(Author’s note: Aside from being a world-renowned blogger, did you know I am also a writer of science fiction? Check out my free short stories by clicking the link above.)
A few weeks ago, I wrote a rambling post on whether or not video games are art. Someone linked to this post on Reddit, which drove the hit counter on my site to record-setting numbers. The WordPress stat-tracking tools indicated that less than one percent of the people who viewed that post bothered to click on anything else on my site. Couldn’t even look at my ‘About’ page. It’s a damn shame. I checked out the comments on Reddit, and quickly determined that most of those people did not read my post, and were simply commenting on the title alone (which wasn’t, on Reddit, my title at all, but the creation of whoever linked to my post). Some of the comments were amusing, but none of it seemed to be terribly profound. One guy claimed to have a “comprehensive” definition of art (which, I assume, he now keeps in a notebook on the shelf next to the album with all his bigfoot and UFO photos). I stopped reading the comments after the first dozen or so; almost none of it had anything to do with me anyway.
But I have to wonder: Why, after so many hits on my blog, did only one person reply in the ‘comments’ section of my “Are Video Games Art” post?
It’s probably because the comments section on my blog does not allow anonymity.
My post wasn’t particularly earth-shattering or controversial, but I was hoping for more of a discussion than I got. Granted, it got some attention on Reddit, but I’m really not interested in what anyone says when they insist on saying it under the protection of anonymity. I know that even under the best circumstances, there’s no way of knowing if anyone is who they say they are on the Internet. But you can get close. I put my name on my blog. My picture is on my Twitter profile. I expressed my opinion, and I did it openly. I didn’t use a throwaway username (you don’t even need an email address to use Reddit). I had, for the first time since starting my blog, some serious traffic moving through, and all it got me was one, lonely comment. That’s really sad, compared to the number of (albeit mostly unrelated) comments made on the trash-heap that is Reddit.
So maybe I’m just not interesting enough. I’m fully prepared to accept that. But I suspect that the problem is that none of those Redditors were willing to break their anonymity to post on my blog, or even to send me an email. The Internet is becoming a crowded, ugly place. Anyone can post anonymously on sites like Reddit and YouTube, hiding behind fake usernames and indulging in the pseudo-courage that could only be afforded by a fake identity.
And if no one knows who you are, why not be an asshole?
For me, posting as myself is kind of a big deal. I used to have a fake Twitter account, but I never engaged in what they’re calling ‘trolling.’ I was just too chicken to speak up. Things are different now. I’ve managed to get past my anxieties, and I’m not as afraid to speak my mind.
Because of that, and in deference to all the nastiness on the Internet, I think it’s important to recognize true bravery when I see it.
When I first heard about Anita Sarkeesian, her first “Tropes Vs Women” video was already live. I’d missed her Kickstarter, which I likely would’ve backed. I watched some of her other Feminist Frequency videos, and I really liked what she had to say. I think there’s plenty of room for discussion on this topic, and certainly plenty of room for improvement on the part of game developers (seriously, the whole ‘damsel in distress’ thing was getting tired long before Ms. Sarkeesian hit ‘record’ on her camera). I was happy to see the project getting so much attention, even if the attention was not entirely positive (any publicity is good publicity, so they say). I read about the flak she’d taken for some of her viewpoints, and actually saw some of the shit people were saying. It was nasty stuff, and almost all of it anonymous. People would later take issue with her disabling the comments on her YouTube videos, claiming she was stubbornly refusing to foster discussion (one person called it ‘discourse’) on YouTube.
Really? Discussion on YouTube?
Why wouldn’t she disable the comments? There’s really only so much hostility one person can take. Besides, it’s freaking YouTube, the troll’s haven, the place where anyone can sling all the racial and sexual and homophobic epithets they want without fear of consequence. It’s not exactly known as a forum for intelligent discussion. Her latest video was taken down shortly after going live, apparently the work of those same practitioners of intelligent discussion hitting the “flag as inappropriate” button. I watched the video. There was nothing inappropriate about it. This was a blatant attack by people who simply didn’t agree with her. And they did it without fear of consequence, under the protection of anonymity.
Ms. Sarkeesian’s name is on those videos. Her face is front-and-center. She’s expressing her opinions, and she’s doing it openly, in spite of all the hate being thrown at her by the turds of the Internet underworld. I like what she’s doing, and will continue to support her. At the moment, my own opinions and musings are not nearly as polarizing and controversial as hers, but when I have something truly important to say, I hope I can show as much grit as she does when I do it.
And maybe one day, the collective maturity and intelligence of Internet users will be at such a level that public, open discussion would be possible on a site like YouTube. I doubt it, but it’s nice to dream.