I take a look at Internet hate mobs and anonymity.

An old wisdom holds that if you’re pissing people off, you’re doing something right.

And if you’re in the public eye, people are going to talk about you, good or bad. This has been true as long as there have been people and a public to speak of. These days, we have the Internet to get us organized, but at its core, it’s the same as it ever was.

There’s been a lot of talk about online hate mobs among the gamer community, and it isn’t because this sort of thing is new. Things have just gone too far. It’s lead to a whole lot of tweets, blog posts, and articles in the games press about “gaming culture,” and I’ve been seeing that word, “gamer,” in quotes quite a bit recently.

We don’t need to worry about most of the online hate. It sucks, it’s poison, but it’s always been there. And it isn’t exclusive to videogames, either. Every entertainment industry has its trolls. They always have. Usually, they’re pretty benign.

But when death threats are being made, it’s time to worry.

I’m referring, of course, to Anita Sarkeesian’s current situation. She was recently forced to leave her home because of death threats aimed at her. At this point, we’re no longer talking about trolls. Ms. Sarkeesian has called it “terrorism,” and I agree.

And we’re WAY past talking about gamers. Making death threats isn’t something a rational, well-adjusted person would do. They may be gamers, sure, but if they’re making threats, then they’re also fucked in the head, and that’s really where our focus should be. Writing them off as mere gamers is dangerous. Remember Columbine? People tried to make that about videogames, too. The issue there wasn’t that those kids were gamers, it was that they were fucked in the head and no one noticed. In other words, put too much focus on videogames or videogame culture, and you’re going to miss something important.

You could argue that the threats are the work of a few immature gamers, done out of stupidity, and were never intended to be acted on. It would be foolish for anyone, especially among law enforcement, to assume that. In this country, we collectively have more guns than good sense. Besides, if one of these trigger-happy, Internet-savvy whack-jobs does manage to do the unthinkable, would it matter if they’re also a gamer?

And let’s be perfectly clear: death threats against public figures are nothing new. It was going on long before there was an Internet, before there were videogames. If it’s worse now (and I’m not sure that it is), does that surprise you?

I’m not trying to “save” gamers. I’m trying to guide you, the reader, into a wider perspective. There’s a whole world outside videogames, and all of us – gamers, developers, games press – have come from that world. We can’t afford to seal ourselves up in our own little videogame universe. This problem of ours is bigger than that.

I wrote a post back in May of 2013 in which I talked about Internet anonymity. It was recently featured on ‘Freshly Pressed.’ When I wrote that, I was largely thinking about just how annoying and exhausting people who sling abuse while behind the cover of anonymity can be. Now, I see that same anonymity as something potentially dangerous, and I think it needs to go.

Not all of it. As was pointed out in the comments section of that post, anonymity on the Internet can be useful and harmless. But I think a person’s identity should only be protected up to the point they do something wrong, such as threatening someone. After that, it should be much easier than it is for law enforcement to intervene.

If someone threatens your life, and they’re standing in the same room as you, your path is clear. The person can be identified, the authorities can be called, and depending on how well your local law enforcement handles these sorts of things, everything turns out okay.

If someone threatens your life over the Internet, things aren’t so rosy. Forget about identifying the person. You have to skip to the next step, calling the authorities. This can be a nightmare. They may not consider the threat “credible” because it was made over the Internet. They might not know how to handle it at all.

Anita Sarkeesian is going through this right now, as I write this. It sounds like an unnecessary hassle. Things probably could’ve gone a lot easier if the identity of the other party were immediately known. Maybe the people making threats are just stupid, and not at all dangerous. But maybe not. You just don’t know.

How this can be changed for the better, I’m not sure. It might take new legislation or a bit of government regulation, neither of which sounds particularly great. And I personally don’t like the idea of giving law enforcement more power than it already has. Something needs to be done, and hopefully, whatever it ends up being, is the lesser of all the evils.

In the meantime, one thing we can change right now is to stop talking about “fixing” the gaming culture. Our problems are rooted much deeper in our society. We can’t just expect to purge all that hate from our own little world and leave the rest of the planet a mess. Hate doesn’t just “exist” on its own. Hate exists only in people. So we’d have to change people. All people. We have to think bigger.

And I believe that’s what Ms. Sarkeesian is doing with her “Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames” series. It’s no use denying it; sexism and misogyny exist in videogames, not just in the games themselves, but also among the people who make them. How do I know? Videogames are made by people. Some people are sexist and misogynistic. Easy. It’s not like getting a job at a videogame studio is going to make someone un-sexist or un-misogynistic. And it isn’t something you can definitively weed out at a job interview.

Those people who make videogames are now taking notice. They’re looking at the games they make and the messages those games send. Ms. Sarkeesian (along with many others) is helping to make games better. And I happen to believe that the videogames themselves can be our tool to help make the world better. Videogames, if we let them, can say so much more than an individual person ever could on their own. So we’re heading in the right direction, even if our own little videogame universe is in a bit of disarray at the moment.

We’ll get there. It will probably be difficult. It will definitely take time. But it’ll be worth it.

As a parting thought, I’ll say this: I am a gamer. There’s nothing wrong with being a gamer, and there never was. And no one in the games press or in the bowels of the Internet will EVER make me ashamed to be a gamer. I mean, no more than I’m already ashamed to be a human.

2 thoughts on “I take a look at Internet hate mobs and anonymity.

  1. Very well said. This overreaction by the cyber mob (as Ms. Sarkeesian aptly calls it) has caused me to step back and examine what she’s saying in a more objective light. I doubt I’ll ever agree with everything she says, but this reaction has proven her right.

  2. I refer to this phenomenon as Internet Jerk Culture, and it is interfering with our ability to have actual productive conversations. In the meat world, jerks are marginalized through social controls. The guy who insults others in debates is naturally quieted with eye rolls and furtive glances, not to mention the threat of getting punched in the face. Their ability to control a conversation is minimal.

    But online, the combination of anonymity and lack of social filters is a powerful one, and the jerks are unfettered. And because there are so many, they are influencing perception. Seeing a blog post flooded with hateful comments, it’s not hard to understand why a reader would ascribe those opinions to everyone. So instead of actually debating how the gaming industry can improve, we are discussing how horrible the gaming community is.

    The gaming industry is by no means perfect, but it’s not THIS bad. Nothing (well, maybe the NFL) is this bad. But that’s the perception we all now have, and it’s in no small part due to the actions of a relatively tiny number of horrible people.

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