“I remember the glossy half page images of men holding tape measures standing behind immaculately painted armies. It was freeing to think that this was a way to grow up, that it was okay to live like this.”
I, Nerd, by Max Sydney Smith, tells the story of a few months in the life of twenty-seven year old Robin who, every Sunday, plays the Game at a small club on the top floor of a converted warehouse. He does not consider his fellow club members to be actual friends but, other than his housemates, he rarely sees any other people outside of work. He may not feel lonely but does feel alone. He is unsure how to act when around others, particularly girls he is attracted to – when he tries to talk to them they rarely show interest.
“It is hard not to look at them but I know I must not look at them because I know they do not want to be looked at … they do want to be looked at, a certain way, sometimes, by some people, but it is not me, no it is not me that they want to look at them.”
When the members are told that the Game club is closing due to the warehouse and its surrounding area being redeveloped, they decide to enter the National Masters Tournament as a team in an attempt to leave some sort of mark. Robin knows he is one of the worst players in the group. He is still to be included. Although excited at the prospect of taking part in something he has been avidly reading about since he was a young teenager, Robin is anxious about the dishonour he might bring on the club by association.
“Bilbo was right when he said it was a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
In the weeks leading up to the tournament, Robin is offered tactical advice by fellow club members. On the day, however, he must play on his own and live with the consequences of his choices.
The author takes the reader inside the mind of a young man whose interests are niche and often mocked by those who do not understand the draw and escapism offered by Warhammer. Robin is not entirely obsessed by the Game but it provides an imaginative outlet for what would otherwise be a bland existence.
“I push back going to sleep, because to go to sleep is to wake up and to wake up is to go to work.”
Robin understands how his interest is perceived. He has been dealing with the fickle nature of most people’s hobbies, their concerns for how they are seen, since his school days. Those who also attend the club are shown to be individuals, there to partake although with differing priorities when it comes to building their armies. Beyond the Game, they have little in common.
The build up to the tournament draws the reader into this world, providing a vivid depiction of modern life through the lens of a young man who is not naturally sociable but would like to be. The denouement is skilfully rendered, offering a moment Robin can savour in a life shadowed by doubt – ‘feelings of uselessness and anxiety about what I am supposed to do with my life’. Pleasingly, this fits with crowd behaviour and the various characters’ prior development.
Although short – a mere 66 pages – the story told is complete and satisfying. Robin’s interest in the Game may be particular but the life he leads is an empathetic example of so many contemporary twenty-somethings whose day to day travails are different to previous generations – however little understood this might be by their elders.
A window into a world that some may mock for reasons they themselves should probably question. A perceptive, piquant and poignant read that I highly recommend.
I, Nerd is published by Open Pen.