So it turns out that this week is full of stuff that I would like to share with you, Internet.
First, I wrote a column for The Washington Post about how anonymous trolls are poisoning the video game community, and what we can do about it.
Anonymity, in some cases a key civil liberty, also enables society’s worst actors. The loudest, most obnoxious, most toxic voices are able to drown out the rest of us—a spectacle that has nearly pushed me to quit the video-game world entirely in recent months. I don’t need to hear about the sexual conquest of my mother from a random 12-year-old on Xbox Live ever again.
But here’s the thing: that random 12-year-old I seem to encounter so often? He probably isn’t 12. According to the ERSB, the average age of a video gamer is 34. That 34-year-old is certainly old enough to know better, but he probably came of age in an era when trolling was not just acceptable but encouraged by a generation of players who rarely, if ever, had to see the actual people they were playing with. No wonder he feels enabled by digital anonymity. It means he never has to face the consequences of his actions, or acknowledge that there is a human being on the other side of the screen.
It’s time to break this cycle—and to teach gamers that they can compete without being competitive, that they can win and lose without spewing racist, misogynist, homophobic bile at their fellow gamers. But doing so requires casting off the cloak of anonymity.
Early feedback via Twitter is split between a majority, who are tired of being harassed while gaming, and a minority who seem to believe I am advocating for an end to online privacy (which I clearly am not). I’m interested to know your thoughts on this column, so please read it, and comment here, if you don’t mind. If you’d like to read more about it, I highly recommend this article, which quotes my friend, Stepto, at length.
I’m hosting DC ALL ACCESS this week. Here’s the trailer, which makes me laugh:
Tabletop Season Three premieres in just two days!! We put together a special trailer for this season that asks the question that’s on everyone’s mind…
I signed agreements to do two more audiobooks. I can’t reveal their titles, yet, but I will as soon as I get permission.
Next Monday, I’m performing in a live show here in Los Angeles, with Hal Lublin, and John Ross Bowie. It’s Hot Comedy Dreamtime, written by my friend Joseph Scrimshaw.
In a couple hours, I’ll sit on a seat which will magically hoist itself into in the sky, and I’ll end my day in New York City. I don’t think I can talk about why I’m going, yet, but I’ll be there for just under 24 hours, for something really awesome that I can’t wait to share with the world.
PLAY MORE GAMES!
I have additional thoughts, based on your comments, which I wrote while in a seat in the sky. They are behind the jump.
I really want to be listening to Serial, but I wanted to take a moment and talk about my column in the Post today. Before I get into it, this is important: I fully stand by everything I wrote. I’m writing this simply because I have the opportunity to take up a little more column space, here on my blog, to dig a little deeper into what we published this morning. Most of this is in response to what I’m 75% certain is just the deliberately provocative distortion and obtuseness of trolls, but if there are 25% of people who genuinely misunderstood me, this is for them.
It feels like a lot of people — unsurprisingly people who associate themselves with #GobbleGrabber — are either misunderstanding, or deliberately distorting the thesis of my piece. I could continue to just block and ignore these people, but I hope that there are some well-intentioned people among their number who are being mislead by the loudest among them, who I may be capable of reaching.
First, something I had not considered when I worked out, researched, and wrote my column: the very real possibility that some people who are survivors of various forms of abuse, or people who have dealt with stalkers may feel even more exposed while gaming online if they were forced to play games under their actual identities. I acknowledge that this oversight springs directly from the reality that I am extraordinarily privileged, and live my life on Scalzi’s lowest difficulty setting, with the celebrity cheat enabled. The fact that this is a very real fear for a lot of players (mostly women), supports my main points that the worst among us are making things terrible for the rest of us. But I will also point out that I do not believe anyone should be forced to decloak. In fact, one of the headlines suggested for my story was about “banning” anonymity in online games, and I asked that it not be used, because I don’t believe in banning anonymity online. The suggestion that ending blanket anonymity in gaming somehow ends anonymity everywhere is such a lazy argument, it isn’t even worth refuting. As I said, anonymity is extremely important for a lot of people, and I can simultaneously oppose SOPA and Total Information Awareness, and understand that some people need anonymity to be protected from abusers, while I hate that some other people take advantage of anonymity to be shitlords on the Internet. See, when you’re a grown up, that’s not difficult to understand. I believe in holding people accountable for their actions online (and offline), so maybe to that end, a player can be anonymous, but if he’s a shitlord on a consistent basis, maybe his console is banned, his IP is banned, his account is banned, or something that he can’t throw away as easily as an e-mail address ties him to his words and actions, so he will think twice about how he behaves while gaming. And, listen, people, this isn’t about forcing some sort of Orwellian surveillance onto political dissidents living under totalitarian regimes. This is about people being bullies while playing video games. This is about people driving developers from their homes, out of fears for their own safety, because someone doesn’t like a video game.
The same people who claim that #GilbertGrape is about stopping misogyny, bullying, and bigotry are also out in force, asserting that I said and believe things that I didn’t write, and claiming that I somehow support bullying, doxxing, and misogyny, because of reasons. It’s frustrating to put a lot of time and effort into making a clear point that I hope spurs discussion, only to have a small but loud hive of annoying insects buzz around, seeing how loud they can get it inside their echo chamber. A typical line of argument goes something like: But if you ban anonymity in gaming, it will make things even more terrible for women! This argument fails to consider or address the root cause of women being treated poorly in online gaming (men harassing women, threatening women, and generally making it miserable for women to play games unless those women adopt a masculine identity). Yes, if nothing were to change, and we were to continue along the arc we, as a gaming community, are on, it absolutely would make things worse for women. But when gaming online is safe for everyone, because people are held to account for their actions, everyone should be able to play as themselves, without fear of systemic and sustained harassment. These people who make this argument seem to ignore the fact that bad behavior should be addressed, and instead make the case that women should just continue to hide their identities, rather than holding accountable the men who harass them. I understand the benefits of positive anonymity, and I support positive anonymity.
I do believe in holding people accountable for their behavior, online and offline. I do believe that the vast majority — a silent majority, but a majority still — of gamers are awesome people who play hard, but aren’t dicks about it. I do believe that a very small minority of loud and persistent shitlords are having a very loud and very public temper tantrum, because they feel threatened by something that, frankly, isn’t objectively threatening. (Sidebar: the existence of a casual game like Flying Unicorn Happy Song or whatever doesn’t negate or dilute whatever First Person Testosterone-a-rama you currently love to play. The existence of a discussion about how women are portrayed in gaming, and whether that affects how welcomed women feel in the gaming community, isn’t an attack on you, Mister #NotAllMen. In fact, it isn’t and never was about you. And I won’t even dig into the insanity of expecting a review to be “objective”, when reviews are, by their nature, subjective.)
The point I was making, which I know the vast majority of people understood and comprehended, is that I want games to be accessible to everyone, and as long as a small but loud minority of people can act like shitlords with impunity, large swaths of gaming will be accessible only to the most vile and wretched group of trolls. The more people game, the more games we’ll have available to us to play. The wider the demographic of gamers, the more diverse styles of games we’ll get to play. The sooner we who are the majority of decent people stand up and demand that people who are terrible in gaming be held accountable for their actions — actions which would, in many cases, be criminal if perpetrated in-person — the sooner we can all hold our heads up high and say, You’re damn right, I’m a gamer, and I’m damn proud of it. Want to play a game?