(Disclaimer: I may come off as mean-spirited at certain points, but it’s because that’s how strongly I feel about this subject. Take everything with a grain of salt. There will also be mild spoilers for certain works I reference, so be warned.)
These type of characters have always bothered me over the years. Their usually shoehorned in to make a group of characters seem diverse and varied somehow, but just come across as forced and underdeveloped in the worst way. It may also appear as if the writer or creator is trying to be on common ground with their demographic, which I really don’t care for. There’s also the use of them for the sake of a joke, albeit in the laziest way possible.
I’m reminded of a scene in Spongebob (past the point where anyone with any brains cared to watch it) that I have foggy memory of in which some kid with huge glasses and a feeble voice carries a box of comics to sell, deeply excited over how proud his mother will be, only for Patrick to destroy them, resulting in him running away crying. This, above all else, is a testament to how awful these characters can be to me.
But honestly, one of the worst examples of these types of characters, in recent memory, is Alphys from Undertale. She is a petulant, pathetic weaboo who is scared of absolutely everything and indulges in anime catgirl merch. Her voice is grating, and her gimmick of making the text-based dialogue move on its own when obsessing over something gets beaten like the deadest horse. But to make it all that much worse, she’s never truly chastised for any of this. If you be nice to her in game, she gets a free pass to continue acting like a welp and a loser. People don’t tell her she’s too obsessed or introverted, or even that her behavior turns most people off, and thus she doesn’t grow. This is also to the detriment of certain characters (which I won’t spoil) under her care whose suffering the game writes off with shallow random comedy. To put it bluntly, her lover is enabling her more than anything, and she’s more in place with the cast of The Big Bang Theory in terms of how stereotypical she is.
So, with that out of the way, I’ll give an example of a good nerd character, in my opinion: Gale Boetticher from Breaking Bad. Yes, he’s into very niche and unpopular things, lives alone, and made this, but he accepts it and owns up to it, and doesn’t let it get in the way of his work or social life, especially considering what he does for a living. He’s the kinda guy who would want to make a contraption that brews possibly the world’s best coffee, and make it work. His subtle charisma, liberal mindset, knowledge of Walt Whitman, and interactions with people make him stand out amongst the lunatics and criminals that make up the cast. That’s the biggest part of what bad nerd characters seem to lack to me: actual character. Whereas those characters are living outmoded tropes, Gale has something to offer. He made for an effective kind of comic relief from all the horrific things that happen in BB, and his time on the show is well executed, from his warm welcome to his depressing leave, with his impact on the story being felt towards nearly the end of the show.
I guess what I’m getting at is that if a character is nerdy, think about the types of nerds you might have known or seen in real life. They aren’t good or bad people, they are just who they are, and that’s nothing to obsess or argue over. Think about that, and apply that to the work. Otherwise, don’t waste yours or anyone else’s time.
Is there anything you might want to add that I may have missed?
Source: reddit post