What makes a geek a geek? I've been one all my life, and while I've always been able to blend in with the "normal" crowd, I've never really been a part of it. What is it that keeps me and thousands of other geeks separate from the rest of humanity? What is the differentiating quality that makes someone a geek?
I've spent more time thinking about this than is probably healthy, and the answer I've come up with is that geeks have the will to imagine.
Growing up, my friends and I were constantly occupied with creating whole worlds, populated with fantastic and unbelievable creatures. Massive space ships powering through gas giants to refuel, swamp-dwelling gator-mutants waiting for victims, dimension-hopping movie junkies landing on Earth for cheap thrills, every page of my old sketch books teems with stories begging to be told. Peek into the nearest geek's book shelf (we always have book shelves!) and you'll see tome after tome of imaginative fiction, whether it be murders on the orient express, hard military science fiction battles, dragon-riddled high fantasy, alternate history, role playing game rule books, old computer game boxes, or you name it.
A normal person looks at these and dismisses them as insignificant, simple entertainment. But I would argue that in fact these are all tools, tools that enable the geek to express and exercise that "will to imagine". Geeks are constantly creating in their minds, constantly thinking not about what is, but what could be. That's why we so often neglect our physical appearance, or seem to be socially awkward. These are not defects or deficits, they are trade-offs of the trivial now for the far more important elsewhen. Regular people are left with only one reality -- this one, the one we actually live in. The geek has no such limits. Yes, we marry and have babies, get hired and hold down jobs, but the critical distinction for us is that there is more!
The will to imagine is a geek's defining characteristic. I can feel it almost instantly when I meet someone, that constant simmering in the back of the mind of plots, stories, characters, new worlds that is the geek's constant companion. Fantasy sports, I think, scratch the same itch. It's a way for people who have lost their inner geek to play around with "What if" in a way that's tied to everyday reality, a way that's not so scary as creating complete worlds from whole cloth. Computer games are the same way, short baby steps into the world of the geek, the first stirrings of that will to imagine.
And ultimately, that's what makes HeroMachine work. It's a tool that allows people to exercise their will to imagine in a tangible, visible way. It's a wonderful, liberating, satisfying feeling, one that's long been known to geeks the world over with our pen and paper role playing games, our massive action-figure populated movie scenes, our drawings and writings.
To all the geeks reading this, I salute you. Be proud of your will to imagine. Exercise it, revel in it, give expression to it, because it is what makes you great.