Growing Up Geek: Ben Gilbert

Welcome to Growing Up Geek, a feature where we take a look back at our youth, and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. This week, we have our very own Ben Gilbert! He likes ninja turtles, obviously.

Growing Up Geek Ben Gilbert

To me, being a "geek" about something -- anything, really -- is being super, super passionate about that subject. It's that passion that drew me to documentaries like Helvetica, or King of Kong. It's that passion, witnessed in speeches and conversations with colleagues, that renews my love of video games every year I attend GDC. It's that passion that endears me to people like Stephen King and Trent Reznor. And it's that passion -- that nerdery -- that I've brought to music, journalism, and the medium of video games.

But that's always something I took for granted. My father's passion for art meant growing up in a house filled with his incredible paintings. Didn't everyone? My mother's passion for learning meant she had three degrees, including a Ph.D., despite having little financial assistance and coming from another country. Totally normal!

My point isn't to brag (though, come on, my parents are basically superheroes), but to say that the concept of being a "geek" was never a foreign one to me. Being an obsessive weirdo was always pretty normal in my family. I mean that in a good way.

Growing Up Geek Ben Gilbert

I don't remember a time before computers. Not that I'm super young (a mature 27, thank you), but rather to state that bizarre notion aloud -- something I hadn't realized before writing this. I occasionally have conversations where someone of my generation or older asks, "Isn't it weird that there are people out there who don't remember a time before mobile phones?" I agree with them, and say that, "Yeah, that is super weird. MAN." Isn't it just as weird that I don't remember never not having a computer in the place I lived? I think so.

Anyway, the result of my father's business interest in being computer literate happened to coincide with the birth of the internet. Was I the only one conducting the nightmarish computerized beeps and bloops of the 28.8 as if it were the London Philharmonic? I sure hope not, because I totally was. My brother and I tied up our parents's sole phone line for hours at a time, defining new frontiers of message board trolling. Before long, we were using it to trade bootlegs to concerts with other fans -- indulging our obsession with various musicians (a lot of Sublime; it was the '90s).

Having a brother eight years my elder also meant ready access to a wide variety of video games -- he took to a bicycle to buy the Super Nintendo on the day it launched in the US. I remember being awestruck that the graphics were so much more vibrant than anything I'd seen on NES or in arcades. I had no idea what the jump from 8- to 16-bit meant in technical terms, but it'd be impossible not to have seen the difference. Little Mario's mustache was so clear! Just look at the yellow on that cape!

Growing Up Geek Ben Gilbert

When my father upgraded to a 56K modem, I tied up the phone line for hours longer, marathoning Starsiege: Tribes with friends (yes, I'm playing Ascend now). When I wasn't crushing my buddies in Total Annihilation or Quake, of course.

It's this parallel dichotomy of video game eras -- both Nintendo's iconic franchises and the PCs genre-defining shooters -- that bookend my current taste in games. And it was the dramatic difference between the two that lead me to explore the greater game industry. It also didn't hurt that my older brother subscribed to Electronic Gaming Monthly and Next-Gen.

I began turning to their digital counterparts as I was gearing up for college, working full-time and going to school full-time. GameSpot's "The Hot Spot" and EGM's "1UP Yours" podcasts were the first two to earn my loyalty, and I found myself arguing occasionally with the 'casters out loud, as if it were a two-way conversation. My subsequent matriculation at Temple University (Go Owls, I guess!) for Magazine Journalism, while the magazines of my youth were shuttering alongside the rest of the magazine industry, made it clear that online was my only path to degree salvation. Literally every journalism class I took opened with a professor warning students, "I hope you love this, 'cause there aren't any jobs out there!"

With that hopeful message, I spent a year abroad in Barcelona, Spain at the Universitat de Barcelona. I traveled a bunch, I read tons, and I learned enough Spanish to not feel like the year was a really long vacation. Shortly after returning, I started a gaming news blog with a friend so we could build up clips before graduation. The blog took me to my first E3 in 2008 (its first year back in the Los Angeles Convention Center), where I immediately pounced on my favorite editors to get on their radar. It's likely that I looked like a bumbling fanboy, but they were gracious nonetheless. Here I am below with my friend Katie, both not getting attacked by a Brotherhood of Steel dude.

Growing Up Geek Ben Gilbert

My blog was intentionally modeled after Joystiq's writing style, as I was a regular reader and very much intended on being a writer for the site. I bugged then Editor-in-Chief Chris Grant to read my pieces and tell me what he thought, which he kindly did every now and again. Our regional proximity and shared passion for delicious craft beer meant I was able to bug him frequently.

In 2009, when a spot opened up on staff (Ross Miller left to take a full-time job at Engadget -- go figure), I was offered a shot ... as Joystiq's first official intern. About a month after that, I was a staffer. And three and a half years later, here I am, pulling a Ross Miller (hi Ross!).

In the past several years, I've expanded my geekery to the world of business and legal reporting, though I'm still very much ensconced in the game industry. Those who've heard me on the Joystiq Podcast or who follow me on Twitter know that I'm prone to prolonged rants on those three subjects and how they intersect. I assure you: I do so only because I'm passionate about these things. It's something I'm incapable of turning off (and I know that for sure, as I've tried for years).

Two weeks ago today, I officially joined Engadget. Maybe you saw me last week on the Engadget podcast, talking about the Wii U launch price/date? Perhaps not. Shame on you! I'll be doing a lot of that here -- shaming you, that is. No, no -- I mean I'll be covering video games and the industry with the same obsessive eye I have in the past, albeit now with an Engadget angle (think: tech-focused). Please don't hesitate to give me feedback, privately or publicly! Or tips! I also like those!

Oh, and for the record, I graduated with a degree in Magazine Journalism in 2009, with a job starting two days later at Joystiq/AOL. In your face, pessimistic professors! Ahem.