Everyone teamed up and made this rug together. It was pretty jokes. Everyone teamed up and made this rug together. It was pretty jokes. The rug that a thousand Nerdfighters made at Nerdcon. It was pretty jokes. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss / From the Grapevine)

What Nerdfighters are like in person

This massive online subculture has only ever existed online ... until now.

Thick glasses. Artsy haircuts. Pizza-related tee shirts. Thousands of nerds from a mega online subculture gathered for the first time last weekend, and I was there.

Ten years ago, brothers John and Hank Green started what would eventually become Nerdfighteria, a group that brought together many mega fandoms (especially Harry Potter). Nerdfighteria has since grown into a subculture with millions of members. Nerdfighters pour over and participate in the Green brothers' many projects, including novels ("The Fault in Our Stars"), songs, vlogs, podcasts, charity fundraisers and educational videos. This highly active world has existed mostly in pixels and servers ... until now.

Thousands came to Boston last weekend for the first-ever NerdCon: Nerdfighteria and, for the first time, many Nerdfighters met each other in person. Here's what they were like.

expo hall nerdfighters vlogbrothersThe expo hall. It felt a lot like a university student organization fair. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

Everyone was almost unusually polite. I once went to a gathering of introverts in which everyone sat in a circle and quietly listened as one person spoke at a time. There were copious moments of comfortable silence. At one point, the participants talked about how much they hated clubbing. One guy said he liked it; everyone was bewildered.

Nerdcon reminded me a little of that meet-up. I can't say I ran enough psychological screenings to determine that Nerdfighters are usually introverted (I'd have to run at least, you know, one), but that was definitely the vibe. People didn't often go out of their way to be outgoing, but whenever I struck up a conversation, the people I talked to were usually happy to share a snapshot of their world with me.

One woman told me she felt more comfortable at Nerdcon than anywhere else, and I think I know what she meant. Talking to a stranger is often awkward, like there's a tiny film of disconnectedness between the two of you. But people I talked to at Nerdcon treated me like I was already an acquaintance.

Even the shy ones seemed eager to try and socialize. One guy recognized me from a discussion we both attended earlier that morning. We started chatting and ended up walking to the next activity together, at which point he confessed that he was having social anxiety over talking with me and promptly left to join his friends.

Some of the overall friendliness and goodwill had to do with the sense of community you get when thousands of fans get together. But I think there was something deeper there, something to do with shared values.

"Most of my friends are casual nerdfighters (as am I), and I have to say, it's pretty nice," explained Israeli Nerdfighter Neta Tropp, a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Nerdfighters, I find, more than anything, share a set of values that happen to ring true with me – fairness, human rights, and doing good."

Nerdfighters come from all over, but they see the world in a similar way, one that John and Hank represented and perhaps even helped some of them shape. And that meant everyone was on the same team.


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What Nerdfighters are like in person
The kingdom of Nerdfighters: This massive online subculture has only ever existed online ... until now.