Why nerds like games

That's a topic from Robin Hanson.  I'm not sure "nerds" is the right word here (or if there is a correct single word), but I get what Robin is trying to say:

Another explanation is that while nerds like to socialize, they are terrified of making social mistakes…Games let nerds interact socially, yet avoid mistakes via well-defined rules, and a social norm that all legal moves are “fair game.” Role-playing has less well-defined rules, but the norm there is that social mistakes are to be blamed on characters, not players.

I endorse this explanation (I am not sure if Robin does) and I notice some testable predictions.  If nerds are otherwise constrained and thus underconsuming social experiences, nerd-run games should be especially boisterous and enjoyable.  Nerds should invest more resources to play these games than non-nerds will find explicable; to non-nerds the games will seem superfluous.  Nerds should seek out games with intensely social elements.  In my limited sample of experience (I don't like these games myself, but every now and then they are played in my place of employment), I see these predictions being validated.

Comments

Related: Autism (acute nerdiness) and chess. http://www.chessbase.com/newsprint.asp?newsid=5868

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zng5kRle4FA

There is no argument on this one, it's just funny.

I'd say video gaming is a separate discussion. As someone who grew up on video games I'd argue their popularity is entirely generational in nature. Case in point.

games are boring once you find a woman who wants to be with you :-)

I find this pretty offensive. This is like asking "why do blacks like fried chicken?" and then inserting some negative stereotype about blacks (e.g., lazy) as a causal explanation. "Nerds" like video games because it is more fun than talking to mouth-breathers, because they are challenging, competitive, and engaging. Games also allow social links to be maintained easily, like any other social media (e.g., Facebook). Furthermore, because of our higher than average intelligence, we destroy normal people at the games which makes them not want to play with us.

haha, awesome title

I think it's a little bit more in-depth than simply a forum for expression. The point of games, after all, is to prepare you for adult life; if you play games well, presumably you should be able to "play" adult life well, too. But if you are unprepared for the social interactions required to apply games to the real world, you will stick with what you do well, i.e., games.

Furthermore, because of our higher than average intelligence, we destroy normal people at the games which makes them not want to play with us.
LOL! You stereotype yourself.

I was thinking we need a battle cry to get over the first-mover dilemma in terrorist situations and "Let's Roll!" was as good as any. Now I'm thinking it should be "Leeeeeroy Jjjjjjenkins!"

Do nerds like games? I'm a computer programmer and I hate games while presumably every jock likes games.

"they are terrified of making social mistakes".
Really? Gamer culture has a certain element of gleeful appreciation for "freakinig the mundanes". Further, nerds may not even know when we're making a social mistake. When I was growing up. I never hesitated to correct parents, teachers, or elders when I heard a factual mistake; that wasn't the socially ept thing to do, but it was a classically nerdish thing to do.

Hey, wait a minute! I've seen this movie. The scene in "A Beautiful Mind" in the bar where John Nash (Russell Crowe) not only figures out the rules of the game "How to Pick Up Women", but also creates the most efficient strategy for winning. Nash was a charming and handsome man who would have often succeeded whatever strategy he used, but he also took great pleasure in using his superior mental skills to increase his rate of success. If part of the definition of nerd is "way smarter than average", don't nerds love games simply because they know they have advantages over mere mortals? I would certainly enjoy basketball more if I was a foot taller.

"I think the real question is "why do nerds like really boring games?""

Because those games aren't really boring to them? (And your gaming categories are extremely superficial.)

"Then I can root canal myself to death!"

Try again, dude; my robber totally stole your dental tools during the last turn.

Is there a distinction being drawn between games involving real people in a real room, playing in full view of each other, and virtual games like MMOs which involve live people playing in a virtual realm with virtual characters represented in a virtual world (a video game environment)?

My limited experience in MMOs is that while everyone is definitely playing through their virtual characters, and the convention when communicating between players in-game is always to refer to character names and not the real players' names, blame for mistakes is almost universally assigned to the actual player and not the fictional character. In other words the convenient fiction of playing a character in a game with some elements of a narrative story doesn't seem to extend to covering incorrect behavior or mistakes that are the result of inexperience or limited skill.

Also, how does poker fit into all of this?

Isn't this a true statement?

Another explanation is that while jocks like to socialize, they are terrified of making social mistakes...Games let jocks interact socially, yet avoid mistakes via well-defined rules, and a social norm that all legal moves are “fair game.† Role-playing has less well-defined rules, but the norm there is that social mistakes are to be blamed on characters, not players.

After all, a jock out of position in violation of the rules is offsides, or illegal receiver, etc, which is a team foul because of the jock's role, not a personal foul which reflects badly on his character. In hockey, even personal fouls are acceptable because the team enforcer is expected to violently break the rules, and if he didn't play the role of out-of-control vicious rage, he would fail in his character role.

@Paul Gowder "genuinely intellectually complex games (chess, go)"

You're joking, right? Chess is boringly simple. Try a game where you have 30, 60 or more units instead of 16, many or all the units can attempt to move on the same turn, units may fail to obey your orders, units may collide with each other, there are several types of terrain and they each affact combat and movement differently, and you may not know what the enemy's objectives are or even where his units are.

"I don't like these games myself, but every now and then they are played in my place of employment"

For some reason, this made me laugh almost as hard as when I found out what was behind the "fat-fingered sumo wrestlers and what to do with them" link.

Not only am I going to work it in, but "Leeroy Jenkins" is now officially part of my lexicon.

"Man, healthcare is a mess eh?"

"No worries, Obama gonna Leeroy Jenkins that shit!"

It's such a perfect personification for the things I see every day at work. I might even institute the Leeroy Jenkins award.

And for god-sake don't let those Sumo wrestlers trade options!

"why do blacks like fried chicken?"
A better question is why some people apparently DON'T like fried-chicken.

"It just so happens that computers generally don't offer competition that is as interesting as humans."

You could say the same thing about platonic conversation. Humans are more interesting for many many things, but I think most people would agree that recognizing and applying that is in fact a type of socialization. Whether all kinds of socialization can be categorized that way is a question for philosophical debate.

More generally, however, the framework for this whole topic is not well laid out (This is not TC's most insightful post). As many contributors have well pointed out, there's rules for socialization in almost any context, and some of them are perhaps more flexible than others. So, what we observe is that people participate in varying degrees of strictness in their socialization. Besides giving a name "nerds" (which we are not sure is correct) to the people who are on the relatively stricter side, what else have we concluded?

"There is a platonic delight in a game well played, even if it against a computer."

Sometimes it's more than platonic!

.

"I endorse this explanation (I am not sure if Robin does) and I notice some testable predictions. If nerds are otherwise constrained and thus underconsuming social experiences, nerd-run games should be especially boisterous and enjoyable. Nerds should invest more resources to play these games than non-nerds will find explicable; to non-nerds the games will seem superfluous."

Like someone said, this applies to any theory explaining "why nerds like games", because... this is what liking games mean.

"Nerds should seek out games with intensely social elements."

The only non-tautological part of the prediction is that, but there is any evidence that nerds prefer poker (social game) to to “solitaire spider† or “simcity† (solitary games)?

I don't think there's an overabundance of 'nerd' gamers anymore. Maybe in the past when access was more skewed to giving nerds an access advantage.

There are some niche games that might have 'nerdier' or more 'intellectually minded' draw and those are games with a steep learning curve like Dwarf Fortress or Spring. (both of which are free, by the way. you may have to know how to operate a zip file or forward ports ;) )

Andrew, if you start working Leroy Jenkins into conversation, you might just win the Michael Scott award for Catching On to a Meme Three Years Ater Everyone Ese Did.

I think the real question is "why do nerds like really boring games?"

Well it certainly makes for a more qualified question.

"while nerds like to socialize, they are terrified of making social mistakes"

These theory does not make much sense - I think the definition of "nerd" is largely "person who prefers intellectual achievement to popularity and social acceptance"; then, almost by definition, "nerds" can't be "terrified of making social mistakes".

[Being a Portuguese, I don't know the exact meaning of the word "nerd" - probably there is not an "exact meaning" -, but similar Portuguese words have the meaning that I stated above]

Nerds or geeks as they call it, do like playing RPG games as they can be whoever they like. They have problems socially in the real world; they are often bullied by those “normal† ones. But now look at those behind the startup companies in the internet, they are mostly tech geeks.

"Games let nerds interact socially, yet avoid mistakes via well-defined rules, and a social norm that all legal moves are “fair game.†"

All "games" are structured social interaction. They are utilized by all people, regardless of whether they are nerds or jocks or other. Jocks use sports: baseball, basketball, golf etc to structure their interactions because they have a more natural affinity towards games involving athleticism. Nerds use games involving the use of their brain.

People naturally migrate toward things that they are good at. I see this all the time with children. My nephew is a natural athlete. He can spend hours after school just shooting baskets in his driveway. When I encourage my oldest son (a self-described "nerd", but decent athlete) to play basketball, he turns it into an elaborate game within 10 minutes. Like all nerds, he continuously wants to exercise his brain as well as his body. I did the same thing. I would expect that It's no different with other nerds.

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