The 10 biggest geek culture stories of 2014

With geek culture now solidly part of the mainstream, Hollywood is churning out new sci-fi and fantasy epics like there’s no tomorrow. Multiple space opera franchises competing for the same audience? No problem. Millions of dollars being pumped into shows like Gotham and Game of Thrones? Awesome. But inevitably, some people are slower to catch up with the zeitgeist.

While 2014 saw plenty of exciting fandom success stories, there were still a few high-profile failures like Dashcon’s catastrophic attempt to create IRL Tumblr, or the video game community almost self-destructing in the wake of Gamergate. Geek culture is still in a state of flux, and our top news stories of 2014 reflect that—beginning with new definitions of what “geek culture” really is.

10. The Fault in our Stars goes straight to No. 1 at the box office

To those who think a teen romance movie isn’t a nerdy topic: Are you kidding? John Green’s success is inextricably linked with his online fandom the Nerdfighters, and the Green brothers’ ever-growing web of YouTube channels. John Green is much, much more than just a publishing phenomenon, and while he doesn’t really write “genre” fiction, he and his readers definitely exist on the geeky side of pop culture.

The Fault in our Stars was an independent movie about cancer patients, and did better at the box office than big-budget action flicks like Edge of Tomorrow, The Maze Runner, and Noah. And for that, John Green can thank the Internet.

9. Space exploration

Thanks to social media updates and live streams from organizations like NASA, it’s now incredibly easy to follow the latest space missions. This year saw Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield achieve celebrity status thanks to his YouTube videos (including that cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity) and Twitter account, beamed down from his temporary home in the International Space Station.

China’s Jade Rabbit Moon lander also captured our hearts, and in November everyone was watching with bated breath as the ESA’s Rosetta mission landed on a comet for the first time. While all this was going on, the private company Mars One began recruiting for what it hopes will be the first manned journey to Mars.

8. All those comic book adaptations

Either we’re about to reach the next step in a golden age of superhero adaptations, or we’re in the “boom” stage of a boom-and-bust situation. Possibly, it’s both.

Between Marvel Studios, DC/Warner Brothers, Spider-Man, the X-Men franchise, and various TV spinoffs, this year saw studios release (and announce) a truly ridiculous number of new superhero adaptations. The good news is that some of them will finally star women and people of color rather than yet another angsty white guy protagonist. The bad news is that if you don’t like superheroes, you’ll be forced to tolerate even more of them over the next few years.

7. Twitch Plays Pokémon

This bizarre online gaming event saw thousands of people all try to play the same game of Pokémon Red at the same time. Starting in February, the game’s creator set up a program that turned Twitch chatroom discussion into commands for a single Pokémon avatar. Weird? Yes. Pointless? Also yes. But Twitch Plays Pokémon was oddly fascinating, a unique experience in watching tens of thousands of people attempt to reach a consensus over a relatively simple video game—or in some cases, just try to cause chaos.

Somehow, the Twitch Plays Pokémon community managed to beat Pokémon Red, Gold, X, and Y. At its height the Twitch Plays Pokémon livestream had upwards of 100,000 viewers and participants, but now it’s more like a few hundred after the channel finished all available Pokémon games and moved on to Super Smash Bros.

6. The rise and fall of Legend of Korra

For the first couple of seasons Legend of Korra didn’t quite measure up to the genius of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but this year’s third and fourth seasons were a triumph. It’s just too bad that Nickelodeon very publicly abandoned Korra just as the show just as it was getting good.

Photo via desnasbooty/Tumblr

First it failed to publicize the third season, then it pulled the show off air and made it online-only. The fourth season was then released far earlier than fans were expecting, which almost made it seem like Nick were just trying to get things over with. To add insult to injury, they gave the showrunners a choice between firing most of the crew a few weeks early, or saving money with everyone’s least favorite type of TV: a clip show episode.

Last month Nickelodeon decided to put Korra back on air for its final few episodes, but it was too little, too late. Legend of Korra could have achieved wider success beyond its existing cult following, but Nickelodeon gave every impression of wanting to kill it off in its prime. On the bright side, seasons 3 and 4 were amazing, so definitely plan to watch them.

5. YouTube abuse scandals

The YouTube community was rocked by a series of abuse scandals this year. Several high-profile YouTube celebrities and musicians retreated offline after being accused of or admitting to sexual assault or abuse, in many cases within relationships they’d developed with young female fans. As we wrote back in October:

“While YouTube is far from the only community embroiled in sexual abuse scandals at any given moment, it’s a platform that values its ability to blur the lines between fans and creators; unlike traditional Hollywood celebrities, YouTube stars have become idols to many for simply being themselves, and fans demonstrably appreciate that sincerity and approachability. But when that trust is shattered, as it was in each of these cases, it reignites an age-old debate about celebrity culture: Is it the stars’ responsibility to draw boundaries around themselves and their work, is it up to fans to stop idolizing everyday people, or is it the duty of YouTube networks and labels to educate both groups about how to be safe and respectful?”

4. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy topped this year’s box office grosses by a considerable margin, beating Maleficent, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and several other comic book franchises.

This came as a surprise to many people, who originally felt that Guardians was a risky property for Marvel Studios to adapt. No one had heard of the comic, the concept was totally different from Marvel’s previous projects (a tree and a talking raccoon, in space?), and the lead actor was best known for the sitcom Parks and Rec. And yet it proved to be the most popular movie of 2014. Go figure. Sometimes, people just want to watch something fun.

3. Gamergate

Enough said. Seriously.

2. Dashcon

Dashcon was one of those fandom fiascos that only come along once every few years. A fan convention specifically aimed at Tumblr users, the three-day event descended into very public chaos.

Thanks to a combination of poor organization, inexperienced staff, and bad luck, Dashcon ran out of money during the event. The organizers then decided to crowdfund $17,000 (mostly in cash and Paypal donations) directly from the attendees, many of whom were teenagers. The attendees ponied up with no guarantee that they’d see the programing they were promised, while the Internet watched in rapt fascination via social media and YouTube.

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More and more problems appeared as the convention progressed, including celebrity guests from the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and Noelle Stevenson left the convention to find their own accommodation because they hadn’t been paid. Infamously, the Dashcon organizers offered to compensate disappointed attendees with an extra hour in the ballpit, a concept that instantly became one of the most iconic memes of 2014. True car crash viewing. Against all the odds, Dashcon said they would be back in 2015 under a new name, Emoti-Con, but this event was cancelled a few months later.

1. The new Star Wars trailer

Star Wars is back, and the new trailer is deliciously reminiscent of the original trilogy. Instead of the clunky acting and dodgy CGI of the prequels, J.J. Abrams made sure to emphasize practical effects and a fresh cast of actors—along with some old favorites like the Millennium Falcon, in an electrifying appearance that had us all reaching for our old Star Wars box sets.

That first shot of John Boyega in the desert is already iconic, while the new lightsaber design has already inspired untold numbers of nerd arguments. If you haven’t seen that trailer yet, watch it now. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. You need to be prepared for the full onslaught of Star Wars sequel fandom in 2015.

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor