Why I Stopped Writing on the Internet (for a while)

Three and a half years ago, I was still in college. At the time, my friend Kent and I ran a blog about videogames. We had an absolute blast, but we weren’t really interested in taking it any further. Sometime in 2010, however, I almost completely lost my will to put my writing on the internet. This contributed to the fact that I haven’t posted anything on that blog in almost 2 years.

Let’s start at the beginning: I started playing The Witcher. I was unimpressed with it. I’d heard that it was the Jesus of modern western RPGs, but it turns out that modern western RPGs do not have a Jesus, and although The Witcher is pretty good, its story is not super compelling to me. The parts that I played had a rather shallow and childish emotional range– and they reminded me very strongly of other Bioware/Bioware-esque games where I’d been disappointed by the story’s emotional range. I wrote a very haphazard article about all this in a few hours, ran it through the Kent Filter (it passed with flying colors, by the way), and posted it on the site. (You won’t find it. I’ve since deleted it.)

Shortly after the article came online, someone linked to it in a general-interest RPG fan forum. I don’t know who this person was, but if I ever meet them in public, I am kicking them in the nuts they probably have. This person posted that I was a “bitch” who had a “PhD” and suggested that I was performing an uninformed hit-job on RPGs in general. They also steered the discussion towards the fact that I’d offhandedly given FFVII the thumbs-up for showing its protagonist vulnerable and crying onscreen (something western RPGs rarely do). If you know anything about the way western RPG fans talk about JRPGs, you can guess what kind of effect that had.

The post was very obviously an attempt to set me up for trolling and online harassment. It was abundantly clear on our website that I do not have a PhD, that I don’t frequently play or discuss mainstream JRPGs, and that I don’t hate Bioware games. The person who said those things wasn’t interested in talking about my article with anyone; he was hoping to rile his readers into seeing me as a fair-game target for the community’s vitriol. And it worked! Our site was filled with people calling me a cunt. Even more people were calling me a cunt on that forum.

Kent did most of the damage control. I, meanwhile, slowly stopped writing. I stopped reading the comments. I even stopped playing The Witcher. (I still haven’t finished it. Every time I pick it up, I remember this whole thing and get so goddamn angry I can’t think.) And I started questioning the very reason I was putting my work on the internet at all.

When Kent and I started that site, we wanted to write thoughtful essays with vague academic overtones for a general audience. Shortly after the Witcher debacle, I had an email conversation with another games writer about whether it was possible to have real, meaningful conversations with ordinary people about games on the internet. I determined that it was not, and that it was not worth it, because that audience of “ordinary people” contained a substantial portion of assholes, and I didn’t feel like writing for assholes.

Complete openness is good for some things. It is good for shooting the shit with friends, maybe. It is not good for discussing complex or sensitive topics with strangers, or for talking about privilege and prejudice, or for starting conversations which kill sacred cows. This Witcher shit helped me realize that I did not want to write in an open environment anymore. I wanted civilizing rules! So I did a 180 and refocused entirely on my writing for school. In school– and in face-to-face conversation with my friends and people I respect– people are not allowed to call me a cunt just because they disagree with me.

The change was refreshing. It took me a good nine months to completely stop writing on the internet, but after I did, I got a ton of really valuable, edifying stuff done. Here is a total list of the things I accomplished in academia and the “real world” during the next two years after I stopped putting my writing on the internet:

  1. I wrote the story for and helped design two different week-long sessions of an ARG that had several hundred participants
  2. I wrote a 280-page novel for my senior thesis, which won the largest departmental prize in my entire Creative Writing department
  3. I wrote a thirty-page paper on English-language Catholic bibles and completed my History degree
  4. I graduated from college
  5. I got a full-time job writing computer game stories
  6. I moved all the way across the entire United States
  7. I participated in game jams and made projects that make me smile. I also once got to work on a team with IF writers I respect
  8. I learned four different interactive fiction authoring systems
  9. I learned how to live on my own like an adult
  10. I signed a lease???
  11. I and my friends made a website that randomly generates conspiracy theories
  12. I learned how to enjoy videogames again without feeling as though I must write about them

Kent has also achieved things in life since we stopped writing on the internet. We are each so busy achieving things that we do not have time to write all the time, for zero dollars, about games on the internet anymore.

Our perspectives have also changed. Whenever I look at my old articles, I feel as if I am watching a space alien try to communicate to me. Many of our ideas boiled down to, “Why can’t games be perfect?!?” I now know several answers to that question, and all of them are a bit disappointing. It’s hard for games to be perfect. It’s particularly hard for games to be my kind of “perfect” when they are aimed at a “general audience” and cost many millions of dollars to make.

Over time, I have gradually regained the desire to write on the internet, but not in the way I used to. I no longer go around ranching and slaughtering sacred cows. It’s not that I don’t have opinions anymore; it’s that I no longer feel the internet is the best place to share all of them. I admire and respect people who put up with the audience’s bullshit, but during my hiatus, I felt like the problem at hand was so big, cruel, sexist, and messed-up that breaking myself against it wasn’t productive. I could do better for myself in environments where people didn’t call me a cunt all the time. I only have so much time to live my life, and I’d rather spend it making cool things for kind and grateful people.

If the vocal audience served by the average games media outlet represented the IRL standard for humans to behave toward one another, society would be an unbelievably fucked-up mess. Luckily, there are better environments and people in the world, and if you’re at the end of your wits, seeking them out is definitely worth it. And, as I’ve come to learn, some of those people are actually hiding out on the internet, too.


20 comments

  1. Pingback: This Link Drag is in the Sycamore Trees « Electron Dance

  2. Pingback: The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

  3. I hate when we lose interesting voices because of these cavemen, but it’s great to see how well you’ve built your life since that incident. I hope we see you return to writing about games one day, but if not, kudos all the same.

  4. So some meanies online called you a name and it hurt your feels so much you went back to their message board to read them call you names some more, and then you went and hid offline and still can’t get over it?

    Congrats?

  5. That’s a flipping shame. Really. I can’t name more than five or so writers on the entire internet who can both A. Write as well as you do and B. tackle the so-called “sacred cows” with a critical eye and an original voice. That’s a gift, a gift the games industry, and games journalism in particular, needs.

    No one has any right doing the things they did for simply having a different (albeit supported) opinion. It’s no secret that gamers, as a whole, have a very tumultuous relationship with women and depictions thereof. I have no place telling you that you should put all of those fears, emotions, whatever behind you and continue to write, as if to dismiss the things you experienced as trivial, but I will say this: we are all losing out by not having your voice in the discourse anymore, in the way that it once was.

    Best.

    • Thanks for the kind words. My current job means that I can’t write for any publications about games right now, but if the opportunity presented itself in the future and I was free to act, I’d almost certainly try my hand at it again.

  6. Society is an unbelievably fucked up mess, but, point taken. It’s a real tragedy that the internet fosters such grossly abusive behavior that people who care are pariahs.

  7. I stumbled upon this article, and your blog in general, via the link in RPS’ current Sunday Papers. Just wanted to stop by and say that it’s wonderful that you’re writing (publicly) again, because you sure are one damn fine writer. You’ve got yourself a new reader 🙂

    BTW: That “general-interest RPG fan forum” where your piece on The Witcher was linked back then… that was RPGCodex, wasn’t it?

  8. Jack: She also accomplished the 12 things in the big old list smack dab in the middle of the article, in case you missed it. And yes, feelings are a thing that humans experience in response to abuse, and sometimes people respond to those feelings in a way that will minimize their chances of experiencing more of them.

    But of course you’re obviously not here to engage meaningfully with this.

  9. Thank you from an old-school gamer!
    This is one of the most refreshing and honest posts i red in ages.
    Its really hard to find serious and interesting writes about gaming. I got a list myself and try to add more positions to it, even tho im still very much a gamer and have family/kids and a pretty serious job 😉
    I will most likely enjoy your future posts.

    thx again

  10. Thoughtful & inspiring piece, thanks.

    Also thank you for creating a website that finally reveals that “FEMA has been secretly exploring possible applications of money for government profit”. It’s time the truth came out
    Seriously, that website has made all of my days 🙂

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked Verified Facts. It was the project I’ve had the most fun on since quitting games writing.

      Make sure you try out the “search” function. You can make conspiracy theories about whatever nouns you want. 😀

  11. Was gutted when Second Person Shooter went silent and with no real explanation just as we started writing stuff on Arcadian Rhythms and the like and were looking for like minded people.

    Glad to see that you are back and blown away by the 280 page novel news.

    Likewise I have been coming to a bit of a slow realisation that if I didn’t spend as much time discussing things with people on the internet I might get a few more things finished in life – but hey.

    I would say mean things about Jack Smoth but really, that seems like I would sinking to his level and if there is one thing the internet has taught me is that Greg King was right:

    Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

    • I think we all go through a phase where we realize that we can’t become every single one of the million possible people we imagine ourselves being in the future– that the walls are closing in, that options are limited, that one by one the various branches are getting pruned away… on one hand, the shitty Witcher episode was ultimately good for me on at least one level, because it pushed me into a new channel of (closely related) creative output that in the end proved more sustaining and supportive, but I still miss it. I would have loved to have been a good games writer but to some extent that future is incompatible with the one I live in now.

      This kind of stuff is always hard. I would love to clone myself so I could do all the stuff I want to do without sacrificing any opportunities, and also of course so I could fight enemies like a pack of hyper-coordinated ninjas.

  12. Pingback: TV Games Are For Boys - Electron Dance

  13. Pingback: TV Games Are For Boys | Ruthless Culture


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