What Is Wrong With Internet Society? #BeBetterStewards

I know the Internet magnifies the amount and scale of abuse, especially in terms of misogyny, homophobia, and racism.

It’s disgusting, and it has resulted in the silence of some great people, such as Kathy Sierra, and makes it more difficult to bring intelligent and grown-up conversation to sometimes (often?) immature game industry the way people such as Anita Sarkeesian do.

But I had no idea the mindset of the stereotypical 11-year-old, entitled Halo player who loves to curse into his headset had made it into the realm of indie games and the customers who pay for them.

Cliff Harris wrote Who Would Be a Game Developer?, a post about how indies not only have to do the hard work of making a living making games but also seemingly must endure abuse at the hands of fans and customers. Apparently customers are threatening the creators of the games they paid for with extreme bodily harm and a destroyed life.

It’s bizarre posturing from the safety of a keyboard.

But it feels like another offshoot of problem fandom that seems to be everywhere. From comic and game conventions where women, homosexuals, and rape victims feel unwelcome to “you’re not a real geek/gamer/Doctor Who fan/etc” arguments that tend to be aimed at women to a culture of privileged misogyny that creates online communities in which only white, male heterosexuals ever feel welcome, it’s an ugly thing that is highly visible to everyone else.

Even if a large number of the people think it is just good-natured, “oh, you guys!” kind of Internet joking, it has real repercussions. If it happened rarely and in isolation, it would probably be enough to tell the people who are the victims of this kind of abuse that they can ignore it and get a thicker skin and don’t worry about it.

But it doesn’t happen rarely. It’s a fact of life for a lot of people, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

There’s an entire vocabulary around these kinds of issues:

  • Privilege. If you have it, you’re probably unaware of it. And if you’re unaware of it, it’s hard for you to understand that other people who don’t have it also don’t have the same advantages and paths through life that you do. We’d like to think that the world operates to reward merit, but for many, it’s not enough due to systemic issues. If the system benefits you, you don’t necessarily know it is there and how it has impacted your life. It’s kind of the equivalent of being born on third base and thinking you’ve hit a triple. If it hinders you, on the other hand, it’s really obvious. You’ve probably seen John Scalzi’s Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is, and here’s an article about privilege in geek culture. There’s also this article about someone who acknowledges the role privilege played in developing his talents as a programmer versus other classmates who didn’t have access to computers or had the lack of responsibility that allowed him to spend the time to work hard on learning it.
  • Rape culture, which also brings up terms such as victim-blaming and slut-shaming. If you got raped, you were probably asking for it. Why were you wearing those clothes or walking somewhere by yourself? Don’t you know that it’s not possible for people to control themselves and act as humane individuals? Crap like this is the obvious set of examples.
  • Panicked male, an example of which Scalzi recently tongue-in-cheek critiqued.
  • Moral relativism. If you’re about to argue, “But there are worse things in the world, so why are you complaining about XYZ?”, your thinking is bad. Yes, there are worse things in the world. If you want to discuss those worse things, I’m sure you’ll find people willing to do so, as the Internet is big enough for those kinds of discussions. But if someone is talking about an issue they find important, you can opt-out of the discussion, or you can participate, but you can’t say, “Hey, you can’t talk about it because it isn’t as important as world hunger or terrorism.” A systemic problem has been identified, awareness is being made, and you think that we as human beings can only focus on one problem at a time? Stop selling yourself short.
  • Deflection and silencing. A lot of the so-called arguments against concerns about inappropriate jokes and the culture it perpetuates aren’t addressing the issue seriously. They tend to be statements that attempt to quiet the person making the concerns known. If someone says, “I think this game is sexist”, any response that has the intent of coercing that someone into never bringing it up again is not healthy. Saying that someone is being over-sensitive or to lighten up are examples.

If you want humor with your education, see Film Crit Hulk’s GODDAMMIT VIDEO GAMES: THE FIRST FEW HOURS OF ARKHAM CITY IS LOTS OF FUN, BUT SUPER-DUPER SEXIST and part 2 (because it is almost required to do a follow-up when you call out stuff like like this), HULK VS. ARKHAM CITY – ROUND 2: BITCHES BE TRIPPIN’!.

What’s really scary is the undercurrent of violence and dehumanization. There is a lack of empathy, and it seems to be almost nurtured into the culture. When a woman is raped, we have television personalities saying she was asking for it, and almost no talk about how the rapist shouldn’t have been raping. And if the guy on TV thinks it, it’s likely the viewers are going to think along those same lines.

Similarly, when prominent figures in the video game industry laugh off, tolerate, or perpetuate misogyny, homophobia, and racism, their fans are likely to fall in line right with them. And when it is part of the marketing and game development, it’s worse.

The Internet brings a previously-unheard-of-number of strangers within communication distance, and while many people take advantage of it to make the world a more understanding and intelligent place, there is unfortunately a loud and obnoxious segment of the population who think extreme violence is super effective at getting their way.

And the more they see and hear each other, the more accepting of that behavior they become. And while most think they are having good-natured fun, occasionally a few think that actual violence is called for and accepted behavior.

So it is gratifying to see people within the industry call out the B.S.

The nature of the Internet and human nature is that we tend to be attracted to those who are like-minded. Talking with someone who has new and different views is a lot harder, especially if those views are opposed to your own.

But we all live here. I think the least we can do is try to have some empathy and consideration instead of dismissing someone else out of hand.

If someone does do something inappropriate, speak up. Show this person that you won’t tolerate it.

We need to be Be Better Stewards, as Corvus Elrod has so eloquently and succinctly put it. We need to call out the bad in a constructive way, and we need to praise the good.

Because what we say matters and has power.

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One Comment

  1. Just want to share a recent thought I’ve had on this topic.

    When studying the personality types of individuals, one quickly becomes aware that each person has a primary mode of operation, followed by a secondary and ternary, etc. Often, different stresses and circumstances draw out the different modes. For example, I tend to be an extraverted intuitor (primary) in public, but an introverted thinker (secondary) at home. Online, I seem to manifest more strongly via my secondary mode (as an introverted thinker). (This isn’t highly problematic for me, because I have spent time developing my secondary mode.)

    I’ve ocassionally wondered (as you do here) “Why are there so many morons online?” and it occurred to me to apply the pattern which I had observed in myself. Several people I know both offline and on exhibit similar tendencies, interacting with me differently via email/text/facebook than they do in person or over the phone. In person, they will be pleasant, polite, and controlled. Online, they spew anger, frustration and hate. Apparently, the lack of social stress from direct human interaction allows people to fall back into their (often underdeveloped) secondary personality modes. Because they are unskilled at interacting with people via those modes, they end up frequently miscommunicating and often lack the normal social inhibitions which generally prevent us from acting a fool in public.

    Simply put, perhaps the fundamental structure and form of online interaction is the very reason there are so many morons online. If this is the case, no plea for sanity will ever have the desired effect. Only resolving the underlying cause (lack of sufficient social stress) or reforming the “inner moron” will restore balance… and I can currently see no practical way to sufficiently accomplish either goal.

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