The end of July brought pretty lame news for creatives. An indie game developer, Phil Fish, got tired of taking abuse from various corners and announced that the game he was in the process of creating was going to be cancelled and that he was leaving videogames altogether. The games industry needs developers like Fish (creatively; not perhaps personally), and it's pretty ridiculous that haters drove him out.
|He really just needed to look at this chart by Ann Friedman (click to embiggen). |
It makes things so CLEAR.
This article on the Penny Arcade Report is one of the best I ever expect to read about the ways in which superfluous negative criticism - a.k.a. trolling - subtracts from our lives. The toxicity of trolls feels to me like a kind of cosmic blowback from the no-tolerance-for-bullying thing that's swept American schools for the past few years. We'll just take it to the internet, the bullies bellow; you can't stop us there.
I was bullied a little bit in middle school. The thing I learned from this experience (along with "middle school sucks") is that nothing fucking works. Ignoring them doesn't work, because they escalate. Reporting them doesn't work, because they will find you alone, and they'll escalate until they get your attention. Responding in kind doesn't work, because then you're a jerk too. Plus, they escalate, and you'll both get bloody noses. Making them think usually doesn't work, because people don't bully with their brains. Humiliating them from your place on the high road is pretty much the only thing I know that works, and hoo mama is it tricky.
Two bookstore employees hanging around in the aisle made fun of me for wearing a shirt that looked like a referee's. Actually made fun of me, exactly the way you'd make fun of your little sister for a stupid-looking ponytail if you were ten. I was so amazed that this was possible in adult life that I muttered "thank you" several times (??) and got the fuck out of there. This still bothers me from time to time, not because they hurt my feelings and made me stop wearing that shirt forever after, but because it seemed so colossally dumb and bizarre to ridicule a grown woman, a stranger, for her clothing. What the hell were they thinking? Why??
Matt has tried to explain to me that trolls have a different thought process than you and me. That "why" doesn't really enter into it. That all they want is a reaction, any kind of reaction. Returning their abuse, killing them with kindness, and deletion all offer them satisfaction. Because each shows that you wasted a thought on them. Leaving aside how little I understand this, I find it pretty pathetic. Like Honey Boo Boo. A desperation for attention so all-devouring that it lowers every one of us into the muck.
On my last morning at Esalen, I had breakfast with a couple of ladies I hadn't talked to much before. One of them was around my age and the other was around my mom's age. I don't remember how it came into conversation, but I said that I didn't know how much of my motivation to write well and succeed should come from "I'll show 'em all." The woman my age nodded fervently, clearly grokking it even without what I was about to say, the explanation I was about to give: there are so many people I've encountered whom I want to look defiantly in the eye when I shake hands with an agent, or pick up the Sharpie to sign yet another book, or accept my National Book Award (and while I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony). So many people I think of when I write a really fine sentence and think See, fuck you, I'm worthwhile, and you'll be sorry you crossed me.
But even before I said any of that, the woman my mom's age said "Not even one bit of it. Don't waste your energy on showing anybody. People you have to show aren't worth a moment of effort."
She said it with such conviction. I'd heard this message before, but hadn't heeded it, as it's always seemed a bit like communism. A nice principle, but not one that is applicable in the petty, muddy, bloodily competitive human life I generally lead. Rugby on a rainy day doesn't coax the finest, highest thoughts out of most players. I've been using "I'll show 'em all" to motivate me from time to time, because I figure that at least it's something to motivate me, rather than just muddling about and hoping for the best. But the woman seemed to speak from experience. And the idea of showing 'em all does leave me kind of empty at the end of the day.
Of course, there's stuff like this (NSFW, but a must-watch):
I think "Thank You, Hater!" is a one-off, and taking this amount of time and energy to respond to trolls is really not a good idea on a regular basis. But oh, is it ever satisfying to watch.
Speaking of satisfying, if you ask me, Parker/Stone are kind of the last word on this whole question of what to do about people who tear you down for no apparent reason - bullies, haters, trolls, lesser rappers. This whole episode from season 16, "Butterballs," is worth watching for its insight on bullying, but this bit, at the end, is one of those moments that sticks after the satire fades.
If only Phil Fish could have seen this and taken it to heart before he gave up on his endeavors. Before he let them win.