Consuming traditionally “geeky” media has never been more popular. Cinemas worldwide treat us to:
Annual Star Wars releases
New spin-offs of Harry Potter
Marvel and DC hero team-ups
Blockbusters based on kids’ toys
Some movie franchises have grown so sprawling and complex that fan-created wikis are necessary to make sense of them. And the depths of the analyses and hunts for hidden references carried out on fan sites make it clear that dragons and caped crusaders appeal to more than just children.
In recent years, among the top 10 highest-grossing movies globally, most of the films targeting adults were squarely in the realm of comic books, sci-fi, or fantasy. Each film in these genres took in at least 700 million dollars globally.1
Some people even go beyond casual fandom, and actively participate in “geek culture.” This could mean collecting comic books, playing fantasy board games, or even engaging in live action role playing—often in costume2. The largest role playing events worldwide call thousands of participants to adventure every year3.
To the outsider who hasn’t devoted years to becoming an expert on manga, or building up a collection of model spaceships, these interests can seem odd or pointless. Why invest so much in activities so disconnected from everyday life?
As it turns out, these kinds of activities are vital to those who engage in them. According to psychologists who study geek culture, there are three key benefits to immersing oneself in it2:
1. Fandom is an outlet for creativity
Mainstream media has been criticized for being both passive and generic2. If you are a person with an active imagination, geek culture provides an attractive alternative where you can express your creativity. Why sit in front of the television and passively consume what millions of others are watching, when you can go outside and use your imagination in a live action role-playing game?
Indeed, people who are more creative and open to new experiences tend to seek out geek culture2.
2. Fantasy worlds allow people to live large
Many people feel entitled to success, praise, and admiration. Yet the harsh reality is that not everyone achieves that level of success in life. By identifying with a superhero, or by role-playing a powerful character, an individual can experience success in the fantasy realm.
In support of this theory, researchers have found that the combination of a high sense of self, feelings of depression, and enjoyment of fantasy predicts the degree to which someone engages in geek culture2.
3. Geek culture provides a sense of belonging
Everyone needs social connection and a sense of belonging. Geek culture provides a haven for people who have experienced social rejection, and a community for individuals with solitary or obscure interests.
Fan communities serve as both support system and validation of one’s interests and passions4,5. In geek culture as in life more broadly, people report closest ties with those who share their specific interests2.
Why live the geek life? It allows a person to be who they want to be, express themselves creatively, and connect with like-minded others. That might mean crafting a pirate captain identity, coming up with a striking name for your ship, and attending “revels” with your fellow scallywags… or simply obsessing over a fantasy show with other fans.
Whichever way you geek, your positivity and wellbeing are likely to level up.
1Guerrasio, J. (2016, Dec 29). The 10 highest-grossing movies of 2016, ranked. Business Insider.
2McCain, J., Gentile, B., & Campbell, W.K. (2015). A psychological exploration of engagement in geek culture. PLoS ONE, 10, e0142200.
3Conquest 2018 – Allgemeine informationen. http://www.live-adventure.de
4Watkins, K., Kaplanidou, K., & Ko, Y.J. Attachment to a team and emotional well being: a case of Division IA collegiate basketball fans. Marketing Association Conference, Atlanta, GA.
5Reysen, S., & Branscombe, N.R. (2010). Fanship and fandom: Comparisons between sport and non-sport fans. Journal of Sport Behavior, 33, 176-193.