Jan 20, 2015
Nerd rage is bad for your brain
Everyone knows that person. They’re the one groaning loudly in the theater, rolling their eyes at music on the radio, and lecturing everyone at the table about the inferiority of some book or TV show or video game. At their best, they’re an annoying downer. At their worst, they seem incapable of truly enjoying anything. The wrathful nerd has become a staple of nerd culture. And as nerd culture has experienced a recent boom in popularity, so have we seen the rise of nerd rage.
(And I know most of you won’t read past the header image, but yes, I realize James Rolfe doesn’t count. The Angry Video Game Nerd is a character. But he’s literally the only person who comes up in a Google image search for “angry nerd”.)
I often think nerd rage should have a qualifier on it, like, “part of a balanced breakfast”, the same way cereals really mean, “we expect you to eat these highly processed sugar flakes in moderation.” Nerd rage is something we shouldn’t spend a lot of our time participating in. Frankly, it’s not very good for you, and eventually, it can permanently alter the way you see the world.
The brain responds to any stimuli. Positive, negative, neutral, all of it. However, it responds stronger to negative stimuli; some research indicates this might be a leftover from primitive life, when it was a way of keeping us from engaging in behavior that might get us killed in the wild. This explains why we seem to hang on to negative emotions longer than we do positive ones.
But the more negative stimuli we encounter, especially when we’re young, the more our brains become hardwired to respond to it. Just as with positive thinking, negativity improves connections between synapses that support negative thought processes. Essentially, consistent negative thinking strengthens the brain’s ability to think negatively, while dulling its ability to do anything else.
But this isn’t a call for us all to just start being super-happy and act like that fixes everything la la la. Nor should this be used as an argument against those pushing for real social change. (I can see it now: “There’s nothing wrong with representation in the media, you just can’t see the positives.” Just… no. No, no, no… no. The word “victim” has become a bad word on the internet. Yes, your brain can be wired to feel like you’re the victim in every situation, no matter how ludicrous. Elliot Rodger certainly proved that. That doesn’t mean actual victims are “playing the victim card”, and the vast majority of the time, this is a tactic used to dismiss social problems that ought not be dismissed. So shut your face about it.)
What I’m saying is that our feelings and patterns of behavior can actually be a self-perpetuating cycle. That’s great if those feelings are happiness, empathy, and a tendency to look at things realistically. But if the emotions you’re dwelling on are anger, negativity, and cynicism, that alters how you perceive the world, in a very bad way.
This can happen to anyone, but I’ve seen it a lot in nerd culture. I’ve watched people grow up and change from poking fun at movies and games to having explosive anger problems and wallowing in self-pity, alienating everyone around them. They see bad movies and games as personal insults and just another sign of how horrible things are “these days”, all the while seemingly oblivious to how unhappy they’ve become.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with negativity. Negativity is a natural response and it shouldn’t be ignored when the situation calls for it. But indulging in unnecessary dramatics is actually quite stressful over time for your mind and body. Not only can it lead to an inability to see the positives in anything, it can even cause you to subconsciously seek out negative aspects of a situation. So making it a part of your daily routine is pretty unhealthy.
What’s worse is that pop culture has for years glorified cynicism as the calling card of the “cool people”. Movies and TV love to remind us that babies are disgusting, children ruin your lives, and marriage is a ball and chain that keeps you from exploring other possibilities. Also, if you don’t make video games or skydive for a living, your job sucks and is slowly killing you. No wonder so many of us nerds are terrified to grow up and become adults: The media makes it look awful.
We all want to be the smirking protagonist who can’t be bothered to get passionate or incensed about anything. Responding to all problems with a “hmph” as they strut away casually. I’m looking at you, all anime ever. We admire this type of character, ignoring the fact that they’re displaying all the signs of having serious depression. They’re not so much rebels as they are miserable jerks.
This narrative is only encouraged by the idea that happy people are either ignorant, deluded, or just plain faking it. Cynics love to paint happiness as a two-dimensional facade, something disingenuous that should be avoided. And those who are genuinely happy are simply conforming to societal pressure. This is pretty hypocritical, as cynics themselves are often unwittingly conforming to the cool character type.
The worst part about this is you can get to a point where you can’t help it anymore. It’s better to get out of the habit while your brain is still malleable and capable of large scale changes. I know many of us want to be the next Angry Video Game Nerd or Yahtzee, but most of us just end up bitter assholes.
You have been warned.