Rejecting The Bullies

I know there’s an usually unwritten rule about commenting on commenting in the digital realm. I am sure it borders on some amorphous definition of meta, a word that I think is actually supposed to be a suffix and that I am definitely sure lacks a cohesive definition, but I’ve never been much for rules or ceremony. So, I’ll be blunt. The vast majority of comments on the internet are useless at best and destructive at worst.

I think this is similar to what internet pariah of the month, Denis Dyack, meant when he said internet forums need to be changed. Like many of you, I reacted initially to his comments with the knee-jerk “Ohhhh, Denis,” but as I’ve let the concept soak in the brine of my dissatisfaction with the vocal population of gamers on the web, I find myself increasingly inclined to agree.

To bemoan the horror of net discourse is certainly nothing particularly new. I have spent any number of hours reading vile and venom aimed at my own words, most often when I have said something unapologetically that runs counter to popularly held views such as: Piracy is bad for PC games; Vanguard isn’t a very good game; I’m looking forward to Fallout 3 and sometimes EA isn’t all bad.

I imagine should this missive break beyond the bonds of our oddly functional community, I will suffer similarly.

The democratization of the web – a term that means very little but sounds patriotic enough to demand respect – has installed an illusion of a digital first amendment that protects speech no matter how poorly spelled or stupid. Never mind that providing a comment section on a private website entitles nobody to a big helping spoonful of nothing, we are operating in a digital society that doesn’t just believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion – a tenet I grudgingly concede – but that they are entitled to express that opinion wherever they see fit.

The result of that is the web as we see it today, where the value of smartly considered discussion is weighted equally with loud and angry voices that offer nothing save new and creative ways to suggest a person self-impregnate. The alpha personalities of the web, cloaked in anonymity and set loose in this unrestrained medium, are a driving force in the lowered level of discourse on the web and, I think, a factor in the sad state of online journalism, dialogue and even product.

I am with Dyack in thinking the reign of the terminally loud and annoying has crossed the threshold from being irritating to being destructive. Whether they represent a minority or majority I can’t say, but they have become the dictators of warped common sense. They drive the discussions within and without the gaming sphere. Across what seems a dangerously wide segment of our culture, it is the hysterical and furious who dictate the tone of our shared discussions.

Odd as this may sound; I think part of the problem is the purity of the mode of online discussion. Understand that when I call the discussion pure, I’m speaking about the undistilled nature of comments. With anonymity, lack of repercussion and most importantly unfettered access to the web, people are free to shed the bounds of common decency, a sick beast itself, and respond in their most basic natures.

This is not a good thing.

I’ve said before that the bounds of our social contracts are the barriers between a functioning society and bashing each others’ heads in with rocks. Having to take responsibility for your words and actions are good things, and destroying those barriers can seem democratic from a broad view, but in practice just unlocks the checks blocking the most aggressive and opens an express lane to chaos.

What I’d really like to see, in many ways, is a system where people are not invisible. But that’s not practical. An alternative would be for more organizations create a more comprehensive and social approach to moderation, but that demands man-hours and resources. If anything, rampant internet malfeasance is a direct result of convenience, and again this seems equally unlikely.

So, the solution seems to be to reduce the accessibility of feedback. Interactivity does not necessarily need to be the holy grail of online reporting. Oftentimes, feedback seems out of place, and can swiftly become a distraction or even a detriment to the hosting organization. Do we really need to open the floor to every clown with an agenda to inject his or her venom? Does every place on the web necessarily need to follow up content with open mic night at the Tourettes Palace?

Why do we allow the sense of entitlement to persist that it is perfectly ok for any malcontent with an opinion and functioning fingers to walk into our online house and start hurling dirt on the walls? It seems counter intuitive to me, even self-destructive to be the vehicle for your own criticism, particularly criticisms that is misinformed, angry, motivated by alternative agendas and barely literate.

I don’t really need to know what Skizzbucket221 thinks about the issues of the day. It doesn’t make the web any less democratic. Shutting down Skizzy’s vitriol in our house doesn’t curtail his freedom to fire up his own blog. But, it does take away his visibility in a place like Joystiq, Slashdot or CNN, and forces him to build up a following on his own, which is where the real democracy is at.

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wordsmythe wrote:

No! You are stupid and wrong!

I think the problem is perception. People who comment on the internet (the irony is not lost on me here) often do so with the idea that their voice will be heard, that if they scream loud and long enough something will change. Even worse, when something they've protested does change then they scream victory whether they had anything to do with it or not.

The truth is that people on the Internet are a loud, obnoxious, and vocal minority. A very small minority who are incredibly full of themselves.

I enjoy most discussions at GWJ because I view most of those discussions as just a general sitdown amongst enthusiasts. I might comment about the games industry as a business and changes I'd like to see but I'm under no illusion that anything I say will ever do any good. I am an anomaly on the Internet.

I enjoy most discussions at GWJ because I view most of those discussions as just a general sitdown amongst enthusiasts.

I do need to stress that this is commentary largely about the wild lands beyond these walls. But, at the risk of patting Certis on the back, I think one of the reasons we've built a fairly cohesive community here is because of his aggressive and demanding moderation, which is sorely lacking elsewhere. As I mention, better moderation all around might correct much of this, but that lacks practicality.

Good article mister Sands, as always. I'm not sure that if I would call common decency a sick beast; I would wager it is no more sick than it has ever been in the history of the world. But, that little tangent aside, I heartily agree with you, as I imagine all goodjers would. Afterall, a internet wide extension of the CoC of GWJ is basically what you're proposing.

I am not ashamed to admit, but my dislike of "that" internet, may be the reason I'm vicariously fille with glee whenever I see a thread that leads to some, well, asshat getting fired. It feels like I'm watching some cyber-Wyatt Earp.

Elysium wrote:
I enjoy most discussions at GWJ because I view most of those discussions as just a general sitdown amongst enthusiasts.

I do need to stress that this is commentary largely about the wild lands beyond these walls. But, at the risk of patting Certis on the back, I think one of the reasons we've built a fairly cohesive community here is because of his aggressive and demanding moderation, which is sorely lacking elsewhere. As I mention, better moderation all around might correct much of this, but that lacks practicality.

Striking close to home. We recently added community interaction to our web page...

Moderation is required to keep the level of discourse high. As you point out, the downside is that moderation is not a zero cost activity. The most aggressive moderators frequently are indistinguishable from the riff-raff (e.g. Wikipedia).

This is not terribly different than "non-internet" speech.

EDIT: forgot the point of the "reply" portion. Certis is indeed awesome.

Elysium wrote:

But, at the risk of patting Certis on the back, I think one of the reasons we've built a fairly cohesive community here is because of his aggressive and demanding moderation, which is sorely lacking elsewhere.

I don't quite understand why you are apologizing for not running an open forum where Skizzbucket221 can dump his crap. The internet is the greatest democratic medium in the sense that everybody can say what they want to people who actually care to listen and that's where it stops.

In that sense the GWJ forums are a great filter that trap all the skizzybuckets and the people who come here all do so because they appreciate the end result.

Ofcourse it'd be nice if we could apply the GWJ filter to other sites as well, something like Slashdots systems that only shows posts by approved friends. Although that would some what take away the best part of the web, meeting new people.

edit:

I've got to rewrite this bit.

Indeed, I felt the need to single out GWJ because it is an exception to the rule. I used to participate in a number of forums but aside from being a time sink they were too cyclical. I could tell you exactly how a discussion would go, who would respond, and how. I'm not saying GWJ doesn't have some predictability as well, anyone with basic knowledge of sociology and has observed our group dynamics could tell you likely respondents and their contributions to any given topic.

That said, because the approach is a sort of "enforced maturity" (The lack of regular lock threads and deleted comments would seem contrary to "strong moderation") I am often pleasantly surprised by the contributions of the various members of our community. Thus I feel more engaged here.

Beyond these walls is a shadowy place that has yet to be tamed and will likely consume anyone who dares venture into its realm with bitterness and venom.

Botswana wrote:

Beyond these walls is a shadowy place that has yet to be tamed and will likely consume anyone who dares venture into its realm with bitterness and venom.

Man, we all like to wax poetic on this subject.

With the stuff going on with Yale University and the lawsuits about the internet comments there, I think the discussion is pretty pertinent, even if no easy solution (aside from good, strong moderations) really exists.

In Accelerando, Charles Stross indicates the the beginning of the story that the protagonist and many like him have no use for money anymore and have moved onto a sort of Respect Currency. The more good deeds the protagonist does, the more recognized for his intelligence he is, the higher his 'worth' becomes, and the easier he finds it to make trades and transactions among his peers. He gets attacked by people and takes hits to his Rep for a variety of reasons, but it all pretty much balances out as people who vouch for him defend him and vice versa. Maybe the move towards social networking with singular/universal sign-ons is a micro-push towards a system like that?

Benticore
Out

Cramps wrote:
Botswana wrote:

Beyond these walls is a shadowy place that has yet to be tamed and will likely consume anyone who dares venture into its realm with bitterness and venom.

Man, we all like to wax poetic on this subject.

You don't really see that kind of writing commonplace in other communities. That is not a slam or a statement of our superiority, it is a fact.

I think I am a good writer, above average anyway. I could write circles around most fan site writers. I am not good enough to write for the front page of GWJ.

When my level of writing is not sufficient because we already have so many high level contributors, when my work is probably the standard for just about anyone we see in the community, then I think that stands as evidence that the GWJ founders have created something special here.

Although I'll still argue with Certis and Elysium when they're being stupidheads.

The primary job of any good moderator is to remind people they're communicating with other human beings. If you start there, the rest falls into place fairly evenly.

This is the only forum I've ever participated in, and this article explains exactly why. When perusing over the comments on any other site it's hard not to imagine a hundred cartoon baboons shouting, screeching and vomiting with rabid self-satisfaction. The Youtube video comments are the worst, a snapshot of the worst elements of humanity.

Amen to that. Assiduous moderation and high community expectations can work miracles, as evidenced by GWJ's awesomeness. This place is pretty solid proof that it is possible to build and maintain a forum where basic standards of communication and decency prevail.

I'm sure it takes a great deal of diligence and patience, though, and I'm grateful Certis and Elysium are up to the task.

Botswana wrote:
Cramps wrote:
Botswana wrote:

Beyond these walls is a shadowy place that has yet to be tamed and will likely consume anyone who dares venture into its realm with bitterness and venom.

Man, we all like to wax poetic on this subject.

You don't really see that kind of writing commonplace in other communities. That is not a slam or a statement of our superiority, it is a fact.

I think I am a good writer, above average anyway. I could write circles around most fan site writers. I am not good enough to write for the front page of GWJ.

I meant it as no slight at all-- I threw a few metaphors in my post as well, but none so lyrical as yours. And I agree, you are a good writer, and moreover many Goodjers are good writers. I think the srong moderation and the social structure we have going on attracts people with an excellent command of the eglish language. It's a real boon to the community. The articles, the posts, they're both erudite and fun to read.

My addiction to commas could use some work though.

It would've been funnier if you'd disabled comments for this article, Elysium.

Excellent article Elysium, and yours is a point of view I agree with very much. Words online tend to have no weight whatsoever, and as you mention I'm not sure there's a surefire solution to that particular issue. I know personally that whatever I say or post, I stand behind the same way as I would in a face to face conversation, but that's far from common online (GWJ generally being the exception, of course).

On another note, my wife is a moderator over on the SciFi.com boards (gods bless her soul), and I've seen a lot of the crap she has to put up with through those forums. Your article is a good primer and I'll recommend she read it: I think she'll enjoy it greatly.

What's with all the hate?

Skizzbucket221 wrote:

What's with all the hate?

Awesome

ur gay

Saw that coming.

Benticore wrote:

In Accelerando, Charles Stross indicates the the beginning of the story that the protagonist and many like him have no use for money anymore and have moved onto a sort of Respect Currency. The more good deeds the protagonist does, the more recognized for his intelligence he is, the higher his 'worth' becomes, and the easier he finds it to make trades and transactions among his peers. He gets attacked by people and takes hits to his Rep for a variety of reasons, but it all pretty much balances out as people who vouch for him defend him and vice versa. Maybe the move towards social networking with singular/universal sign-ons is a micro-push towards a system like that?

That sounds a lot like Whuffie in Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

As much as I enjoy a good moderated discussion forum, I'm having trouble seeing how the 'wildlands' are a significant problem. It seems fairly easy to ignore the silliness out there when I want to, and it can provide occasional entertainment value in moments of boredom. Giving the baboons places to congregate also makes moderation in baboon-intolerant environments less work-intensive.

MaxShrek wrote:

Saw that coming.

I'm amazed I got to be the one to do it. This community is too mature even for ironic assery.

Skizzbucket221 wrote:

What's with all the hate?

/hugs

maybe the internet shouters just need a little love, and then at long last there will be peace.

Certis wrote:

The primary job of any good moderator is to remind people they're communicating with other human beings.

This is almost a revolutionary take on moderation. Most sites see the role of the moderator as something akin to a Lawman, out for the protection of the forum. If they can demean and belittle their wards in the process (getting that really cool "mod burn") then oh, it's so worth it. I guess my point is that moderators largely put forum rules above the idea that there's any sort of person at the other end. It's easier to imagine everyone as some kind of slovenly recluse peppered with cheeto dust.

Dyack had a lot of interesting points he brought up in the 1upYours podcast, one of which was the need for greater accountability than "oh those Internet boys will have their fun, now won't they?"

From 1up.com wrote:

NeoGAF and other forums like this that don't have good management are not only hurting society and hurting the videogame industry, they're in decline, and they need to reform quickly before people stop listening to them...

Well said.

I have attempted to join communities for gamers elsewhere. I won't name names, but until I came to the forums at GWJ I wondered if the world was populated entirely with people I cannot stand.

I think Elysium hits the nail on the head when he says the perceived anonymity of commenting online does much to break down cultural walls that are already shaky at the moment. Human behavior is largely determined by the carrot and the stick. In the absence of a carrot encouraging good behavior or a stick discouraging it, bad behavior reigns because it's easier. Like all animals walking the earth, people will naturally seek out the path of least resistance. It's easier to be rude and self centered than it is to be civil and respectful. If Skizzbucket221 took his forum attitudes into the meatspace, he'd risk getting his lights punched out. But no such risk exists in the intertubes. The worst that can happen ot him is if his post gets deleted, and then he gets to play the martyr and whine about how the mods are suppressing his First Amendment rights. And when he does he'll get sympathy from Skizzbucket224, who had the same thing happen to him.

I don't advocate tracking down Skizzbucket221 and punching his lights out when he says something asinine on the forums. That would be wrong, although hilarious if someone posted video of it on Youtube. All we can really do is exert social pressure. The Skizzbucket221s of the world should be ostracized and ignored. We'll have to put up with their spam while they adjust to the loss of "power" they once had, but in the end if nobody reads or responds to them they'll take their vitriol elsewhere.

Oh yeah, and we can all try our best to not be skizzbuckets, but I think that pretty much goes without saying.

I seem to recall a saying from several years ago, something to the tune of, 'The internet is the collective drooling of a million minds.' This was uttered well before the days of Web 2.0, blogs and easily accessible forums. Maybe that, and my imperfect memory, is why my Google-fu seems weak and I can't find either the saying or the source.

It is a saying from the days of Geocities websites with far too many animated gifs and impossible to read against back-grounds. When having a say meant some effort at html coding or wrestling with Frontpage. When there was still some barrier to having your say.

Now it is so simple to type something up and hit the submit button that every idiot in the world has the ability to share their thoughts, no matter how puerile, hateful or stupid. The internet has become the drooling of a billion minds, and it has definitely made it a poorer place.

Thank all the gods though for communities like GWJ that prevent me from pulling away totally from this beautiful, terrible beast that is the Intertubez.

I enjoy most discussions at GWJ because I view most of those discussions as just a general sitdown amongst enthusiasts.

This is what keeps me here too, even when discussions get heated, there is never the degeneration into stupidity and hatefulness that happens so often elsewhere.

Excellent article, as always. And it does highlight the reason why this is the one community I actually visit every day, and feel comfortable in. All the above points are valid, so I won't rehash them. But a big 'thank you' to Elysium, Certis and everyone else involved here for making this an awesome place to spend time!

I may be a bit offtopic here, but I think it still relates a bit to the topic at hand.

Personally, I've been put off more and more, not only by comment sections on various sites like Kotaku and Slashdot (and don't get me started about aintitcool.com, Penny-Arcade summed it up pretty much a couple of years back : http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2003/01/27/), but by the site themselves. "News sites" like Kotaku, Joystiq and Destructoid to name a few, are increasingly being more and more sarcastic and juvenile in their approach towards game news reporting. Kotaku has Kotaku Originals (written by the maintainers of the site), but never have I read something over there that was as well written and argumented than what I have read here.

Thankfully, people like N'Gai Croal, Steven Totilo, people over here at CWJ, Bill Harris and others are what this community needs : people who argue their points rationally and with eloquence, who try to back up their claims. I think it's no coincidence that these people all attact the same kind of readership. I've discovered GameTrailers Bonus Round, who introduced me to NGai and Steven, who introduced me to Bill Harris, who introduced me to Gamers With Jobs. And the funny part? Unless it's N'Gai talking about the negative imagery in RE5's trailer(which I strongly agree with, anyone who doesn't should read Bill Harris's excellent take on the matter http://dubiousquality.blogspot.com/2008/04/race-and-resident-evil-5-trailer.html), I don't see news aggregator linking too often to these guys. Makes you wonder...

I am glad I found the Steven's and Bill's and Certis' of this world.

EDIT : Oh, and who's Skizzbucket221? I'm new to the forums.

We just need to have the stupid filter installed at a core node level of the internet.

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