I recently said to somebody that my background is the absolute bottom of the middle-class. My grandfathers were both factory workers; my parents both grew up in council houses (that is, public housing) in rough areas and basically had nothing. But the booming economy of the 1960s and the benefits of free education managed to get them both low-level office jobs. They were the first people in either of their families' histories to be able to buy a house. I was the first person in my family to go to university. So, we were not exactly poverty-stricken, but we had little, and my parents had known real deprivation; yet on the other hand we were on the cusp of something resembling better.
I say this not to identify myself as special - rather the opposite. In my school, basically everybody was in this category, except for those kids from the wrong side of the tracks who were really in what you would have to call the underclass, and the occasional child of a doctor or dentist or whatever. In England during the period 1975-1995, my class of people formed a vast mob, millions strong; people who 100 years previously would have been living in absolute penury as a kind of industrial lumpenproleteriat, but who rising living standards had elevated to a position, a century later, of having some leisure time, some pocket money, some cultural activities to participate in.
For those of us within that class who were naturally bookish, "sensitive", intelligent, and interested in creative pursuits, though, there wasn't a huge amount on offer. There were museums and libraries. But our family backgrounds and educations gave us little to draw from. Posh kids of our type presumably got their stimulation from reading classics at school, having thousands of books (the right kind of books) around the house, fabulous dinner parties with sparkling conversation every weekend, and so on. Those possibilities were closed to us even if we had known about them. Our personalities had to find their expression somehow, but they had to find it elsewhere.
Where they ended up discovering it was in heavy metal; in plastic military models; in SF/horror/fantasy books and films; in Games Workshop; and in D&D. These different phenomena formed a unique cultural space, very male (there's no getting away from that), very creative, very self-referential, and always aware that it stood adjacent to and aloof from both the mainstream culture of our peers (football, club/dance music, cars) and the highbrow culture of posh people (rugby, theatre, politics, wine, contemporary literature). It was a world of big brothers wearing leather jackets and Iron Maiden t-shirts; games shops full of Rifts books; music shops full of Cannibal Corpse records; groups of teenage boys hanging out in living rooms playing 40K and listening to Metallica; bedrooms stacked high with shelves covered in Airfix Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and T-34 tanks, Warhammer skeletons, and space marines. It was a world of bad BO, broken adolescent voices, acne and Doc Martens. Of constant (often violent) disputes with those we called "trendies" and constant awareness of not quite fitting in. I don't know what the word for this phenomenon was, but it fed on the bad mojo, awkwardness and imaginative genius of pubescent males who haven't got a lot going on and haven't got a clue how to talk to girls. And it powered D&D and Games Workshop for decades until those brands both decided that it was all just a bit too embarrassing and needed to be jettisoned.
What is the word for that particular subculture? You still catch glimpses of it, here and there, but the conditions which created it no longer seem to apply to the extent they once did. The physical spaces which sustained it - game shops, record shops, wargame clubs - are mostly gone, and so are many of the cultural habits on which it relied. When I was 13 or14, after school finished at 3.30 you had nothing to do until the next day, and little parental supervision - we walked to and from school and often spent hours getting from A to B. Sometimes this meant ending up in a field somewhere playing football (I was unusual in having a foot - no pun intended - in that world), but even more often, it meant going to your mate's house to play Warhammer or D&D. That practice of kids being free to pop in and out of each other's houses unsupervised, to roam about, to hang around in shops of their own accord, to wander the streets after school, has not entirely gone, but it is drastically reduced, and the social opportunities diminished with it. More than that, though, that class which I was part of seems to have bifurcated, with half going on to join the middle-classes proper, and half sinking into a darkier, nastier, poorer set of social circumstances. Exploring the roots of that and its effects is beyond the remit of this blog post, but I can at least put a name to what once existed and which now remains only in fragments: the Extreme Lower Middle Class RPG/Wargame/Metal Matrix is a bit of a mouthful, but seems to capture it; maybe "Playing D&D in an Iron Maiden t-shirt with your older brother and his mates" is more pithy and illustrative of what it all really meant.