"Some people just enjoy being angry."
Have you ever heard anyone say that before to dismiss an argument? I have, countless times. I'm not sure it's true, though. I think it's a lot more fun to watch somebody else get angry.
Righteous anger can feel rewarding, of course. Firing off an email to a company that did something you hated, writing an "open letter" to a celebrity, or even just sending out a quick tweet about something irritating ... in that brief moment, you'll feel accomplished. You did something!
Then, maybe the company sends you an automated response. The celebrity, meanwhile, probably doesn't see your post. The friend you were subtweeting usually doesn't respond, either.
Those small actions on your part feel fulfilling, though, because sometimes, they are fulfilling. Twitter anger gets a lot done, especially en masse. Companies notice when their choices get pushback, so long as there's enough of it. As for pop culture debates, smart writing on creators or franchises that everybody recognizes can end up looping more people in to discussions that they wouldn't otherwise have cared about (listen to Beyonce's music --> read smart essays about Beyonce --> intersectional feminism for everyone). Subtweets about your friends being annoying, though ... well, that's another can of worms, isn't it?
What do you do when your friends are mini-celebrities? What if they work for companies that you don't like ... say, companies or publications that you might want to fire off angry blog posts or letters about ... perhaps at risk to your friendships ... or your future work circumstances ... or even your current work circumstances?
What if you're friends with somebody and they start treating you like shit but you still have to see them at every industry conference? What if everybody else loves that person ... or worse, group of people ... and you can't say anything without getting ostracized, by friends and potential bosses alike?
What do you do when your subtweets and open letters and blog posts and Twitter persona and your "cliques" and "friends" and "colleagues" are all inextricably linked? There is no professional and personal divide, not anymore, not for media critics and creators and "creatives". You are portraying a character of yourself on the internet, all of the time. As for the internet friends you have, are they real friends, or are they characters too? When do we get to become real, to ourselves and to one another?
What do you do when the "characters" you follow get angry at one another, and you don't know whose "side" to be on? They're demanding you choose a side, of course, so whoever has the most fans -- friends -- followers -- will win, in the end. Does it even matter who's "right"?
When does "Twitter celebrity" become a liability to one's "real" social life, especially if the two overlap? What is real friendship, and what is networking, and can you have both without feeling like your "friends" are using you? How do you know whether people are fans, friends, or just jerks looking to step on you to get a little bit higher on the ladder?
I think a lot of people want to know who I am talking about specifically, right now, because watching drama unfold between people on the internet is addictive. It's more addictive if you actually know them, but even if you don't, it's still addictive. Watching fights is fun! ... And it's also dehumanizing for the participants.
It's an intense feedback loop to be in a fight, as well, although it's significantly more unpleasant than watching. Being in a fight on Twitter is anxiety-inducing, it's panic-inducing, and it's NOT FUN -- especially when everybody in your mentions is telling you that you deserve to have a panic attack because you are WRONG WRONG WRONG. Meanwhile, thousands of people are eating popcorn in the background, because you are just a character in a play to them. A drama, of course. Drama, drama, drama.
This is why Twitter accounts like @JournoBeeves are fun to follow. This is why so many games industry folks read NeoGAF every day. This is why the term "hate-reading" even exists, along with "hate-following". I have a lot of hate-followers. I know I do, because I get a lot of tweets from people who clearly hate me, but also, who seem to enjoy telling me that they do. Or ... do they enjoy it? If so, why? Do they want to start fights ... or are they just pretending to start fights, to see me react? It must be fun for them. It isn't, for me. But they don't care. I'm just a character, a talking point, an avatar, a byline to them. (Imagine how Beyonce must feel!)
Twitter became un-usable for me recently because I said some stuff about fighting game culture that went viral. Some of the critics of me had good points, but those people got buried by anger and abuse. For the whole first week of January, my Twitter mentions were useless. I didn't even see most of the "good points" until the week was winding down, and by then, I was so emotionally exhausted that it was hard to even hear them. For some people, that's how their Twitter experience is all of the time.
I've met my best friends via Twitter. I wouldn't have a weekly Writers' Group without Twitter, and I wouldn't know about most of my favorite indie games if not for Twitter. If it weren't Twitter that I used, then it would be a different "hub" that would fulfill the same need: Friendster, a public square, a rotary telephone, whatever. It's a place folks go to hang out. It's a place that many of us go for meeting people, for finding cool stuff, for friendship, for fun. And part of that "fun" is the voyeurism of watching fights ... which is great ... as long as you never become a target.
I want to stop being addicted to negativity. I want to be able to keep perspective, and I want to know how to stop talking when I need to step away. Most of all, I want to know how to see people as people first -- not gladiators, not targets, not characters. Even the people I don't like! And that's very hard. But I do it with the people that I like, too ... I see them as superheroes, I elevate them, and then if they disappoint me or can't fight back as I want them to, I feel like they've let me down. That's crap. That is a crap thing for me to do.
I want to stop feeling that sick high of enjoyment that comes from seeing other people fight, be they my heroes or my enemies. I don't want to feel excited when I see an epic takedown, no matter whose side I'm on.
I know what it's like to fight in the ring. I know that it feels awful. I never want cheers ... I usually just want to go hide under a couch. I think if you spend too much time out there, in the ring --whether you're on the sidelines or you're fighting -- I think it can destroy you.
I think the Public Eye can destroy people, too, for the same reason. You start believing that you are what everybody says you are. You lose your sense of self. You are the Enemy. The Superhero. Or both.
I'm not sure what that means for social justice movements online.
This is not about arbitrary, made-up standards, or "being nice," or swapping out the word "problematic" for the word "toxic," or trying to decide who's "righteous" and who's a "bully". I don't think people should be less angry. I don't even think people should be less negative. Shit is fucked up. Have you noticed? It is fucked up beyond all fucking hell, out there.
Over the past few years, we have actually seen things get a little bit better. Do you all remember what 2010 looked like, for games publications? Or 2005? There weren't any feature-length stories about gender roles anywhere, least of all at outlets like Kotaku. (If you had told me, in 2010, that Kotaku would become a completely different publication over the next few years, I wouldn't have even remotely believed you.) There weren't even women on staff at most publications 5-10 years back, nor trans folks, nor people of color, nor queer people ... maybe you'd get one or two per place, but that's it. Of course, all of those diverse people were playing games, and they were even reading those websites, but their voices weren't represented. We've made some pretty significant progress in terms of that, and I think a lot of that has had to do with Twitter activism. But we could do a hell of a lot better. We could always do better.
I get angry whenever I remember how much better we still need to do, and some days, I go out and I fight. But it takes a toll, and I forget about that toll too often, especially when I'm just spectating or hurling tomatoes from the sidelines or what have you. I forget that I am a human, and that these are all other humans, not superheroes. We can't all last forever. We do our best, but even our best is only so much. Sometimes, we are just tired.
How do we protect one another from getting burned out? How do we more effectively remember our humanity? Is it even possible for us to actually be there for each other, for our fellow fighters, when none of us trust one another?
I trust women less than men. I hate that I do this, because I've spent years trying to become more aware of it and to stop doing it, but I do it without even realizing it. It's subconscious, it's ingrained. But it also benefits the people in power, when I do that.
If leaders encourage competition among the disenfranchised, they'll never be overthrown. Award the peasants a few lottery tickets, and then don't even worry about fixing the economy. Let the pawns claw each others' eyes out for the crumbs. Bread is for the deserving. For the hard workers. Are you a hard worker? Not hard enough. The hard workers get rewarded, you see. Never mind that there aren't enough "rewards" to go around.
A woman who I made the mistake of trusting turned on me, last year, and I'm still not over it. It doesn't even matter who, because it wasn't her fault. She thought she could use me as a stepping stone to better fight a monster that towered over us both. But you can't fight this beast by standing on top of someone else. You have to build a mech. You have to combine your mech with a bunch of other mechs, like the Power Rangers. And you have to somehow do it with no money, no food, and no trust, in a society that has trained you to compete rather than cooperate.
When I see other people, especially women, talking about their successes and failures, I feel that competition rising in my chest. Am I doing better? Or worse? It doesn't help that other people so often list me alongside my fellow "minority" critics, as though all of our voices and all of our writing is interchangeable. Even though we're different ages and sizes and classes and colors and countries. Who cares? Hire at least one of these folks to supplement your staff of dudes! Okay, maybe two. Let's not get too wild, here.
As for that list of names ... it's not a community, it's not a clique, it's not a circle of friends, and it's definitely not inter-locking mechs. It's an audition sign-up sheet.
Just like a high school theatre club, there's as much unhappiness and mistrust and competition among "the clique" of Smart Videogame Tweeps as there is support and friendship. It's all hearts and sparkles and "your voice is so pretty," "no, YOUR voice is so pretty," until we remember that not all of us are going to get the lead roles in the play ... and, worse yet, a lot of us aren't even going to get in. A lot of us are going to get stuck on the tech crew. Painting sets. Running sound. Hanging lights. You know, the work that no one appreciates? It's all very valuable work. But no one's really thanking you for it. Bring money into that equation instead of just social status and visibility, and it's no wonder that people are resentful.
We compare each others' pay rates behind closed doors, speculate about who'll get hired where and why and who "deserves" it. The rise of Patreon has invited us to compare our pay in public, and now, outsiders can do it, too, while eating their popcorn. We, the Players, must grin at each other through gritted teeth, sniping at one another backstage. I do it, too. I hate that I do it, but I do it.
We assume we'll have to work against each other, at least until the auditions end, and we see who is "in the cast" ... but not everybody is going to get in. And the audition is never-ending.
We've been driven against one another for so long that I don't know if it's possible to work together anymore. What's the solution, then? Quit the theatre, do a one-woman show, and earn money independently? You'd have to already be well-established in order to pull that off, of course, and staying popular on the internet is a full-time job in and of itself. It doesn't come with a health insurance package. Good luck!
Some days, I don't want to step outside the system. I want to turn and face it. But I'm just one person, building a mech by myself, and I don't know anybody else who's even collecting the parts.
There are also days when I want to do it on my own. I can always make my own shit, because that way, no one will ever steal it. Trust no one, cooperate with no one, share with no one, and you'll never have your heart broken ... or your money stolen.
The latter route is not as anti-capitalist as it appears at first glance, though. We're all still in competition, aren't we? Even if we all "work for ourselves." Each of us self-promoting, asking for money individually, sitting on our laptops at our individual kitchen tables ... all because we don't think there's a way to do this together without tearing each other apart. And I know why we think that. I saw us try it, and we failed.
We all hold ourselves to impossible standards, and other people manage to hold us even higher than that. We find out, again and again, that a group full of people who've been disenfranchised and shat upon for all of their career trajectories actually DON'T work well together.
No one trusts each other. Everyone is just waiting for the betrayal, and when it comes, it's almost a relief. Finally, we have failed. We knew we would. We were just waiting to fulfill the prophecy. At last, we can all go home.