By Brian Boyko
“D20 is a horrible menace and must be stopped!”
Yes, I’ve written those words – or something quite like them – and quite regret them. Partially because d20 is not a horrible menace, partially because it engenders a level of relative urgency and loathing that are absurd when talking about d20, and because no one outside of a subgroup of a subgroup gives a toss whether they know what d20 is or not.
But for a few years – years! – I thought that d20 was evil and horrible.
Most of you are wondering what the heck this “d20″ is. Well, d20 is the base system behind a number of roleplaying games, most notably, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5th edition.
It is no secret that the technically inclined – geeks for short – are often stubborn, opinionated and do not move from an idea. This is doubly true either when discussing a technical solution or choosing a particular roleplaying game to play. For the same reason.
Growing up, geeks are shunned, ostracized. The best explanation I’ve ever heard came from Paul Graham. School is a popularity contest. People pick on nerds because nerds are too worried about other, important things (whether science, literature, or science-fiction literature…) to really participate in what is clearly a counterproductive and pointless game. The less than popular kids then pick on nerds in order to make sure there’s someone else at the bottom of the popularity pack.
But a side-effect of this is that people who don’t want to be seen as nerds will often hold back the “right” answer out of fear of being seen as too smart. In other situations, the “nerd” really is the only one in the class who knows the answer to the question. In either case, smart people become used to – even expecting – being the ones who are right, when everyone else around them is wrong.
This often serves geeks well – because often, smart people do have the answers when conventional wisdom fails. It can also be detrimental.
There’s a Russian proverb. “If nine sober men say you are drunk, perhaps it’s time to sit down.” Smart people, however, are often used to situations where they are told that they are wrong by large numbers of people only to be proven right at the end. So it is no wonder that “geeks” often hold onto an idea – especially one where they’re in a position of expert knowledge – far beyond the point that is normal. Indeed, one of the problems with learning to stick to your guns because you’re usually right is that you have a tendency to stick to your guns even when you’re wrong.
This is not to say that smartness causes stubbornness. I’m sure everyone can think of people who are stubborn and dumb. (No political jokes, please.)
But it does cause geeks to continually defend their positions on esoteric topics. The latest battleground in the Linux flamewars is not even Linux vs. Windows, but Red Hat Linux vs. Oracle Linux. Younger and less experienced “geeks” often compare and contrast the capabilities of the three major video game consoles, flamewars erupt between Nvidia and ATI graphic card solutions – as well as which router to choose, which company to purchase vendor equipment from, which programming language to use to develop the Web app…
It’s no different with “the geek hobbies,” which include wondering if Superman could beat the Hulk in a fight, or – in my case, arguing that the d20 system was “inferior” because it “promoted a style of game play that discouraged complex characterization and plot,” and that the d20 system in particular, which could be used by third-party companies much like the FreeBSD license, was being ported to so many games that it could “take over the gaming industry” and “drive away fresh faces from the hobby.”
What can I say. I was young. Stupid. I mean, I was only 24!
And I was a geek, absolutely certain in my reasoning, and convinced those who opposed me “simply didn’t get it.”
So if you’re wondering why geeks get into massive flamewars over everything, and why IT staff will often not budge on using their preferred tools, try to understand that they’re used to being right.
Hopefully, this column will give you some idea of your IT team’s thought process whenever you encounter fierce resistance from them, or why they might often fingerpoint and blame the network when it’s the server, the server when it’s the application, and the application when it’s the network… and will defend that view until they’re flat out proven wrong.
But take it with a grain of salt. After all, I could be wrong.
Brian Boyko is Editor of Network Performance Daily, and invites you to create characters for his next Hero system game Sunday, April 15th, 1:30 p.m. at Thor’s Hammer in Austin. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.