Gatekeeping in Nerd Culture and Why We Need to Stop


If you told little Alyson, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on a Saturday morning playing Pokemon Stadium, that one day her life would include random quiz shows, she’d probably ignore you and go back to wiping the arena floor with Mewtwo. But lo and behold I and many others run into the strange phenomenon of having to prove I’m worthy of that Metroid shirt. Can I even name another bounty hunter besides Samus? I didn’t realize when I put that Totoro hat on this morning that I was supposed to study up on my anime history. Fellow enthusiasts questioning your nerd-cred leans more toward women, but I’ve witnessed men undergoing the same strange ritual of naming off obscure background characters and information to prove that they were, indeed, a proper fan. Its a fun little trend often referred to as gatekeeping, as if it was our duty as comic book readers and joystick junkies to keep out the “fake” fans – the fans that are only there because its “cool”.

Nerd culture is enjoying its time in the limelight nowadays, with Marvel movies coming out every year, videos games being a serious market, and binge watching Netflix all being common place. No more must we hide our love of comic books and video games; its trendy now –to a degree- but trendy. Its no wonder you might see more people flying the nerd flag than usual, but as with anything that suddenly gains popularity, you’re gonna hear complaints from older fans. Anything that has a following contains at least a few individuals with an elitist mentality; a feeling of seniority over those just jumping on the Hype Train to Loser Town we’ve all been riding. It may seem a bit hipster, but we liked it before it was cool.

What also comes with the rise in popularity is unconventional fans; people you went to high school with that once criticized your interests are suddenly watching anime or reading manga. You may catch a few posts in your various social media feeds about how awesome the last episode of _______ was when you know for a fact they were bad mouthing it in the past. Surely, theses people are just jumping on the nerd bandwagon because its trendy or they have someone to impress! There’s no way they actually care about what they’re watching, and even if they do, did they read the novels first? Were they around when the author was Kickstarting the first book? A lot of us put years into our love of nerdy things, carefully crafting small and intricate fandoms and communities, and suddenly everyone’s going to Comic-con because of some reality show. Naturally, we’re gonna be a bit territorial, and I will fully admit to having this mentality in the past.

gandalfgatekeeping.jpgHeck, I still catch myself thinking this way. A coworker will bring up games and I’ll ask them what they play, only to receive answers like “Call of Duty Zombies is the best! It’s all I’ve ever played!”. I always have that split moment in my head of “Oh so you’re not actually a gamer” before I correct myself and move onto another topic. I guess this branches from my love of video game discussion, and I’m not likely to get a lot of meaningful debate out of CoD. This coworker isn’t big into the scene, but that doesn’t make them a fake fan; they just haven’t made games as big a part of their life as I have.

I think gatekeeping has a lot to do with a person’s personal interpretation of what a real fan is. For some they had to have read all the novels, the spinoffs, seen the TV series (and hated it) and played the text adventure game on DOS. Others only play occasionally. They have a few t-shirts and played the sequels, but were never able to get into the first game or don’t own the system it was on. I think both are valid fans, regardless of dedication, and I don’t think a pop quiz will prove them better or worse. There is no measurement of someone’s worth as fan.

If anything gatekeeping is more harmful, regardless of intentions, especially towards new fans. My mother is 50, and thanks to the Captain America movie she started getting into comics, which she remarked was frowned upon in her youth. So while my sister and I were off mucking around at NYCC, she was going table to table trying to find copies of the originals so she could catch herself up on decades of content. When we met up at the end she had a bag full of comics and a smile on her face, talking about how nice some con attendees had been about pointing her in the right direction and giving her tips on where to start. On the opposite side of that, I’ve had a person see my Deadpool button and start grilling me on what volumes I’d read (which isn’t many, I’ve only just started) and scoffing when I couldn’t answer with more than 2 or 3. I can give you the ins and outs of the political relations in Mass Effect, but Deadpool’s many backstories elude me at this moment.

I imagine that if my mom had experienced gatekeeping the same way I had, she’d still want to read Captain America comics, but would want nothing to do with events like Comic-con. She’s thicker skinned, but younger or more sensitive new fans might flat out abandon a new hobby if they felt threatened enough. Acting as though you’re the superior fan because of seniority or knowledge is detrimental to the community, as its likely driving away any new fans, making the fandom itself look bad, and well…making you look like a huge jerk.

You don’t convey your love for something by making others feel bad that they don’t love it as much as you; instead, maybe educate them. Recommend your favorite volumes or give them a few tips on how to cheese a boss. If they care, they’ll listen and probably go on to be even bigger fans. If they don’t, no stress! You still have the thing you love, and them liking it less or not being as serious about it doesn’t make them your enemy. We all got bullied enough in high school, lets not drag that into our hobbies too.