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The Rise of Nerd Culture

Updated: Mar 20, 2023


At nearly every gathering of people from The Story School community, someone is bound to mention the word “nerd” and say it with pride. We all have our own understanding of the term but what does it really mean?


The word “nerd” is often used to conjure images of pocket protectors and suspenders worn by shy folks hiding behind thick glasses in a gigantic computer room with reels of tape whirring, hefty textbooks at the ready, and rows of electronic status lights blinking away. Dictionaries define the term as boring, socially awkward, lacking in style, and obsessed with studying some academic subject or an area that is outside of the mainstream. So where does the pride that we hear associated with the term come from? What makes us so fantastic?

According to Paul Spanagel, our Curriculum Coordinator, we’re of the ilk in the last category: hyper-focused on areas that―at least at one time―were out of the ordinary. “People have passionate interests in not necessarily mainstream activities,” Paul explained and added his own examples like, “reading books about dragons when you’re a teen," or "medieval history.”

The term's stigma however is rapidly dissipating. Today's kids are not only more likely to accept being one but are celebrating the culture. Kids and families are on the lookout for nerdy activities, as well as being on the lookout for other nerdy people, who used to be few and far between.

Haley Mosher, our Camp Director, observed “A lot of nerd culture is in the mainstream now because of the digital age.” Early in the application of the term, it was applied to those individuals interested in computers. Keep in mind that this is back in the days when PCs were considered arcane and required heavy technical knowledge. Many films and TV shows have also contributed to the ever-growing popularity of the culture.

Imaginative stories involving science, heroism, and cultures of other times and forgotten places have long fascinated us. Haley noticed that “Fantasy novels are some of the biggest sections of libraries for young adults and on social media, fantasy sci-fi is recommended for age 25 and younger.”

Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy of novels has been popular with nerds since its publication in 1954, but perceptions have evolved. Paul remarked that the film adaptations "won big in awards, it was a super niche before, but now, if you haven’t seen [the films], how did you miss that?” He adds that “As comics become mainstream, it becomes more essential to popular culture, so you at least have to know who the characters and stories are, and the most important quotes.”

“Comic-Cons are huge,” says Haley. “Superhero franchises are huge. Comic-Cons first appeared in the 1970s and had a hundred people. Now it’s hard to get tickets. Going to these events gives privileges to attendees, you get to see previews of movies, TV shows, books, games, scripts.” There are even gaming conventions now like PAX East.

Paul reasoned that “Computer literacy is necessary for basic survival. If we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that computers are a way to allow or increase communication between people rather than the ‘me and my computer alone’ thing, because the computer is how we can spend time with people. Social media is the means by which you stay up-to-date and most houses have gaming consoles.”

Nerdy gaming is not limited to computers and gaming consoles though. As the culture continues to grow in popularity there are even more ways to play games that might have once been deemed too geeky. Haley noted “many games, you can play on your phone or iPad.” Even in the world of live-action and tabletop board games, Haley discerned that “D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] got more popular after [a popular Netflix show] provided some visibility.” Apparently, some people had thought it was satanic, and the show cleared up that misconception. Paul believes that the show "succeeded because we had started to embrace the culture: the kids are participating in the AV Club and [one character] works at Radio Shack.”


So how does this all tie back to us? What is our place in the wide wide nerddom?

Haley’s riposte is to the point: “We fight with swords!” Our story-based educational summer camps started in 2008, but additionally “we take aspects of mainstream media, like Minecraft [and translate the game style and mechanics into our own version of] birthday parties. Today you’re a knight, a hero, and this is your moment to shine. Give that kid a sword!” Of course, we mean foam swords for our story-based games or foils and masks for fencing sports.

Fun fact: Guard Up, the parent company of Guardian Adventures and The Story School, didn’t start out nerdy. Paul and Guard Up founder Meghan Gardner recalled that it was initially just martial arts and fencing, more of a sports company. Meghan specified, “We didn't add the story-based classes, events, and camps until my daughters became interested in the concept.” Paul pointed out that Meghan created stories so her daughters could become strong women and people could be heroes. “That was the real pivot,” he discerned.

Paul said “We started from a place of acknowledging that things we do are fringe activities, [‘nerd’ is] a term of respect and passion, not a condemnation. It became a safer word to use.”

The word was once used to imply an exclusive, elite, or closed-off group of individuals but those of us here at The Story School know the truth: true nerds are inclusive and love sharing their passions. So, here’s to being understood and understanding all other types of heroes. Let’s hear a hearty huzzah for our wonderfully nerdy community. HUZZAH!



April Break is less than two weeks away but that doesn't mean your young hero's education needs to come to a screeching halt.

Our Virtual Spring Break Adventure will keep them learning, laughing, and adventuring all week long! You can register online and you can always reach us by phone (781-214-1174) or email with any questions.

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