If you watch any high school movie from the 1980s, the odds are good that you’ll see a few tropes that feel downright antiquated. The bullies are almost universally “jocks,” obsessed with sports and invariably brawny. The nerdy protagonists are often scrawny and more concerned with comic books and video games than anything relating to the real world.
However, in the past 20 years, the paradigm has shifted. Now, it’s stranger for someone to not play at least some video games or to not have even passing knowledge of the biggest superheroes. What the heck happened? How did everything nerdy become so cool?
Let’s start by looking at what makes something “nerdy”. Historically, this term has been reserved for things like superhero comics, video games, and computer science. However, some would argue that you can be a “nerd” for anything particularly deep and arcane, including baseball stats, fantasy football teams, and even pursuits like gardening and painting.
All it takes to be a “nerd,” it seems, is a deep intellectual passion for a very niche subject. So, what made the pursuits once considered “uncool” become the de facto forces behind pop culture? Well, for one thing, the “nerds” grew up.
Kids in the 70s and 80s loved comic books and cartoons. Some kids “grew out” of these pursuits and got into sports, while others became computer geeks and learned how to code, program, and even build their own computers. Those “dorky” kids rule the entire planet now. Google is in the process of conquering the world, Amazon can sell you any item under the sun, and Microsoft makes everything from the computer you use to Google stuff and the Xbox you use to play video games.
That’s not to say one has to pursue computer science to be successful, of course! However, the impact of tech companies on the modern world can’t be overstated. In short, the nerds won. Now, the pursuits that were once seen as undesirable have become markers of potential future affluence.
One more thing is driving the overwhelming success of modern video games and superhero culture: these things are great! Who doesn’t want to escape to a fantasy world where they can be the best, the strongest, the savior of humanity? Once you stop worrying about how people will perceive you for enjoying the media you like, you open yourself up to a wide world of amazing storytelling.
And it turns out that people really love stories. The rest, as they say, is history.