For too long, people have used these words to hurt each other, to divide themselves into meaningless tribes. One tribe the gatekeepers of tech, comics, and calculators, bending the intangible to their will. The other tribe the gatekeepers of body, physicality, and fitness, chiseling raw flesh into statuesque forms. Both perpetuating the myth of an enemy, viewing their interests with scorn and contempt, unwilling to ascribe any value to the other.
This is stupid. Gatekeepers are idiots. Anyone who thinks that people can only be one thing in life, that someone has to be a member of one tribe and fight everyone else, is not worth even a single breath used to sneer disgustedly in their direction. Those who would try to limit someone’s enjoyment or participation in a hobby, sport, or entertainment pursuit, are those whose caustic toxicity will inevitably destroy that thing they profess to love.
There is no criteria that someone has to meet in order to love a game (electronic or athletic), no test someone has to pass in order to read a book (playbook or sci–fi), no limitation to the enjoyments we pursue other than that which we place on ourselves.
How do I know this?
Because I am a member of both of these worlds, nerd and jock alike, and a living example that manufactured tribalism need not apply. I played professional football at the highest level by competing in the NFL for eight years, setting records at my position, while at the very same time was a part of a top tier World of Warcraft raiding guild, mastered Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and put hundreds of hours into Skyrim and Fallout.
I’ve read Iain Banks on the way to an NFC Championship game, painted Warmachine figurines in the middle of a locker room to pass the time, and used a lifetime of figuring out the intricacies of JRPG gaming systems to clean house at dominos against those who grew up with the game.
It’s not just me, either. In the NFL, I had conversations with teammates about God of War strategies, Call of Duty map mechanics, and one memorable encounter with a guy who had max level characters in Final Fantasy XI (thus possibly beating me for sheer willingness to grind). I’ve talked Kurt Vonnegut with 300–pound offensive linemen, and Terry Pratchett with linebackers. I’ve been a part of an epic, season–long eight–person Mario Kart tournament that spanned from the training room to the team plane, and occasioned no small amount of swearing whenever a blue shell went whistling overhead.
I’ve been in raid and party chats with people from all corners of the world, from all walks of life, many of whom knew more about football than I did; people who could tell you every last player on their favorite team, their strengths and weaknesses, and why the power run was good against this week’s defense but might struggle against the next. I’ve PvPed with women who could smash my face in without breaking a sweat, and asked them what I needed to learn in order to improve. I’ve experienced encounters with young and old alike, of all ethnicities, religions, and sexualities, and the thing that brought us all together was our shared love for something that brings us joy.
There is no such thing as a “nerd,” or a “jock,” or whatever idiotic word would–be tyrants want to use to label someone as the “other.” There are only human beings, astounding in their complexity, at once one thing and then another, capable of being so much more than a label.
Labels are easy. They allow us to encapsulate the entirety of what we assume to be someone’s existence into one simple word, and they are dangerously wrong, because they make us start thinking of people as things, rather than people. Labels are the weapon of the gatekeeper, a way they try to keep out whatever does not fit their narrow views, a way they seek to exert control over that which is not theirs to own. Labels are lazy, and they betray the sign of a closed mind.
The instant someone says “You must be this to enjoy that,” is the instant you can safely dismiss their words as the ramblings of a frightened, petty fool. The only person who gets to decide the way in which their hobby will bring them enjoyment is the person enjoying that hobby, and just because someone enjoys one hobby, does not preclude them from enjoying another one as well.
You can be a sports fan and a sci–fi enthusiast. You can top the leaderboards in first–person shooters and be the first one to the gym each morning. You can do, and be, and enjoy whatever you want, because the only control gatekeepers have over something is the control we let them assume. Gatekeepers only exist if we allow them to build walls to trap us, if we let them construct their barriers of thought herding us into the rigidity of the dogmatic and fundamentalist.
If you see a gatekeeper trying to exclude someone, trying to say that they’re not the right type to belong to the tribe, call that person on their nonsense. Tell them that there is no one correct way to have fun. Show them that people are complex, and that just because the gatekeeper wants the world to conform to one tiny slice of viewpoint, that doesn’t mean that viewpoint is the entirety of the world. Offer a helping hand to someone who shares your interests, even if they don’t share it in precisely the same way, because you never know when you might learn something new as well, what discovery you might make about something you thought you knew everything there was to know about.
And if you ever find yourself feeling the urge to exclude others, to prevent them from sharing in a vast and wonderful world, take a step back and reconsider your actions. I know it’s all too easy to look back on previous slights and maltreatment, and desire revenge for those behaviors, but all you’re doing is making the world a worse place for everyone. If the “jocks” made fun of you for being a “nerd” in high school, I get it. I got made fun of too. But there’s no excuse to let that sentiment linger and fester into something petty and spiteful. There’s no excuse to emulate that behavior in a different set of clothes—whether it be trying to exclude those you see as “jocks,” or claiming superiority because you’re good at coding and they’re good at sports.
There is no inherent “goodness” that puts one hobby above another. There is no inherent class or group that anyone must be restricted to. There are only people, always and forever. Some are nice, and some are mean, and most are both at different times in their lives, so try to judge everyone you encounter for what they are—as an individual, not as a label.
Enjoy your hobbies, whatever they happen to be, and in return, make sure that other people have a space to enjoy their hobbies as well. We are all more than a label, and gatekeepers only guard prisons.
I prefer to live with the freedom to be whatever I want.
© 2016 by Chris Kluwe