We are not special: The nerd’s appeal to pity

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Bitter nerds make up a large portion of the nerd community. These people struggle to self-analyze and have a strong need to protect themselves from any criticism. They resent that they’re lonely and often blame women for their lack of sex lives.

[Note: If you are a nerd, but do not fit this category: good. You don’t need to send me an essay-long email about how you’re not bitter. Do not send me your memoir about how hard things were for you growing up. If you can’t control your urge to inform me that you’re not a bitter nerd, you might just be a bitter nerd.]

I recently posted the following series of messages on my Twitter.

This came from a place of frustration. I realized during a conversation that I genuinely feared the reactions of nerds to my content. I feared it in a way I never felt about any high school bully. The anxiety over backlash and internet tantrums had actually kept me from writing my feelings, posting videos, and saying what I really felt on more than one occasion. All this from a demographic who rallies around violent games being a form of free speech. And it pissed me off.

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The subsequent reaction to my tweets blew up my Twitter feed for a bit. The majority of responses have so far been positive, or at the very least introspective. The negative reactions were… less than constructive, as they tend to be. In instances like this, negative responses tend to spiral down a crap chute that I like to call the nerd’s appeal to pity.

Arguments that fall under this heading generally take the form of…

“I was bullied in the ‘80s and girls didn’t like me.”

“Women only like Neanderthals.”

“I was never given the opportunity to work on my social skills, that’s why I’m like this.”

The recurring underlying theme here is of course the word bitter nerds hate most: Entitlement. Along with privilege, they hate these words because they cast criticism on one’s behavior. And criticism of any kind can’t be tolerated because bitter nerds are actually the most sensitive people on earth.

For all these people complain about the over-sensitivity of social justice advocates, the fact is I don’t seek them out and never have. Social justice advocates are not the one posting endless, whining YouTube comments on my video about Game Grumps. They see any criticism they receive as the cruelest, most undeserved attack on their poor widdle selves, while at the same time seeing any criticism they give anyone else, no matter how toxic or abusive, to be totally justified. It’s just them exercising their free speech, and gosh darn it, they’re proud!

But back to appealing to pity.

Although these people can be frustrating, their problem is really just having a deep-seated sense of persecution that they’ve carried into adulthood. Combined with feeling entitled to women’s attention, and therefore not obligated to improve themselves, this breeds resentment.

It’s impossible to get through to someone like this until they first understand that they’re responsible for themselves and what they say and do. They must be open to the idea that they’re flawed and capable of improvement. But they’re also hypersensitive to anything that might resemble snark, anger, or sarcasm. Replying in any of these ways will result in them doubling down on their feelings of persecution.

Bitter nerds love to consider themselves misunderstood anti-heroes. I’d like to point out that this is a pretty common coping mechanism, one I fell victim to in my own youth. It gives you a sense of identity and shields you from the sting of criticism. As in, “I’m not a loser, I’m just misunderstood. They don’t get how special I am. And that’s fine as long as I am super-duper special.”

The problem comes when you’re confronted with the reality that so many other people have also suffered in exactly the same way. People we thought “had it all” struggled just as much as we did, if not worse.

Case in point, my boyfriend.

We are not special: The nerd's appeal to pity

Stupid hot guy… I bet he traveled the world with the money he made being popular in high school.

If I had met him as a teenager, I would have never spoken to him. I would have never even considered talking to him. He was cute and on the soccer team and had legs like Chun-Li. Guys like that didn’t go out with chubby, nerdy girls who drew Sailor Moon fan art in their notebooks. He might as well have been a different species.

But the reality was, he was taking so many AP classes at such a young age that he could barely connect with anyone in his school. As he puts it, “The older kids didn’t like the younger kid showing off, and the kids my age didn’t relate to me because I wasn’t in any of their classes. I felt like I was completely alone. I had some friends, but I didn’t feel like I was part of a group like everyone else was.”

Learning this was kind of mind-blowing for me. I was so absorbed with how everyone dismissed me and how bad that made me feel that I was totally oblivious to the fact that high school sucks for everyone. If you were fat and ugly, like I was, you were an invisible loser. But if you were beautiful, then fat, ugly girls like me would resent you forever. You can’t win. And the first step in escaping this persecution complex is realizing that we were not the only ones suffering. And no, our suffering wasn’t worse or somehow more important than others. We are not special.

Appealing to pity only proves that you’re still operating the same way you were in adolescence. It’s a self-centered and extremely flawed attitude that has no place in modern conversations about politics, social justice, or gaming. I implore you all, as a fellow nerd, to grow out of this. I know it’s hard to stop. After sitting in a certain chair for long enough that butt nook is pretty damn comfortable. It soothes us to think that we’re the real victims, because it takes all the responsibility off of us to change our behavior. But that’s a coward’s approach to the world. It’s time to take up the sword, put on our big kid pants, and start acting like the heroes we look up to in our games.

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  • Sardu

    Spot on… it seems to boil down to at some point you have to mature. You can hang on to your quirkiness and individuality and still learn to join the human race. I know some washed up bitter ex-high school jocks that exhibit all these same issues as nerds but generally the rest of us are having families and kids and getting along. I was a poster child for what you are talking about but I did eventually learn to try and see if I was the one with a problem, as opposed to being someone who was going to wind up in the news for some horrible act of violence, which is where that kind of reinforced alienation can end up… BTW I became a musician which put me on another level of opportunity as far as women were concerned but I married a proud geek girl and we’re raising a geek kid 😀

  • Thom Clyma

    Speaking as one of those “pity me” nerds, it really is a toxic mindset. I’m no longer like that, haven’t been for years, but I can still remember being saying things like “I was bullied so I never learned to have good social skills” and “She only dates the idiotic douches of the world.”, and my favorite “Of course the nerdy girl wouldn’t date a nerd, she’d rather date this fucking sports guy”. ODDLY enough, I didn’t keep friends very long during those years except for like-minded nerds in a weird circle-jerk of “Feel bad for me for we are nerds!”. I still have pretty bad social skills but I can see it’s because of choices I made when I was growing up and something that, I’ve been working on. Joining twitter, tumblr, replying and posting.

    It’s kind of sad that so many of my fellow nerds have to go through that period of feeling like the whole world is against them and putting the blame on others and expecting pity for it. It’s a really toxic personality trait that does damage to everyone involved but they’re too fixated on their own pain to see anything else.

    • Sardu

      Yeah, it’s funny, I remember getting together with friends in school and doing nothing but bitching about having no friends. It was almost post-modern. *lol* Only in retrospect did I realize we were a bigger group then most of the other ones. We actually had a lot of fun without really realizing it.

  • Murry Chang

    Is it ok if I’m a nerd that just happens to be a cynic? I’m not bitter and don’t feel like I deserve anything except for some peace, quite, beer and a good book, but I’ve been in the IT industry for way too long to not be a cynic.

    Just making sure that’s socially acceptable for everyone!

    • Sardu

      It depends if your cynicism has devolved into some kind of anti-social neurosis or not, I’d say *g* I’m still kind of cynical but having a kid will do amazing things in that regard.

      • Murry Chang

        Oh ok cool, I’m not anti social…not gonna have a kid though, I’ve got close friends who have kids and that’s as close as I’d like to get to them. Well, that and the fact that I’m extremely happy being single and I love not having to worry about keeping anyone besides myself happy on a daily basis:)

  • RockyDmoney

    Agreed. While some nerds are bullied and have legimate gripes. The majority are just self centered self loathing babies who just need to grow a pair

    • Sykes

      In my limited experience, the majority of nerds are just people who like
      what they like and aren’t super-concerned about what society thinks of
      their hobbies.

      Most weren’t bullied (beyond the norm) or are self-loathing babies.

  • tcorp

    Could the problem be caused by the fact that nerds like things that encourage prolonged adolescence? And that the internet, by giving attention to nerds without delivering real consequences (i.e., feedback), enables them to cloister themselves in their hobbies when they need to interact?

    • Sykes

      What is it that nerds do that “encourage prolonged adolescence”? Why is one hobby childish and another not? Is a football fan wearing a jersey and facepaint better than a Star Trek fan wearing a uniform or Klingon make-up?

      • E.Buzz Miller

        It seems very stigma based and relates back to who was perceived as popular and more socially ‘normal’ in high school carried forth into the adult world than anything else.

  • DAvid f White

    I don’t know Nycea, YOU sound pretty bitter to me!! There are consequences to being on the internet!! I have received plenty of hate and scorn in cyber-space and real life!!

    • Magdalen

      no u

      • David F white

        Whatever!!

        • Sardu

          David, if you very first method of discourse in a discussion is to, with no introduction, lash out n a rather angry and yell-y fashion that may be a window into why you provoke some negative reactions in your life in general. There are polite ways to disagree and express an alternate point of view, This is really kind of proving the point.

  • Bouncy X

    ah ha…..so television is already cashing in on the “bitter nerd”. because i gotta say, a lot of those descriptions sound like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. and i’ve always said, while i admit i like the show and find him funny. if anyone was like that in real life, they wouldn’t have any friends. apparently some people are/were and they don’t/did not. but yeah i admit its a lil scary to think he’s not complete fiction!!!

  • Strange thing is, the heroes we look up to in our games are given a bunch of friends who follow them around no matter what they do.

    I’m not ending that with an “on the other hand” because it is always too easy to become bitter, and I’m just pointing out that “I think, therefore I am” does wonders for PCs in a game whereas in real life, everybody is a PC and an NPC at the same time. If being angsty and not talking to anyone could get me multiple fangirls climbing over one another to be my true love, nobody WOULD need to move beyond adolescence.

  • Moppet

    Honestly, “Bitter nerds make up a large portion of the nerd community.” seems rather, well, out of place. A lot of this does. I haven’t seen anything that suggests people like that, and others with similar reputations (harassing/threatening women on the internet) are anything but a very, very vocal minority. I remember you wrote an article sometime back where you noted just how unaware most people are of this stuff, and I think that is a point to be made about nerd culture, even on the internet. You can see what seems like a lot of bitterness, harassment and other negatives, but the reality is likely lesser in scope. Most people that play games, read comics, and anything else one might classify as nerdy, are probably too busy off enjoying their hobby to be bitter, threaten or harass anyone.

    I suppose I’m not disagreeing with the things you’re talking about here, as much as disagreeing with the scope of it. I believe there are really bitter and insecure people out there, but I’ve not experienced them to be a large portion of the nerd community by any stretch. That goes back to the insecure portion, how often do you see these newly made accounts that gripe and whine, come off as generally bitter, harass and threaten and troll people? How many of them do you think lead back to the same people over and over again? Across a world with billions of people, a minority can still be a substantial portion, mind you, but still a minority.

    Anyways, a nicely written article, it would be interesting to see it put to the test, to get a better idea of numbers and the finer points. Saying something is one thing, but I’d be interested to see some professionals tackle the subject, with full on test groups, such an exercise could really help understand the issue better.

    Though, this tweet, “After years of movies telling me jocks are the bad guys, I’m now more
    afraid of nerds than I ever was of the jocks. How’s that for irony?” kind of bothers me. Afraid of people that like nerdy things as a broad general “nerds” instead of directed toward the specific people responsible, all because of some (legitimately disgusting) loud mouths on the internet? That seems worrisome and generally unhealthy. It’s a broad sweeping general statement painting “nerds” as scary, rather than specific people. It’s the exact opposite of what you establish in this article where you try to note that people that are not bitter nerds need not feel like the article was aimed at them.

    As for high school bullies, some poor kid at one of the several high schools I attended over the years (my parents moved a lot) was stuffed in a trash bag by high school bullies. Rich ones at that. Then they beat him with staplers. The area, and the school, really liked its rich community, so the administrators at the school tried to brush it under the rug, they really liked rubbing shoulders with the richer people in the area, and the victim wasn’t poor, but his family wasn’t rich.

    It took his family months to get anything done about it, and not within the system, but by going tot he local newspaper. I was lucky enough to never really have to deal with highschool bullies. We were in and out of so many places over the course of my young life that I was home schooled for decent portions of time between getting to attend actual schools, meet people and try to create fleeting friendships. My experience with bullies tended to be by word of mouth, or at a distance when you’d see someone treat another person like dirt. I’ll always remember the ones that stuffed some poor kid in a trash bad though. Those ones were scary. Those ones were actually terrifying to know I went to the same school as. No loudmouth with an ugly personality on the internet even compares. Not just people willing to say something ugly from the safe confines of a desk chair, but people that were actually willing to do something horrifying to another human being.

    With the GG thing, and people on the other sides of the debate, plenty of extremist and nasty people have come out of the woodwork, and sadly not just on one side, but on all. I’d like to think eventually we, as people, Human beings, can just find something, some common ground, in the middle, where we can all.. I don’t know. Maybe not get along, but at least a place where we can stop flinging mud at one another.

    I’d say people make me tired, as a general, but some people, don’t, some people give me hope. Sometimes it’s easy to be dragged down into a dark place when obsessing over the negatives, rather than remembering there are positives. It’s too easy to give the negatives their 15 minutes because they’re doing unfortunate things, but just as easy to forget to give the things that spread warmth and hope and inspiration their day in the sun.

    Human beings created something that let people communicate, share work, play games, and much more, with others, readily, even when they were on the other side of the planet. Some people misuse it. Others have accomplished wondrous and wonderful things that are worthy of celebration, and that have inspired countless more great works. Anytime someone comes along that reminds me we all have a dark place, I just try and remember the ones that remind me we can be so very much more.

    • Farquadinator

      It is rather comfortable to stand on the edge or in the middle of anything at all controversial or crappy. If you can recognize that there is a problem within the nerd community that is very vocal and dominates people’s view of that community, then where are you and the rest of the large majority to regulate the nerd community.

      These kinds of long, mitigating posts aren’t at all helpful.

      Helpful would be something like “Yes, this does exist on some level, and we need to do more as a community about it.”

      This isn’t about flinging mud. “Flinging mud” is mostly harmless name-calling. “Calling someone out” is about holding people accountable for their destructive actions. Like stalking women at parties, date rape, doxxing, swatting, casually letting sexist/racism/homophobic/etc attitudes exclude or harm others, etc.

      The false equivalency between calling someone out and someone being a jerk (intentional or not) is a huge problem in our culture. It shouldn’t be equally bad to say “that person is being a jerk” as said person being a jerk.

      So, with that said, how the hell can you be in the middle between Gamergaters and “the other side”? Gamergaters are running a full-on campaign to ruin people’s lives, there’s no equivalency there. Come on, man. Seriously. Trying to pretend we’re all in a grey area where everything is the same is what allows the dark, festering mobs to gather and increasingly work to destroy others who are fighting for decency.

      • Moppet

        People on all sides have acted vile beyond imagining and far overshadowed anything of worth they might have had to say: “corruption in the gaming, scratch that, any industry and gaming, scratch that, any media needs addressed” “women, scratch that, everyone, people as a general, should all be treated fairly and equally in gaming, scratch that, any circumstance”. Amongst other topics, all of worth and note, but that, at this point, no one can really talk about without one side or another or another coming in and acting vile or acting the victim or acting both, or, as is always fun, worse than simply acting the part.

        How can one take a side when all sides refuse to cast out the vocal, and vile, minorities that have overshadowed the positive messages within?

        The good of all people, respecting the right to agree, disagree, be fairly treated and more, amongst all people, proper management of business and journalistic practices and many more things are positives. These messages and many more have worth and note.

        They must be separated from these various sides that are being pulled to ledges by various extremists. The first step in that is realizing, there is no right side. A moderate, middle grounded and level headed conversation of people, not sides, just people, on the same level, none given more or less, is required for any true ground to be covered. Such a thing is unlikely, and, even then, nothing will be won, not everyone will agree, we must learn to disagree without demonizing one another. There is no end to the journey though, we’ll spend more time standing in place than stepping forward, and the steps forward will be rare, take forever and be taken one at time.

        It’s easy to step forward too hastily in a rush of youthful zeal, harder to think about what one is doing, to understand the reactions and consequences. We’re still so small, and so young, all of us. We don’t like to believe it, we’re all arrogant in that way. We think we’re ready, we think we understand, we actually think we’re right and that everyone should agree. We’ll push a thought through so hard that we don’t even realize that sometimes the high spirited rush for a change, for something better, with all the good intentions in the world, can create something else unintended and damaging.

        Wisdom never prevails when we’re irked and damaged, reacting and lashing out, too easily, and many will take advantage of such situations, exploiting them for their own profit and purpose. We see it right now, with this. Sites all over, some that have picked one side, or another, and many that haven’t picked one at all, clickbait titles everywhere, stirring the pot, keeping the controversies and negativity going, because they benefit, and such people are far from the only ones.

        That could make every journalist look bad, if you take the point to an extreme, but plenty of journalists have kept a level head as well, but their moderate, level headed views, like so many throughout time and history, are ignored. We’re too caught up in it. We’re so sure we’re right. We disregard the negative elements on our side. We just want decent practices. No, we aren’t just right, we’re the good ones. They’re bad. Not just some of them. Not just the negative elements that we have as well, but that we disregard, no, they aren’t even just bad. They’re evil. Mindless rambling demons, rampant and senseless. We’ll save the world, we’re going to win. Trust us.

        Escalation, a crescendo, the soundtrack to every polarizing argument or conflict, the battle cry of every side. Hard to stop and think for a few moments, so few do, and their voices are lost in the noise. It’s been nice that I’ve come across some that have spoken sense on such issues. Nice to know some people can still keep a level head. And they’re sitting in the middle. So am I, I’m just not saying anything, that’s the difference. Those people that keep a level head, and say something, try and get people to listen, I’ll respect those voices, in the middle. And me? What can I say? I’m not special or unique, I’m just a silly flawed Human being that loves to ramble on, and apologizes adamantly if I’ve offended anyone with said rambling. What did one of the more level headed ones say, right, paraphrasing,
        but: “The sun still rises and the sun still sets” it’s true. It’s so
        easy to get caught up in everything that we forget while we’re so
        stressed and frustrated that the sky can still be blue, with big fluffy
        clouds, birds singing, the sun shining happily. The world goes on, time ticks on.

        Why are we fighting again? We could have shoved the negative elements on all sides, aside, ages ago, put them in their place, been the better “people”, and just talked. But we didn’t. We decided to keep this nonsense going, and going, even still, rather than just talking, calmly and with level heads. And people wonder why I refuse to take a side.

        Better days to you, for that matter, to all of you. I’d like to think things can always get better. Maybe they will.

    • JR

      So, to sum up…#NotAllNerds

  • Magdalen

    Faulkner was here.

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      That guy’s still a thing?

  • CDF-CRO

    Alas Faulkner’s comments have been deleted so I missed what he was saying, either he’s having a moment or the mods have gotten sick of him.

    • Magdalen

      You can catch it all on my Twitter #faulknersHits.

      • CDF-CRO

        Merci.

  • So Jocks are the new cool losers then??

    • MichaelANovelli

      Certainly seems that way. Looks like I got into weight lifting just in time!

  • Mike

    “If I had met him as a teenager, I would have never spoken to him. I would have never even considered talking to him. -He might as well have been a different species.-I was so absorbed with how everyone dismissed me and how bad that made me feel that I was totally oblivious to the fact that high school sucks for everyone. If you were fat and ugly, like I was, you were an invisible loser. But if you were beautiful, then fat, ugly girls like me would resent you forever. You can’t win. And the first step in escaping this persecution complex is realizing that we were not the only ones suffering. And no, our suffering wasn’t worse or somehow more important than others. We are not special.”

    And this is why (dated music and fashion be damned) The Breakfast Club remains as relevant as ever.

    • Mike

      Note: I probably should have said “aside” rather than “be damned.” I need to work on over doing the fancy talk.

  • JD

    So high school sucked for every one. thats good to know.

    • From what I gather yeah. Which makes it all the more confounding that people tell me I missed something by not going. I just skipped that shit, took the GED, and managed to get into a decent college, so I don’t think High School is all that important an experience.