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When I Knew I Was Different

Don’t laugh.

I had just joined the local Boy Scout Troop, having proudly finished my time as a Webelos and entered into full-blown scouthood. We were preparing to go on our first campout, and one of the older scouts told me they were going to be playing “Rifts” while camping.

I had no clue what that meant.

He explained to me that Rifts was like D&D, but in the future with science fiction stuff.

Blank face from me. He may as well have told me that patungas were kind like moofsits but with added potassium.

He laughed and then took me through the (arduous) process of building a character. My first RPG character was an Operator O.C.C. I don’t remember his name, but I remember that I was really good at fixing other people’s stuff, and that’s what my character did. I’m pretty sure they coaxed me into a support role so that I wasn’t up on the front line, launching mini-missiles into my party members on accident.

Point is, I discovered something that weekend. I discovered what it was like to be someone else. We played the opening adventure from Rifts Sourcebook #1, an exploration of an underground facility run by an insane Artificial Intelligence. Looking at it now, it was a trite dungeon-run. Back then, it was a revelation.

The world, as it turns out, was a hell of a lot bigger than I’d ever imagined it to be. My world could include flaming psionics, magic dragons, fairies armed with bazookas, or whatever the hell else I thought was cool. My world could, if I wanted it to, be more than just going to school, or work, or whatever, and living my little life in my little town. My world could be epic.

Having received this Good News, I then attempted to preach it. This was the greatest thing to ever happen to me, and the other kids met me with mockery and derision. “Oh,” they’d say, “You’re one of those nerds.

It was a negative thing, back then.

Since that time, I’ve played better games than Rifts. Cleaner games. Fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, the whole gamut. But in that time, the line between the people who played Rifts and the people who didn’t could not have been cleaner. There were my friends, and there was everyone else. My Boy Scout mentor, when asked about this, simply shrugged.

“Screw ‘em,” he said. “Did they manage to drop that mech with a cleverly-placed fusion block? No? Then what good are they?

And that’s how I knew. I was different.

Nerds are like that, I think. We’re people who understand that the world can be bigger, better, more interesting than what is physically real. We embrace our imaginations through our media, and to us, the idea of “reality” is nothing more than a hindrance to having a good time. There’s workarounds, and we’ve learned them.

So welcome. Welcome to Unified Nerd Theory. Welcome to the place where we explore all the ways to leave the mundane behind, because the thing that unites us is the ability to go beyond. To reach for stars that do not, in fact, exist…and then to grasp them anyways. I look forward to doing that with you.

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