the sting of parents who treat us as second-class citizens because we read comics rather than play sports, or assemble AT-AT models instead of muscle cars.

I know several people who grew up feeling shunned by society because they were brilliant piano players, but couldn’t throw a football or skate. The fact that our society says it’s better to get intoxicated playing beer pong than enjoy Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends is infuriating. And I won’t even get started on discussing “hook-up” culture versus those who value love and affection, approaching romance with a fear of rejection rather than the intent to “get laid.”

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (founders of Penny Arcade) have mentioned the abuse they received growing up for being geeks, and yet rather than using their abilities to turn against society, they have raised over 44 million dollars for children’s hospitals. They speak at schools to parents about the internet, online gaming, and geek culture in order to create a better society, even though they were not loved by the very culture they worked to improve.

“But I never said the tribe wouldn’t need you.”

Carrie Fisher and Joan Winston also received judgement for being nerds and women. Carrie Fisher told stories of the struggle to be taken seriously in the film industry as a woman, and yet she tirelessly worked to improve scripts behind the scenes while engaging fans of every age, colour and creed. She loved geeks and poured herself into the community even though many treated her as nothing but a sex object. And as one of the founding members of Star Trek conventions, Joan Winston’s dedication and love for fans is astonishing.

Nerds created open source products like Linux, Android, and WordPress to improve our society. People like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak have contributed to advancements in technology that we’d lack if they had refused to share their gifts. The world is exploding with developments in technology, science, gaming, comics, film, and literature, propelled by geeks. Why do these people, why do I, strive to give back to a culture that doesn’t bother trying to understand? Why should we love those who have hurt us?

It might be tempting to see a neighbour as an ignorant, beer-guzzling, NASCAR-loving jock who would have stuffed us in lockers when we were kids. It might be tempting to see ourselves as better than others because our interests are different, because we’re smarter, or because we’ve struggled in ways they haven’t. But being condescending and lashing out at others makes us just like those who hurt us.

In Horizon: Zero Dawn, Aloy says that she has trained hard enough that she can survive anything alone and she doesn’t need her clan. Her adopted father replies, “The strength to stand alone is the strength to make a stand. To serve a purpose greater than yourself.”

It’s this idea of a greater purpose and the desire to be at peace instead of a bitter, angry old man that makes we want to serve others. If protecting and caring for our society is a geek’s legacy, I’m proud to call myself one.

Dustin Schellenberg

Dustin Schellenberg

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Dustin spends his time exploring the far reaches of space, understand the ancient ways of might and magic, and wandering the post-apocalyptic wastes. If it has a reasonably open world, a crafting system and some way to sneak around, he'll be there. When not gaming, he's probably planning his next D&D character (because his DM keeps killing off the old ones). He is a competent bass player and guitarist, mediocre mid laner and outright awful FPS player. He is father of two, husband of one, a sometimes theologian, and all-times pastor of Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB.
Dustin Schellenberg