I remember the first time I attended a party with the popular kids in my high school. It was, overall, a tepid and stressful affair where I spent most of my time wondering if I was acting the way I needed to act to be invited back again next time. Which is not to say that I was actually being judged — in part because I come from a small rural community where there just weren’t enough of us to be too exclusive— but largely because I think now that everyone else in the room was feeling stressed out about the same thing.
I grew up in a place and an environment where I had the luxury of rarely having to worry about anything really important, like working to help support the family or whether a someone might kill me on the way to school. In the absence of actually stressful things in our lives, I suppose most of us go ahead and busy ourselves by creating things to feel stress over instead. For me, popularity was my luxury stressor. There are a lot of reasons why I chose that particular stressor, but I valued how I and the things that were important to me were perceived by strangers.
I don’t know if it’s nearly as simple as saying that I had a choice between just being comfortable or making myself mildly miserable while trying to make other people happy, but I don’t feel like that’s completely off the mark either. At least a component of chasing popularity is predicated on the idea that what you think of me is more important than what I think of me. And down that pathway there can be a lot of self-compromise and potentially soul-destructive decision making.
Which is all part of the reason I wish gaming weren’t as popular as it has become.