The rise of nerd culture

The end of January brought Wizard World’s Comic Con to Portland. Writers, artists, actors and nerds alike gathered at the Oregon Convention Center to share their love and passion for all things comic related.

The event went beyond the comic book industry, bringing  together people from around the area to provide an opportunity to celebrate their similar interests and dress up in some really cool costumes. Portland Comic Con 2014 was an event enjoyed by many, and many are already making plans to attend next year.

Such a large gathering of nerds in Portland wouldn’t have seemed possible a few years ago. It is thanks to the increasing popularity of video game and comic book conventions around the country, such as the Penny Arcade Expo, the original Comic Con in San Diego, BlizzCon and E3 (to name just a few), that Portland’s convention is now possible. And if you thought this year was big, each new year promises to bring something bigger and better than the one before.

To a life-long nerd like myself who enjoys playing video games and reading fantasy, seeing so many conventions like this is confusing. Not that I’m complaining—I certainly love them—but since when has nerd culture become so popular? Doesn’t seeing the words “nerd” and “popular” in the same sentence scream oxymoron? When I was growing up, nerds seemed to make up a rather slim portion of the population, yet now, somehow, tens of thousands of people are showing up to gaming and comic conventions around the world.

While this sudden burst of nerd culture popularity is surprising to say the least, it’s nice to realize how many people share the same passions as I do. There used to be a time when being a nerd was something to be embarrassed about, not something you could brag about to your friends. However, this idea is quickly being overwhelmed by the rapidly growing nerd industries. In 2011, the U.S. computer and video game software’s gross domestic product was $4.9 billion. This is a substantial amount of money that is expected to expand in the future.

Research firm DFC Intelligence estimates that the worldwide video game industry is poised to reach $70.1 billion by 2015 from the combined growth of console, portable, PC and online video games. Nerd culture is picking up steam and showing no signs of stopping.

This is great news for people who’ve felt like they had to hide the things that they enjoyed doing for so long, but it can also feel quite daunting. To suddenly have such a large group of individuals connecting over the same interests is wonderful, but can be off-putting to people who are used to doing these things in small groups or alone.

However, rather than push away a new group of people, we need to embrace our shared interests. That doesn’t even mean attending the conventions and events—because they can be quite expensive—but trying to make the things we love accessible to other people. It’s already underway, but we need to make sure it stays that way.

You and I aren’t the only people in Portland, or anywhere else for that matter, who enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons, reading comic books, writing fan fiction or playing video games. The rapid growth of these industries proves that there are tons of people out there who enjoy it as much as we do.

The industries are there, and there are people who want to see them succeed. People want to be engrossed in these nerdy things. Times are changing, and rather than ward off any chance of bringing more people to our side, we should embrace them. Embrace the people who want to start playing video games or want to play D&D for the first time, and encourage people to show their passion for the things that they love. It might be for the popularity, but that shouldn’t result in us closing ourselves off to people who want to express themselves.

It can be difficult to respect someone who suddenly tells you how much they love video game X or superhero movie Y. How do you know that their interest is as genuine as yours? It shouldn’t matter, because no one should feel embarrassed to like the things that they do or think that they are a practically non-existing minority in the place that they live.

That’s not true. Portland and other cities are ready to embrace nerd culture, and we have to be there with open arms to prove that we are ready to see it expand as well. In the end we are all a little bit nerdy, and there should be no reason why we shouldn’t let everyone know it.