There was a recent article on Kotaku about the progressively awful behavior of Internet commenters, particularly on gaming sites. For what seems like forever, it’s been a well-known fact that the commenting population of sites such as GameSpot and IGN have acquired a significant number of trolls, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and whatever ugly corner of humanity you can imagine over the years. These individuals have progressively become more aggressive towards writers and other commenters as time has passed and, most disturbingly, seem to be largely unimpeded by administrators and moderators. While a website should be responsible for managing the behavior of its user-base, I honestly don’t blame them for letting that stuff slide. Online creeps come out of the woodwork and seem to endlessly multiply; having to keep that at bay is a thankless task that requires constant vigilance.
When defending video game culture against critics who say it’s just for kids, people like to bring up that statistic of how “the average gamer is 35 years old”. That number may be accurate, but based on the kind of behavior on video game comment threads out there, we sure as shit aren’t acting like it.
We need to look in the mirror. You don’t see this kind of thing on sites devoted to covering other kinds of entertainment. There’s a bit of it on sports sites, but even there it’s not as vicious as the average AAA review on GameSpot. So what’s the deal, video game enthusiasts? Yes, our hobby is relatively young compared to other formats. One could even say it’s in its adolescence as far as artistic development goes. However, that doesn’t mean that its fans are entitled to behave the same way.
When a website is running a top-notch commenting system, it can be a wonderful example of participatory culture. One example is the AV Club comments, which are often at least as entertaining as the articles spawning them. Being able to participate in the stories we read is part of what makes the Internet great. Hell, I’d bet it’s in comment threads where many of us met our online pals and got into writing on the Internet in the first place. It is something worth preserving and protecting, but we need to demonstrate that we can handle the responsibility.
I’m sure most of you reading this are reasonable, rational people who are here because you want to connect and have fun. The fact is, the other type of people; the ones who are just here to ruin other people’s fun and be mean, are not going to get the message on their own. They’re going to be too busy whining about how their ‘freedom of speech’ is being denied. On that note, websites are private companies and they can remove whatever comments they want. It’s their right as private companies. Also, unleashing a personal attack on somebody because they didn’t like something the same way you did isn’t a right you have; or rather you can DO that if you want, but they can ban your ass for doing it.
The bottom line is this: It’s on us — the friendly, mature, responsible members of online communities — to not tolerate that kind of behavior. Sites need to get ruthless and drop the hammer on bad behavior straight away, and we need to help them. This is 2013 and ignorance is no longer an excuse for the kind of hateful garbage that has been tacitly accepted on many video game sites in recent years. As a community, we need to start demonstrating that we deserve to be able to participate in discussions on our favorite sites. We need to do that by calling out problem individuals early and often, and if they don’t learn we can show them just how wide the door is.
I don’t know, maybe the combination of anonymity and first-world, middle-class boredom is too much of a mountain for common decency to prevail online. Then again, I remember how Yamilia’s Positive Gamers series gains new followers each week and I think that maybe there are enough of us out there to affect change and turn the average video game site’s comments section from a cesspool into an oasis.
In the spirit of being incredibly meta, why not leave a comment and discuss what you think needs to happen to engender a more positive space online. How can we help? How can you help?