UMBC’s faltering nerd-centered culture
Students live action roleplaying on the UMBC campus after hours. Photo by Ian Feldmann.

UMBC’s faltering nerd-centered culture

UMBC likes to promote its “nerdy” culture. It is an identity that separates UMBC from other schools in the University of Maryland system. Other schools may emphasize their athletic programs or be larger in population or campus size, but they lack the geek culture UMBC boasts.

Looking back on past Facebook and myUMBC events show plenty of evidence of this. There are records and memories of highly attended events ranging from Harry Potter book releases to well-organized trips to see Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Today, however, the official Student Events Board schedule for the semester seems to be conspicuously missing certain events. For instance, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is hitting theaters this December, yet there are no University-sponsored events around the film being advertised.

This seems to be more of an effect than a root cause. Sources in SEB report that in many cases, the “nerdy” events like game nights are often poorly attended, making them less emphasized than more popular events.

Despite this apparent down-tick in public involvement, most nerd-specific clubs are as strong as ever. According to UMBC Gaming Club President, Caleb Knoll, a junior studying mechanical engineering, the reason for the apparent shift away from nerd culture is more superficial than worrisome.

For instance, he points out that a lot of nerd-activities are quiet and inside, making the average meeting of Gaming Club far less noticeable than “people playing football on Erickson Field.” He claims that events run by Gaming Club, such as their recent Dungeons and Dragons meet and greet, had “a huge turnout” in spite of the lackluster attendance at similar events, and cites evolving nerd-culture as a reason for this.

Going out to see a movie, such as Star Wars, is no longer a cornerstone of geek life the way it had been previously. There seems to be a shift towards interactions with online mediums, with nerdy friends coming together to watch something on Netflix rather than going to a theater.

This has several implications, one of which is that, in many ways, geek culture no longer needs the institutional support it may have once had. A lot of geek life is now more personal than it had been previously. Some examples being the sort of modding and personal touches someone will add to a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards, the cosplays made for conventions or even the Nerf guns used in games like Humans Versus Zombies. In many cases, the university would not only be getting a poor return for this sort of investment, but that investment would defeat the purpose of the hobby.

Ultimately, Caleb points out that “nerd culture was popular for a while” and now it is not so much. It is sliding somewhat outside of mainstream popular culture, and back into a more niche lifestyle. It makes sense, then, that UMBC’s culture has similarly shifted away from the showy and social nerd-activities, to more private and unassuming ones.