Fantasy football and the pillars of geekdom

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Like millions of other people across this great land of ours, my wife and I spent a few hours of our weekend drafting our fantasy football teams. I'm not going to regale/bore you with the details of my team (ahem, Aaron Rodgers, Wes Welker, Ray Rice), but while we sorted through hundreds of available players to craft our perfect team, I couldn't help thinking about how similar it was to any of the other knowledge-intensive, resource management-heavy, time-consuming games I've played. Unlike most (okay, all) of those games, fantasy football is wildly popular, but it got me wondering if there is really any difference. When you come right down to it, is fantasy football a "geek" thing?

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It has, after all, been described as "Dungeons and Dragons for jocks." Of course, it's also a sports thing, and everyone knows that sports aren't geeky at all (unless you count competitive video gaming as a sport, in which case, okay, that's pretty geeky). Then again, it's not the kind of sports thing that helps you get laid -- seriously, try chatting up your next crush by telling them about your fantasy football team, and see how far that gets you. So when it comes to fantasy football, or any other possibly geeky activity, what separates the geek from the non-geek?

It's easy to slip into tautology here, and just say that geek things are things that geeks like, or that geeks are people who like geeky things. Easy enough, yes, but not terribly helpful. It's also easy to apply the old Supreme Court obscenity approach: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. Also easy, also not helpful. Luckily, we're geeks, and geeks are good at figuring stuff out.

Take a look at all the things that are comfortably, indisputably geeky -- role-playing games, science-fiction movies, comic books, science, math, computers -- and it's easy to see they have some things in common. Most important, they are all activities that primarily engage the imagination and intellect. So we can say that geek things are intellectual and/or imagination-based things -- geeks like to use their heads, in other words. Simple enough, really, and hard to dispute.

The other main component of geekiness is, in my opinion, obsession. What really sets us apart from non-geeks is our tendency to dive deep and fall hard when it comes to things we love. It's why not terribly geeky activities tend to borrow our nomenclature when describing their own obsessives. For example, while music is not itself a terribly geeky endeavour (plenty of great music is aggressively anti-intellectual, to utilize our first parameter of geekiness), when someone becomes obsessed with a band or genre or just with music itself, no one thinks twice about calling him a "music geek." And when it comes to geeks and geek stuff? Forget about it! You'll never meet a self-identified geek who merely dabbles in a particular cup of geek. When we do it, we do it big.

Science-fiction geeks who read little else and own hundreds of books. Role-playing geeks who have more dice than clothing and who have memorized so much of their preferred games system they can easily play without having any of the rulebooks on hand. Horror geeks who can argue indefinitely why slow zombies are superior to fast zombies, using both science and a plethora of film references to back up their arguments. These are stereotypes, certainly, but they're stereotypes that ring true because they are true. Someone who reads Dune isn't a geek, even though it's easy to accept that Dune is a geek thing. Someone who's read every novel in the expanded Dune universe, and has strong opinions about how the books that came out after author Frank Herbert died compare to those he wrote himself, and maybe can point out parallels between Dune and Star Wars? That's a geek. It's not just the subject matter, it's how you relate to it. Take something that's intellectual and/or imaginal, and treat it like it's as important as life and death, and boom, you've got your recipe for geek.

So, does fantasy football fit the bill? Well, it's a statistics-based game that rewards intensive knowledge of the relative abilities of hundreds of players on 32 different teams. You do it sitting in front of a computer. During the season, hardcore fans spend more time on their fantasy teams than on their job, and if you engage one of them in a discussion of the activity your eyes will glaze over and you will wish you were dead within ten minutes as they bury you under a ceaseless avalanche of details about their team, their strategy, their bad beats and more stuff that matters to no one who isn't similarly obsessed. That sounds pretty goddamn geeky, doesn't it?

There you have it -- despite its association with a jock activity like football, fantasy football (and other fantasy sports, for that matter) is a geek thing. So now you dyed-in-the-wool geeks can feel okay about playing fantasy football (seriously, so much fun, even if you give zero fucks about real football) -- and you nerd-fearing sports dudes will just have to accept that you are, in fact, fucking geeks. Now that you've accepted it, who wants to learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons?

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