PHILADELPHIA—There were dinosaur skulls and digital video shorts, mobile applications and food-themed murals, social media campaigns and forensic science lessons.
Oh, and some guy named Skeletor. (More on that later.)
On Saturday, at the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, more than 400 self-proclaimed "geeks" dressed to the nines to celebrate this U.S. city's grassroots science, technology and arts communities in the third-annual Philadelphia Geek Awards.
"Geek," by the way, is defined as anyone who has passionate devotion to a specific interest, according to the show's founders, book marketer Eric Smith and interactive designer Tim Quirino. What was once a derogatory term for the socially inept has blossomed into a compliment for almost anyone who might care too much. Whether music, machinery or marketing, you can geek out on them all.
At this weekend's show, local geeks of all stripes were awarded illuminated robot-shaped trophies (carved at the nearby prototyping center NextFab, naturally) for their efforts in and around the city in categories that ranged from the stereotypically, well, geeky ("Hacker of the Year," "Comic Creator of the Year") to the slightly more creative in nature ("Feature Length Indie Film of the Year," "Visual Artist of the Year").
Award-winners didn't disappoint. Video game designer Greg Lobanov, who won "Indie Game of the Year" for his puzzle game Perfection, began his speech by asking "all the ladies" to whoop for him. (They did.)
"This is probably the only time I'm ever going to be able to do that," he said sheepishly, adjusting his sunglasses in the darkened auditorium.
Photojournalists Jim MacMillan and Joe Kaczmarek, who won "Social Media Campaign of the Year" for their non-profit urban gun violence project GunCrisis, asked that the audience observe a moment of silence for the seven people who had been shot in the city that weekend.
And Dan Ueda, a local public high school physics teacher who was awarded "Geek of the Year" for his efforts teaching students robotics in his free time, underscored the importance of STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—education to geekery as the city's public schools grapple with an unprecedented budget crisis.
"Giving kids the space to let their geek flag fly, making this city a better place to live—it all feels so good," he said.
Even the award presenters got in on the fun. One category presenter took to the stage as Skeletor, the Mattel villain from its Masters of the Universe franchise. Another, photographer Kyle Cassidy, joked that "Visual Artist of the Year" nominee Hawk Krall should win the award for best name.
And Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, who was on hand to present the night's final award, couldn't help but poke fun at the show's black tie dress requirement.
"I didn't really believe them when they said it was a black tie event. I thought I'd be wearing a sport coat and jeans, and then I looked at pictures from last year and I said, 'Holy shit, these geeks really get dressed up,' " he said. Noting that he rented a tuxedo for the occasion, Hodgson added, dryly, "I'm wearing a suit that an eighteen-year-old wore on the most exciting night of his life."
All this because a pair of entrepreneurial geeks sought to attract attention to their city's less glamorous creative communities.
"They're the folks who do the work that brings unconventional notoriety to our city," Smith wrote on his personal blog ahead of the first-ever show in 2011. "In my eyes, they are doing the work that matters."