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Byte me: IT geeks in video games

What do you think when you hear the term ‘IT geek’? Is the image you conjure in your head of an overweight and bespectacled male, someone who lives an unhealthy lifestyle in terms of diet and exercise, prone to talking in excessively-technical terms and leaving crumbs all over the keyboards of their colleagues?

That’s the stereotype used in The Moment of Silence, a point-and-click from 2004 by House of Tales that I spent around eight hours with towards the end of last year. Unfortunately I’m unable to finish it after a Windows update caused the game to stop running but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: although I’d like to see how it’s jumbled story ends at some point, its depictions of certain characters are horrible. It caused need to start thinking about how we’re portrayed in video games and I wondered if we’re always shown in a negative light?

The Moment of Silence, video game, office, advertising agency, desks, men, Peter, Bill

Bill from The Moment of Silence

Let’s start with the character who inspired this post: dear old Bill. He’s a colleague to protagonist Peter and looks after the IT equipment at the advertising agency where they work together. He’s accused of being overly protective of his server room and getting crumbs all over the keyboards around the office; and it’s revealed that his password is ‘sexmachine_bill_2044’. This is an absolutely terrible representation and Bill’s only redeeming feature is that he seems genuinely concerned about Peter’s wellbeing.

Kung Fury, man, Hackerman, 80s, mullet, glasses

Hackerman from Kung Fury

Move over, Guybrush: there’s a new geek crush in town. Although he’s from the short film rather than the game itself, Hackerman is worthy of a spot on today’s list because I think I’m in love. His computer skills are so legendary that he can even hack time and without him on Kung Fury’s team, they may not have been able to travel back to defeat Kung Führer’s Nazi army. Take a look at this video if you want to see how he did it and to quote the man himself: with great processing power comes great responsibility. Swoon.

Day of the Tentacle, Remastered, video game, boy, geek,nerd, Bernard Bernoulli, laundrette

Bernard Bernoulli from the Maniac Mansion series

Bernard is a much-loved protagonist from a well-known series but it’s impossible to say he’s an entirely positive description of someone who’s good with IT. He may be the most useful character in the original game with more technical skills than the other kids, fixing both the telephone and radio; but he lacks guts, is easily terrified and carries his pens in a pocket protector at all times. Although you might be able to forgive Maniac Mansion as it was released in 1987, it’s a bad stereotype we’re bored of.

Thimbleweed Park, video game, kitchen, Delores Edmund, girl

Delores Edmund from Thimbleweed Park

Who wants to run a pillow-factory when you can work for a famous developer and make adventure games? Delores decided to follow her dreams despite the risk of being disowned by her family, and it’s this courage which makes her one of the best things about Thimbleweed Park. Not only is she highly intelligent, teaching herself to code and having a poster of Ada Lovelace in her bedroom; she’s also warm and friendly, and wants to do the right thing for her town. Now that’s just the kind of hero we need.

Metal Gear Solid, video game, man, coat, glasses, Octacon

Octacon from the Metal Gear Solid series

Chief engineer Hal Emmerich, better known as Octacon, is a computer programming whiz and devoted fan of anime. He was initially planned to look different as the original idea for the character was to make him ‘heavier, wearing a cap and programming while eating a chocolate bar’; but it’s thanks to Yoji Shinkawa for ignoring yet another tired trope from Hideo Kojima. Saying that though, Octacon’s history still contains an affair with his stepmom so I guess originality didn’t win completely.

Until Dawn, video game, male, teenager, Chris Hartley

Chris Hartley from Until Dawn

While playing Until Dawn for Halloween this year, there was only one character I really wanted to save – and I’m pleased to say he made it to the ends credits in our playthrough. Chris is awesome. He may love technology, be lost without an internet connection and want to be an app designer, but he doesn’t let his geekiness be the only thing that defines him. The best thing about him is how much he cares about his friends: he risks his life for him on several occasions and can even sacrifice himself for Ashley. She’s one lucky girl.

So it seems as though the representation of IT geeks is the same as any other in video games: many are positive while others are simply awful. As discussed by Ed Fear at AdventureX last month, stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing because they give players a handhold and let them know something about a protagonist immediately. But it’s important for developers to build on that and make their characters more than a trope, because that’s where the power to change opinions comes from.

I’d love to hear how you think you’re represented in games. Are there any characters you feel are positive role models, or are there any that you hate?

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Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

12 thoughts on “Byte me: IT geeks in video games Leave a comment

  1. Enjoyable read. Struggling to think of any game characters involved in banking or finance that aren’t cliched Bond like villains. Apparently money corrupts people 🤷🏼‍♂️

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  2. Huh, I can’t think of any teachers in video games. Maybe some Japanese video games have teachers in their slice of life based games, but I don’t enjoy such games or only very few (such as Clannad). But whilst there are numerous mentor figures in gaming, I just can’t think of any that are teachers in our sense of modern mass education.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The teacher in Escape from Monkey Island instantly comes to my mind. But she clearly was a stereotype of the “old woman who became teacher although she doesn’t like kids”.

      Other than that, you have a fair amount of non-school teachers (basically every old guy from a fighting tutorial has been your fighting instructor for years) and some characters who are teachers (mostly side characters, and most often in the game’s “magic academy”). But you’re right, from the to of my head, I can’t think of a character who’s a teacher and where being a teacher is an important part of them…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Then again, if we think about it through the lens of a video game and gameplay: Why would it be important to be a teacher in a video game? It doesn’t give you any immidiate skills or “rights” that you can use in a video game (to be clear: I’m not saying teachers have no skills!).

        A soldier can shoot and fight, you can perfectly translate this into video games. Mechanics, woodworkers, or any other technical job: they can build stuff, so it’s not too far fetched to have them encounter, and to some extend understand foreign/alien machinery. Private detectives or investigative journalists both have special authorisation to stuff their noses in things that “normal” people have no business in. Plus, it makes sense to have them in deduction based games.

        Also, for a more story-based approach, the profession of a teacher does not bring anything imidiately useable to the table. Writers, psychologists or scientists (broadly speaking) all have traits that are associated with the mind, so you can weave that into stories about that.

        Of course, teachers have a broad skillset and a lot of knowledge, but to the immidiate perception, there’s nothing quite tangible about their profession. Teaching requires time and patience, both are not qualities that are “important” to media. Naturally, teachers are also perceived as intelligent, but so are a lot of other professions. So why would developers use teachers, if others are just as good and still offer more “useful” traits for their games?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, no it makes a lot of sense, and as a profession it is heavily maligned in the west… although in Eastern cultures its more valued (see which cultures perform better academically *cough*) but yes there’s very little to add. it is possible to make such a game I think based on encouraging students to develop say… (like an RPG and you encourage your students to develop skill points or something) but it is a “passive” profession in that you often just simply guide, its the student that is doing the discovery (learning). So most games do have active professions, like you mentioned a journalist (Jade, Beyond Good & Evil or Nico Collard, Broken Sword), a fighter (Master Chief, Halo) or even a *cough* archaeologist *cough (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider… sorry she’s no archaeologist!). Even scientists and researchers are largely not covered because again its a more cerebral role. The closest game I think that arrives at that is Opus Magnum and the character of Anataeus Vaya. (He may also count a little as an IT geek, since all that alchemical wizardry he’s genius at is a basic introduction to programming!)

          Liked by 1 person

          • Wait! So you’re telling me shooting Dinosaurs, Mafia goons and horrible flesh-monstrosities is NOT what an archeologist does? I need to make some phone calls 😀

            The problem with some sort of guidance system is that it would have to be super complex to reflect that all students are unique in their learning process, intelligence, mood, and hundreds other little things that factor into it. Things like that always run the risk of becoming oversimplified statistical problems, which is exactly what teaching is not (at least from my experience, which is not all that exhaustive).

            Funny enough, I had this exact problem with The Novelist, where you have to guide a family through their problems through choosing who should be happy, with whom you should compromise and who will be disappointed. From a narrative perspective, each problem was unique, and some problems seemed to be super important to certain characters, and they were devastated if you chose “against them”, while sometimes they were only slightly annoyed if you chose to make someone else happy. It was really fun to explore and find out how important the current problem was to each family member and guide them accordingly.

            But after the first chapter, it became clear that behind the scenes, every problem was exactly the same for everybody. The person you made happy gained a bonus to happiness, the person with whom you compromised stayed at the same level, and the person you chose to dissappoint fell in happiness. After figuring that out, my enjoyment was severely hampered. And teaching is infinitely more complex than simply making a few yes/no/maybe decisions for three people, and I don’t think it would be feasible to create such a complex system from scratch for what is probably a niche-game.

            I’d love to see it, though. It would be fairly interesting to look through a list of games and see which professions the important characters have. I think I will do that 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Nope lol, only dissecting cadavers and piecing together dinosaur bones… Wait no that’s a paleontologists work! 😁
              But more seriously… Is this going to be a blog post… I want to read it! Would definitely be interesting, especially if correlated to game genres! Does world saving hero and prophesized chosen one count as a job though…

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, I plan on doing a little write-up on that. There will be a lot of things to consider: Like the Prince of Persia. His “job” is being a Prince, but we never see him govern his people. Also, does being royalty count as a profession? But he fights as a soldier in his father’s wars, so I’d count him more as a soldier. Or Chell from Portal? During the games she is a test subject, an presumably earns (or earned) some money from it. As far as I know, it is implied that she is a daughter of one of the scientists, but that does not make her one, too. Unlike being a prince, this is not inheritable 🙂 I wouldn’t count world saving hero and prophesized chosen one as a profession. I’ll probably summarise people like Link and the other profession-less heroes as “Adventurer”. But I’ll have to see how much I’ll generalise while I work on the list.

                Correlating it to genres is a great idea! I’ll do that!

                Liked by 1 person

  3. My career is in IT and I often times hear something to the tone of “you’re not like an IT person at all!”

    In media, I think that most representations of any career are probably stereotyped to hell and back. After all, it makes for a more enjoyable character to actually have… character. Sometimes breaking the mold is a trope done well, but more often than not, they go too far the other way.

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    • *fellow-IT-person high-five*

      I went to AdventureX last year and saw a really interesting presentation about stereotypes. The argument given was that they aren’t necessarily a bad thing: they’re hooks that can immediately give the player something to hold on to so they know elements of a character. The developer is then provided with the opportunity to subvert their expectations. It’s when they don’t that stereotypes can potentially be a problem, because there’s a danger they can become caricatures.

      It certainly made me think about stereotypes in a different way!

      Liked by 1 person

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