Happy Don’t Be A Dick Day!

When I gave my 2007 PAX Prime Keynote, I said

Arcades were more than just magnificent geek Shangri-Las, filled with all sorts of video games and pinball machines. They were a vital part of my generation’s social development. If I beat another kid in a two player game and taunted him mercilessly, with explicit references to his mother's sex life and my role in it, the way some online gamers do today, he would have justifiably kicked the everliving shit out of me. So I learned – in arcades – the importance of good sportsmanship. Because arcades were real places, staffed by real people, we had to worry about much more than getting kicked off a server if we were complete idiots in a game. I guess this is a double-edged sword, and I’m feeling like a cranky old man by even mentioning it, but would you all do me a favor? When you’re playing online, have fun, and don’t be a dick, okay?

I hoped that it would catch on, and that people would spread it around, live it, and eventually make online gaming fun again. 

I got lucky, and it did catch on. Within a few days, people were using it as their forum signature. The Enforcers at PAX called it Wheaton's Law, and used it as a sort of Prime Directive. Maybe it's the blue car syndrome, but since 2007, I have seen and heard people referencing those four words all over the place, and I hope that they're taking it to heart. I sincerely hope that it will spread throughout our culture, and it will give our fellow geeks/nerds/gamers/humans/muggles a sort of mantra, so we'll all be kind to each other.

So, yesterday morning, CB on Twitter showed me a picture of their calendar, which had my birthday and NASA's birthday marked down for today. The calendar said, "In his honor, don't be a dick!"* 

I thought that was cute and awesome, but my brain positively lost its shit about it.


"Okay, first of all, it's technically our birthday. Also, I don't think we can just pick a day and decide that it's a thing."

"Are you kidding us? It's fun and it's silly and what else are you going to do today anyway? Upvote more cat pictures on Reddit?"

"Well, I was… but now I think I'll be upvoting all the scumbag brain pictures in solidarity."

"You're adorable," my brain said, "let's see you do that… without control of your central nervous system!"

I shit myself, then. It wasn't my fault.

"Okay," I said, "You've made your point. I'll get to work on it."

I registered a domain, put my incredibly impressive* graphic design and HTML skills** to work, and about 45 minutes later, Don't Be A Dick Day was born. 

I'm not gonna lie, Marge: I really hope this becomes A Thing.

A few notes, and a story, about this whole idea:

First of all, epic thanks goes to Jemina, who made that beautiful artwork I ended up using as the centerpiece of the thing.  

A non-zero number of people have suggested that every day should be Don't Be A Dick Day. I agree, but we should start with baby steps, right?

Most of the Internet took this in the spirit it was intended. Sadly, some folks decided that I was being arrogant by suggesting a day I made up should be a thing, and some other folks decided that I was doing this because I want attention. I'm very sorry that those people missed the point. 

The FAQ for Don't Be A Dick Day is simple by design, but for those wondering how specifically to not be a dick, and why this is something I talk about, I offer the following story.

When I was in my early 30s, I had major sinus surgery to correct a severely deviated septum and to remove so many polyps I could hardly breathe through my nose. In the pre-operation phase of the surgery, I had to fill out a lot of paperwork, including something called an Advance Directive, which told the hospital what my wishes were in the event something went wrong.

As I filled out that form, instructing the hospital to pull the plug if I something happened that was going to leave me in a persistent vegetative state and give all of my organs to people who needed them, for the first time in my life, I had to really think very clearly and honestly about the possibility that I may go to sleep and never wake up, leaving Anne without a husband and our kids without a father.

I can see it so clearly now, years later: I'm sitting in my office. The ceiling fan is on low. My dog, Riley, is sleeping near my feet. I'm listening to New Order on iTunes. It's late afternoon, so the blinds are closed to keep the hot sun out of the room, and they glow brightly around the edges like there's a spotlight on the other side of them. From the living room, I can hear Nolan playing Call of Duty on the Xbox. My chair creaks as I lean back in it and before I know what I'm doing, I'm on my feet, walking into the living room.

"I need to talk to you for a second," I tell him.

"Hold on," he says, without looking away from the screen.

I wait. I really hate this game, and I don't understand the culture of dickishness that seems integral to its multiplayer experience. Through the headphones he's wearing, I can hear barely-pubescent voices curse each other in a myriad of colorful ways.

I wish Nolan enjoyed the RPGs I enjoy, so we had something more in common. He's either 15 or 16, and everything I like, everything I do, every breath I take is so lame. I've pretty much lost him to the Teenage Years. I don't know that I'll get him back when he's 20, and though I know not to take it personally, I still do.

The screen changes. Based on the squawking in his headphones, one team was victorious because the losing team was too busy fucking the winners' mothers.

He puts the controller down and sets the headphones on the couch next to him. He looks at me. I sit on the coffee table and face him.

"I'm having major surgery tomorrow morning," I say, gently.

He barely nods.

At least he didn't roll his eyes, I think.

"And it's very unlikely that anything will go wrong… but just in case, I have something I have to tell you."

I look at him, really look at him, and hope that my words are getting through. I realize that I'm dangerously close to tearing up, which I know will make him tune me out. I take a slow, deep breath to steady myself.

"If something happens to me and I'm not here to continue raising you, I want you to remember these things: I want you to live your life honestly, honorably, with kindness, compassion and generosity."

A cloud passes across his face and briefly disturbs the mask of indifference he's been wearing for a year or more.

"So please, please, if you don't remember anything else I've said to you, please: be honest, be honorable, be kind, be compassionate, and work hard."

His expression doesn't change at all. "Okay," he says.

He has the headphones back on and the controller in his hands before I've stood up.

"Okay. I love you."

"I love you too." He says it by rote, like a kid reciting the pledge of allegiance. Just words he know's he's expected to recite. My heart aches a little bit.

I hope I got through to him, I think, regardless of what happens to me tomorrow.

I've been closing my talks at conventions with a version of that story, and leaving a similar wish with the people who are there. I don't mean to be preachy or anything, but I figure that if people are going to listen to me talk, I should at least have something meaningful to say.

So if you're still reading, I hope you'll join me in the celebration of Don't Be A Dick Day, I hope that you'll take it in the spirit that it's intended, and I hope that you'll:

  • Be honest.
  • Be kind.
  • Be honorable.
  • Work hard.
  • And always be awesome.



*Actually not impressive at all, even by 1999 standards.

*** Well, I guess it's slightly impressive that my code validates.

72 thoughts on “Happy Don’t Be A Dick Day!”

  1. As it happens, I needed that reminder today, as I was tempted to do something (more accurately, fail to do something) that would have been a dick move. But a friend posted your reminder – and I did the right thing. So, both thanks and happy birthday!

  2. Happy birthday Wil.
    < "You're adorable," my brain said, "let's see you do that... without control of your central nervous system!"
    I shit myself, then. It wasn't my fault.>
    Also, this made me laugh out loud for a good minute, I was laughing so hard my eyes teared up. :-)

  3. Happy birthday!
    I’ve mostly been spared the horrors of live multiplayer games, but after being a huge fan of The Guild for several years, I finally started playing World of Warcraft last month. Holy crap. After making the mistake of visiting the WOW forums, I stumbled upon a post by a mother who was upset that her 9 year old daughter was being sexually harassed by men in-game. The response from pretty much everyone on the forum was, “Well of COURSE your 9 year old child is being sexually harassed, you should make her wait until she’s 13 to play.” >_<
    I think “Don’t be a dick” needs to be included in the EULAs/TOS for these games.

  4. Dear Wil,
    Yesterday was a definite, epic wonder; filled with birhtday cake, music and friends, (each of which were not being dicks).
    Will there be a way for people to purchase the ‘Don’t Be A Dick’ image;
    on a tee shirt and have the proceeds go to some lovely charitable cause?
    In the meantime, can I please have permission to print it up on a tee shirt, (just one), to wear and to spread the joy? (…with the flow chart being on the back, of course)
    I hope you had a great birthday and I hope you enjoyed the song I shot to you (search your in box for “In honor of Don’t Be A Dick day…”)

  5. Hey Wil, just writing to wish you the greatest of all days today – which is how it should be for your birthday and Don’t Be a Dick Day!!

  6. First: Happy Birthday! Second: Just over a year ago, I had deviated septum surgery. I hope your recovery was not as hellish as mine. I suffered, hardcore. But, now I can breathe normally, get less upper respiratory infections, and I enjoy a sense of smell I never knew I was missing out on! Third, my fiance and I quote, “Wil Wheaton says, don’t be a dick” whenever we observe dickishness in the world. So, at least with us, “Don’t be a dick” is totally A Thing. :)

  7. Wasn't it weird to find out that you can actually breathe through your nose? I just thought that it wasn't possible, and that not being able to breathe through the nose was just the way things were.

  8. Thanks for launching Don’t Be A Dick Day, Wil. I’m marking the calendar for next year, so I can do my bit to pass along the good word. BTW, I’ve written a novel with similar themes. It’s a comedy called DICK BY LAW, and it was blurbed by Neil Innes of Monty Python fame. In DICK BY LAW, a lawsuit to have someone legally declared a dick prompts dick registration legislation…and a pro-dick backlash. Here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/blzwgno. If you’d like a copy, I’ll be happy to send one your way, Wil.

  9. I’m a few days late – but happy 39+1 all the same! :)
    Genius idea of having Don’t Be a Dick Day btw…I currently have a ‘friend’ and co-worker who on a scale of 1 to 10 for dickness has unfortunately reached at least a 19. If only he would take your sage words to heart as his being a right dick is affecting every facet of his life (including destroying our friendship)…but at least I have held true to Wheaton’s Law by not being a dick in return (although I come close, oh so close some days). 😉

  10. Happy Belated Birthday! So I was thinking about the kinds of things you could do with Don’t Be A Dick Day to make it a full on event. And basing it off of your bullet points, I think I have some ideas:
    Be honest. – Take time to talk things out in a rational and fair way. Did someone do something to annoy you or upset you? Talk to them about it and squash the grudge before it starts to crawl out of your hea… I mean get the better of you.
    Be kind. – Simply put, do something for someone that they wouldn’t expect. Pay it forward, if you will.
    Be honorable. – Stand up for what is noble and right, even if it is unpopular in the eyes of your friends. Chivalry never died, and anyone can do it justice.
    Work hard. – In honor of this point, I bring you another one of Wil’s sayings: “Get Excited and Make Things”. Take the day to be creative and express yourself in only the way you know how. Even better if you do it for someone else. It could be as simple as ASCII penises to your best duo-singing, Twitter-hashtagging, fun-loving pals, or as elaborate as painting a mural in your friend’s nursery (hopefully not of a penis).
    Always be awesome. – If all else fails, just remember that being the best you can be is the most effective way to eliminate dickishness in the world. In the words of LaTrice Royale (yeah, sage advice from a drag queen), “it’s okay to get knocked down, as long as you get back up, look SICKENING, and make them EAT IT!”

  11. Hey Wil,
    Over the many years you’ve posted, I know thousands of folks have stopped and thought, “that’s interesting” or “that’s something I’ll slip into conversation” or “that’s totally nerdy and I’m happy I totally know exactly what that means.” I’ve had these moments myself, and they’re fun and exhilirating.
    And then, I’m sure much more rarely, and for many fewer people, you write something that is, for this reader anyway, completely life-changingly profound.
    I’m sure you know about all the people who’ve had the former type of reactions to your stuff. This is just to let you know that every so often, your stuff is soul-rocking too.
    Thanks for that.

  12. Thanks for everything. You’re the special and wonderful bits the internet should be all the time. Hope you’ve enjoyed your birthday thoroughly and with exceptional style. The world is a better place with you nudging it along in the right direction.

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