How We Treat Each Other Is Important

I had the great good fortune to participate in a podcast about the link between video games and gun violence last weekend, and while I wasn’t terribly cogent when speaking, the discussion got me thinking about some stuff, so I turn to my blog.

Most (all, I think) of the folks participating seemed to agree that there isn’t much of a case for causation between video game violence and real-world violence. In trying to explore what things could be a factor, a point that I thought was very interesting came up – gamer “culture,” and the way we treat each other when we’re protected by a shield of anonymity.

This is where my lived experience and speculation starts, so take it all with a grain of salt, and please let me know where you think I might be wrong, or where your experience tells you differently.

I’ve always had issues with anger and frustration, and I would get very frustrated with games as a kid. Hell, I still get frustrated now. I get mad at myself for not being the best at games and I forget to enjoy the process of learning to accomplish what I need to accomplish. The frustration keeps me from improving, and then I’m mad that I’m not improving, and then… you get the idea, I imagine. Round and round until I throw a controller and break the first disc of Metal Gear Solid.

This kind of frustration is bad enough in a single-player game, but transposed upon a multi-player game, it becomes more damaging for everyone involved.

When we’re playing a game competitively, face-to-face, there’s a definite feeling in the air when a person or people are becoming frustrated. Competitive gameplay means that someone always has to lose, but some people are better equipped to handle losing. Sometimes a person is just having a bad day, or other frustrations in their lives make it harder to deal with the negative feelings associated with losing.

Many times, if we’re in a group and we can sense other parties beginning to have a difficult time with their frustration, we offer to change to a different game, or do something else. We don’t want our friends to become so frustrated that they will avoid playing games with us in the future, and we are usually invested in our friends’ well-being and want them to be happy.

Now we throw online gaming into the mix. Online, you are potentially grouping up with a person or people you don’t know. You’ve never met them before, and you may never meet them again. These people may not be real to you outside of one match, and if that match goes poorly, your opinion of these people is also poor.

In five-minute matches, there is no incentive to invest in the rest of your team – to take the time to get to know them, to help them learn, to learn from them. It’s win-or-lose, and when you lose you’re more likely to be frustrated, to blame everyone else, and to cut them loose. They’re disposable, and disposing of them is a sop to your damaged self-worth.

Ultimately what this teaches us is to dehumanize the other players to make it easier to win, or to feel good about ourselves when we don’t win.

Way too many years ago, I briefly played an online multiplayer game called The Odyssey Online. It was some kind of bizarre action RPG mashup with wonky sprite graphics that haunts my dreams. As a new player, you would run around trying to find things weak enough to kill to give you gear so you could kill slightly less weak things and so on and so forth. Certain areas of the game were marked as PK (Player Killer) areas, where players could kill each other.


Oh My God, this game is still going.

As a new baby player, I was hunting for gear when I was invited to enter a guild house, where I was assured free equipment and gold would be waiting for me. Looking back, I have no idea why I entered that guild house. I can only assume that I was much more optimistic about human kindness twenty years ago. I went in and got immediately murdered, dropped all of the gear I had managed to acquire (not much), and respawned in the starting area.

It’s funny. It is. I think it’s hilarious and I understand why you’d do it. But that’s just an example of how trolling is incentivized online. Laughs, some (small) gain with regards to the game itself (my gear), no downside (as far as I can recall there was no system for reporting players back then. It was assumed that if you were in a PK area, you got what you got).

(As an aside, please don’t think I’m trying to paint a picture of myself as someone who would never troll anyone. I spent many hours in AOL chatrooms convincing kids that a hidden plaid materia existed in Final Fantasy VII, and it would bring Aerith back. I am in no way shape or form immune from the delights of schadenfreude.)

This idea that, if you were foolish enough to get got, it was your problem and not the problem of the person trolling you, was encouraged and rewarded by the interactions of the mid-90’s internet, where there were few reprisals for these interactions and they were easily stepped around if one was computer-savvy.

Where did this idea come from? Well, everywhere. Our parents, advertising, coaches, teachers… there is a pervasive concept in our society of the ends justifying the means. That cheating isn’t cheating as long as you don’t get caught (or only get caught long after getting caught means anything). Hey, if people are dumb enough to buy my dehydrated water, then I deserve their money! Right?

Competitive games tend to reward winning at any cost. If you win, you are the superior player. It doesn’t matter if you won and you’re a jerk – you still WON. The game provides positive feedback. If you were at an arcade, playing a fighting game, and you won because you bumped into your opponent and goofed up their combo – you still won. Some people don’t feel comfortable about winning that way. Some people can’t help savoring the feeling of winning, no matter what the means.

I want to highlight that point – this is not to say that anyone who feels good about winning is bad. Our brains are wired, chemically, to incentivize success. Perhaps for people who have a better cushion of ways to feel good about themselves, it’s easier to walk away from the jolt of endorphins that floods your brain when you win. For others, it might be the only way they can feel good.

So, in my opinion, we have a problem on multiple fronts:

  1. Dehumanization of fellow players
  2. Assignment of blame to victims (arguably easier after dehumanizing them)
  3. Narrow definition of success as ‘winning’
  4. Poor environmental support for those with neurochemical challenges

How do we deal with any of this? I think the biggest step is redefining success. Rewiring ourselves as people and as a society to celebrate things that aren’t just big wins. Reframing losses as learning experiences, and being able to examine and discuss losses without shame.

Support each other, and care about each other, and take care of one another. Think about how you treat each other. No one is going to be able to never upset or offend another human being. But we can still put the effort in. We can be open to feedback. We can give a shit.

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I (don’t) want to play: Anxiety and Online Gaming

I love me some video games. And while it’s nice to just slip into a trance and play through an amazing story for hours on end, ignoring the rest of the outside world, it’s also fun to spend time with your friends, working toward a shared goal or vying for dominance.

I used to play Mario Kart quite a bit with a friend who lived down the street. It was all fun and games until I’d hit a streak of losses, and then I wouldn’t want to play anymore. Because we were kids, that was okay – we’d play something else for a while, then come back to Mario Kart. A lot of times we’d switch to a single-player RPG – one person at the controls, but both of us working our way through the puzzles.

In high school, and in my early twenties, I would play fighting games and puzzle games with friends. I’d go through the same cycles – needing to take a break after a run of losses, but that was OK because we were friends, and for the most part, my companions would be more invested in making sure I didn’t get too upset than in continuing to win.

Gaming has become a thing we do via the Internet, and as we get older, our schedules align less and less of the time. I love playing World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Heroes of the Storm – I guess I’m a sucker for Blizzard properties – but I’m terrified to play them without a preselected group of friends.


Pictured: Sheer terror.

Switching gears, I have (professionally diagnosed!) anxiety and depression, and it makes it harder to deal with everyday human interactions. When those interactions are negative, it gets more difficult. Playing video games on the internet, with a random assortment of people, is… challenging. As a new, unskilled player of a game, I live in fear of being yelled at (either literally over voice chat, or figuratively in all caps in typed chat) due to my performance. Because of this fear, I avoid playing the game – even though I want to. Because I avoid playing the game, I never learn to play well, so I become a perpetual newbie.

Other players online have no prior connection to me and so, no vested interest in my long-term happiness. When you play games with friends in real life, assuming that they want to remain friends, they have good reason not to frustrate you past the point of breaking ties. Online, no such incentive exists.

Game developers use tools like banning and reporting to try to curb the most egregious behavior, but what happens when the problem isn’t just the behavior itself but the anticipation of such behavior?

The other problem that I run into is that, on the internet, people seem quicker to assume purposeful ignorance than to think that a person might need guidance or instruction. So instead of someone letting me know that next time, I need to do X instead of Y, I just get a person calling me names, leaving my team, kicking me off of a team, and so on.

If I felt that playing games online would be a truly cooperative and collaborative experience, with a team that felt some level of investment with each other, it might be easier to overcome the anxiety that I feel whenever I sit at that login screen, or hover the mouse cursor over the “Find Game” button. But I don’t. And maybe the only way to combat that is to have more good experiences – but how do I overcome the anxiety initially to have those experiences? And what do I do when the experiences are bad, and end with hours or days lost to an anxiety attack that I would not have otherwise experienced?

I don’t know. I guess I just keep trying, whenever I can. I’d love to join a group of people online who are here to support each other through experiences like this… but interacting with people is another source of anxiety…. and round and round the anxiety wheel goes.

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When you are introduced as “Goddess of Sin,” people tend to have expectations. They think sinuous or voluptuous. They think hedonist and erotic.

These are not sins.

The Goddess of Sin borrows your car, and returns it with the gas tank emptied.

She uses the last piece of toilet paper and doesn’t replace the roll – even though she knows where the rolls are.

Your smart phone wallpaper is a photo of her face, lips stretched like a duck’s bill.

There are greater sins.

She excludes.

Get out, she says. Foreigners, queers, bleeding hearts. Get out.

Build a wall.

Those people can’t stay here, as she drives past a suburb of makeshift tents, tarps on strings. In her car it is warm, climate controlled. The air outside is freezing. She turns the volume up and listens to a song about Freedom.

You should have kept your legs closed, to a terrified young person. No free lunch, to a child in desperate poverty.

We must, she says, provide the best possible environment for Business.

Trickle-down economics.

Absolutely no free health care. Higher education? Work two jobs. If you were better with money, it wouldn’t be a problem, she says, her trust fund well-managed.

Seeds of fear and uncertainty, carefully nurtured, bursting into bloom with deeply seated terrors we’ll never admit to that drive us to distrust each other.

The fear that makes a fully armed grown man kill a harmless child with a toy gun.

The Goddess of Sin wears women’s suits with a-line skirts and strings of sterile pearls. Her stockings are never torn. She walks in three-inch heels across impossible terrain as though she walked on water. Her haircut says, “Can I speak to your manager?”

She is here and she is among us and she is within us and we must fight her and fight her and fight her and struggle not to become her.

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Parenting (from a non-parent)

A friend of mine is having a baby. (Well, a couple of them are, but this is about one in particular). Emotions appropriate to this development include happiness, excitement… but mostly I feel apprehensive.

I parted ways with this person years ago because I disagreed with their stance on an ever-widening group of subjects, and one of those subjects was child rearing. I expect any prospective co-parent to support my children’s health and happiness, and they – to my mind – did not.

It’s important to note here, I think, that they believed they were doing the right thing, and that it wasn’t being done out of hatred. At least, it didn’t feel that way. But when they told me they couldn’t accept a child if the child was gay, or transgender – that they would give them their love but not their acceptance – I couldn’t reconcile that. I couldn’t compromise on that.

So now they are having a kid with someone else, and I’m worried all over again. It’s none of my business, but I can’t not feel it. And who knows? Maybe they’ve grown over the past years; maybe things will change when the kid is a reality and not a theory. I wish I could feel an unadulterated happiness for them.

The more that I think about it, the more nervous it makes me that any one person should have dominion over another. Why does anyone in their right mind want to be a parent? I mean, I know, genetics and natural selection and memes (but not like internet memes), but – it should be terrifying. I suppose most people have a moment of being terrified. But we go on reproducing.

I don’t know. I have nothing against kids. My nephew is fun to hang out with. Kids are fine. But they’re not for me. So maybe this is all me projecting my own insecurities onto other people. It’s just that when I hear stories about parents making their kids’ lives miserable, it hurts. Parents ought to be the people you can trust, can turn to no matter what, yeah? Isn’t that how it ought to be?

But today we have parents who refuse to vaccinate, and sometimes their children die, and sometimes other children die as a result of it. We have baby Vegan diets and babies fed with junk food. Bottles with Coca-Cola in them.

Of course, the flip side of that is something close to eugenics, and I don’t support that either. No one should make your reproductive choices for you. It’s too personal, it’s too powerful. And god knows we don’t need the 1% taking more shit away from us.

When did people stop listening to science? When did people start looking at their children as their pet projects and not as human fucking beings?

I have seen internet posts from families who brag about their children being “off the grid” – delivered at home, no Social Security number, no birth certificate. Are you fucking kidding me? Look, the system is fucked up, but you are robbing your child of their future! And then for fuck’s sake don’t post ON THE INTERNET about it. This isn’t a sociological experiment, it’s a PERSON!

Is it because we all want to think that we’re smarter than the next person? We all want to imagine that we have found the Secret to win against The System? We want to feel like we’ve got it all figured out, that we know the things that other people don’t?

Has it ALWAYS been like this? Centuries ago, were people having babies in barns and then hiding them whenever the local Lord or his representatives came by? Did people marvel over the ability of liquor to send a baby to sleep and refuse medicine as witchcraft?

Just be open to the possibility that you’re wrong. Be open to the possibility that you aren’t reading the results of that study correctly. That bias has been introduced. Learn to sift knowledge back and forth in your brain like a great pan until the shiny gold nugget of truth reveals itself. And then be prepared to have that nugget disproven in five years, or ten.

Well, this turned into a fucking rant and a half, yeah?

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Werk werk werk (werk werk werk)

Sorry, Rihanna.

My first Monday back at work – it was less trouble to get going than I anticipated, which was a blessing. Hopefully tomorrow morning continues the trend.

When I got there things were a bit crazy – one of my guys was overloaded and sick and really needed to go home – so I just waded into it and started doing things. I suspect that’s the best way to handle a mess in the moment; the key is remembering the origin of the mess and taking care of THAT later on.

It astounds me how much design work people expect for free; the perception that “you can just change that in the computer,” “it will only take you a second,” whatever. Here’s the thing: people go to school to learn how to do those things, and we certainly do not pay our people enough to justify that shit. Designers ought to be earning much more for the design by itself, let alone doing the work of having the job printed and finished.

It irks me because we’re willing to help out when others need it – we always give things “a shot” and because I work with some smart fucking people, we generally figure it out. But then we’ve figured it out once, so it becomes a thing that we do again, and again, and for other customers, and eventually all of our time becomes eaten by custom projects instead of keeping work rolling in evenly like we ought to. In a very real way, we become punished for our willingness and ability to help.

Maybe what I need to do is just take it on myself to do what I’d like to see, which is to acknowledge the person who figured it out and say, hey, it’s awesome that you did this, can I cover your regular work for a bit so you can document the process, so that we can do it again in the future?

It doesn’t always work. Some folks seem stuck in crisis mode and I’m not sure how to subvert that. But I guess all you can do is try.

On another note, here’s a joke for you: Microsoft Exchange. Amirite? lolololol

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Please stop

Got in some more Dark Souls; got past the Crystal Sage and well into the Cathedral area (I think I’m near the boss). Still having a lot of fun with the game – it treads the line between challenging and frustrating very artfully. After a challenging fight there will often be a bonfire, so you don’t have to re-do the challenging fight again. There’s enough of a difficulty that you feel GOOD about clearing an area, but not so much that you don’t want to go back in and try again. At least, that’s been the case for me so far. We’ll see, I guess.

I’ve noticed the racist things my mom says a lot more frequently lately, and I don’t know if she’s getting worse about it or I’m just being more observant, but it’s driving me crazy. Lately I hear a lot of “that’s very white of them” or “that would be the white thing to do” and my brain for a second thinks the word is right, and then I realize what it actually is.

When I try to call her on it, it’s always “just a phrase” or “I didn’t mean it that way”. Today I didn’t call her on it, and I feel like a shit for not doing so. I was just… tired. Tired of going to my mom expecting comfort and then getting… this. Having to be the grown-up. I don’t know. I’ll try harder. I’ll do more, next time.

I read a book a few months ago called Hillbilly Elegy as part of a reading group I had found online who were trying to make sense of the results of the election. Usually I roll my eyes when someone says that a book changed their life, but this certainly did something to my perspective. It talks about honor codes among Appalachian families and their kids, how if you can’t trust the government you can only trust your family, so family becomes All-Important. You might hate the way your mother spanks the shit out of you when you fuck something up, but god help anyone else who says a word against her. Or you know your uncle is an alcoholic, but you’re damn sure not going to let anyone else run their mouth about it.

It results in a sort of hypervigilance because there is a feeling of always being on the defensive, always having to defend the family honor. But typically in these families, the actual members of the family are also constantly at each others’ throats – maybe because of the hypervigilant state they’re in all the time, I don’t know – and you just accept it. It becomes normal.

You normalize the things your family says and does because to do otherwise is to admit to their faults and open them for attack, and you don’t do that because family sticks together, no matter what.

Anyway, while the situations in my family certainly don’t seem to be as extreme as the ones chronicled in Hillbilly Elegy, there were a lot of things that rang uncomfortably true with me and my family experience growing up. Always being on the defensive. Fighting among your family but defending them without exception to outsiders. The development of an “us vs. them” mentality, intended to keep the family banding together, maybe unconsciously, but still present.

I just thought it was normal. In the fourth grade I used the word “negro” because it was in the book we were reading and I didn’t know any better.

Frequently, particularly if she is drinking, my mom will apologize to me for my “having to be the grown-up” for years when I was a kid. And I know that she’s beaten herself up about it so much already, so I always absolve. It’s okay, mom. You did fine. Which is, I suppose, an extension of “being the grown-up.”

I lost the thread of this a bit, but sometimes I want to say: If you’re really sorry, then grow up now. Think before you speak. Respect others’ feelings. Please stop calling good things “white” and referring to certain people as “towelheads.” Stop saying that it’s the way you grew up and your father used these words so much and you just can’t help it. If I can help it, so can you. I know you can be responsible in other respects. I’ve seen it. Exercise it here, in your interactions with other people.

I guess I just wish I could reach out to my family for support without being reminded that we’re part of the problem. I don’t know.

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I have a friend I don’t spend enough time with. Well, that’s probably true of all my friends, but in this case my friend is going to be leaving the state for a few years, and I’m left kicking myself for not spending more time with her while I could, for not reaching out, for being afraid, for thinking of myself as a nuisance.

Maybe we take the really close people for granted. It’s like how I lived in Washington all my life, never more than an hour or so drive away from Seattle, but I never went up the Space Needle until a friend visiting town wanted to see it. I still haven’t eaten at the revolving restaurant on top of the Needle – it’s far too expensive.

But if we know our friends are always there, we tell ourselves we can call them tomorrow, or next weekend, or maybe the next time we have free time, and our lives get so busy, and then we don’t want to be a bother, or maybe that’s just me. And now that my friend is leaving, I’m coming up with all of these ways to communicate – maybe I can Skype her, or FaceTime her, or text her. Suddenly I’m thinking of putting in far more effort just to speak with her than I have the entire time she’s been physically close.

Knowing that a person is there, knowing that you have their friendship, knowing that they are available if you need them – it fills your heart, even when you’re not directly with them. And even with so many ways to communicate, my heart will be a little emptier with the knowledge that she is out of reach, in a way.

And of course it’s not debilitating and I very much support her and I want her to go out and do what she wants with her life. I’m just trying to process, I guess.

Hopefully she’s not reading this, because she’d feel bad about making me feel bad. But just in case she is: I love you, I swear I’ll try to get my shit together and come visit you, I’m sorry I didn’t take the time over the last year.

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