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Over the past few decades a major shift took place with respect to the definition of ‘nerdy’ and the perception of society towards it. Throughout this development, an amplitude of games which used to be considered nerdy have become mainstream, with some of them becoming absolute blockbusters.
There is probably nothing that exemplifies the Rise of the Nerds paradigm better than the incredible development that the eSports industry went through in the past fifteen years. While at the beginning of the millennium videogame competitions were mainly held between amateurs, it was estimated that over seventy million people watched competitive gaming in 2013.
With the surge of streaming services such as Twitch, this number has almost doubled over the past two years, making it a $612 million market. Games can hardly be considered geeky anymore, given the impressive wage gaming streamers like PewDiepie can make. The Swede allegedly made over 7 million dollars in 2014, and recently reached over 10 billion(!) total views on his YouTube channel.
Not too shabby, making 7 figures by broadcasting stuff like this
Many ascribe the rise in popularity of nerdy games and franchises to shows like The Big Bang Theory, but when looking at the growth of the sector before the show started in 2007, TBBT is more likely to be a result of the movement rather than a catalyst.
They did probably contribute to the growth of the following for games like The Settlers of Catan (or Catan, for short), which was featured in the 100th episode of the show back in 2012. The 1995 game has almost sold 25 million copies in 30 different languages and can unquestionably not be considered geeky anymore, as Catan is starting to become the most popular board game since Risk and Monopoly.
(The Settlers of Catan, contender for the worldwide #3 spot of board games)
This is not the only example of modern cinematography driving the success of nerdy games. Movies like Rain Man and 21 revived the popularity of the 500 year old game Blackjack. The latter, which hinged on the book Bringing Down The House, is based on the experience of the MIT Blackjack Team, and showed how something as geeky as learning blackjack strategy can be cool.
Another card game that was cultivated by the shift of public perception is unmistakably Magic the Gathering. It is hard to believe that a card game from the late 90s could gain a 20 million people following in the midst of video game development, and despite the huge leaps the gaming industry made in the past 15 years, Magic continues to thrive in an improbable manner.
Undoubtedly, the development of CGI and filming technology in general has contributed significantly to the rising popularity of nerdy games. Although the decrepit special effects of old and low-budget movies can definitely have their charm, there is no denying that enhanced, more realistic graphics blew open the doors for fantasy and science-fiction franchises to reach the mainstream public.
(Gates of Argonath from The Lord of the Rings)
It is hard to conceive that the The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter films would have been nearly as successful as they are without the epic visuals through which the books have materialized. One would almost go as far as to say that the decreased level of imagination necessary for enjoying fantasy entertainment facilitated the genre’s avalanche into the heads of the general population.
Inevitably, the popularity of such epochs gave a rise to an amplitude of games, both digital and physical. The same can be said for the Game Of Thrones franchise, which is likely the best example of the nerdy-gone-mainstream-success phenomenon.
Despite winning several fantasy awards right after the publication of the first novel A Song of Ice and Fire, the epic only truly started to surge after HBO broadcasted the first season of the TV show. It is now being shown in 170 countries and has led to the production of a wealth of card games, board games, role-playing games, and, of course, video games.
The same could be said about the Marvel franchise, which was undeniably a nerd-associated endeavor for a long time. The company that released four reasonably successful movies throughout the entire 90s is now squeezing three or four blockbusters per year. Unsurprisingly, an amplitude of games accompanied the development and one does not need to have any superpowers to predict that this trend is set to continue.
Although some of the old-school nerdy game fans are not very pleased with the rise of popularity of their used-to-be underground franchises, the capital influx into their favorite brands and companies enables these entities to develop more, and grander, games.
While the acquisition of LucasArts by Disney encountered major criticism at first, it is hard to deny that these inevitable takeovers can only enhance the genre in general. Hence, the movement should only be supported by all fans, since for every former-underground game that goes mainstream, more and more doors will open for new and smaller franchises.