This is a rare personal post. Some people aren’t into those so if you aren’t, here’s your fair warning. I also couldn’t get my brain in writing gear for a bit so the week I’m referencing is actually that of October 27th-31st, not that the time particularly matters.
My current job is unfortunately temporary and only due to last until next Summer. Nonetheless, because it’s such a great employer (and unionised to boot), I still get a ton of vacation time. I’m likely not going to end up using it all so I get a little more financial runway when it goes away but after enduring the mental and physical beating that is Extra Life ($1,580 raised at time of writing, thank you all!), I decided to use a full week of it.
Truth be told, my mind was in a confused and distorted place for a variety of reasons. Extra Life was a big part of it but we also had the horrific shooting in Ottawa the week before and the ongoing GamerGate insanity was actually really taking its toll on me. I’m not invested in that conflict the way some people are but as a huge gamer and someone who takes the games industry, culture and history very seriously, it was hurting a lot and taking a mental toll to see said culture ripping itself apart from the inside, something still happening as I write this. I needed a break, one where I was free of most obligations and free to just relax and do what I wanted. Some people would call this a “staycation”. Horrible murderers of the English language, of which I am not one. Ahem.
I got some largely boring personal stuff taken care of. I started working with a financial planner, got some car stuff done and a few things around the house. I played some games (though not as many as I expected) and made some videos. I took Riley for super long walks every day and smashed my step count goal every day that week which was awesome. On Halloween night, my girlfriend and I went to a tiny event where a small food truck and an equally small microbrewery from our suburb did a food and beer pairing night. It exceeded all our expectations and we left stuffed and having met a bunch of great Stittsville neighbours. Then on Saturday, I did my single session stream of Outlast and its Whistleblower DLC because amazing people pushed me over $1,500 raised for Extra Life during the week. It was great, funny and torturous. If you missed it, fret not as the YouTube version is presently being edited and I hope to start rolling it out on my channel this week or next. I’ll announce it on here.
What made the week really interesting for me was some self-reflection I decided to undertake and the surprising results of it. As I mentioned above, the GamerGate insanity has taken a very heavy toll on me. It’s partially because I’ve seen a group once unified by common interest going at each other’s throats over something I truly feel can be talked out but that two entrenched groups refuse to let happen. It’s partially because I’ve begun to realise that while I’ll never identify as part of the larger GamerGate movement and its methods, there are real core concerns from it I believe in and that are being ignored and/or brushed off using false and defamatory labels by those who refuse to be accountable to their audience. The bigger trauma is how it’s brought out the true colours of many people and places I used to have a lot of trust and personal connection to.
I’ve talked many a time before on this blog about my love for the Gamers With Jobs community. I found the site when searching for new gaming podcasts back in 2006 and have used it multiple times a day literally every day since. It’s been there for me during some of the darkest times of my life and provided interesting conversation, debate and packed friends lists on every system. It’s been the only forum, gaming or otherwise, that I’ve used with any regularity for the last 8 years.
During my week off, I decided to ignore it completely. Save for posting a couple of times about my Outlast stream, I never went to the site at all.
I’m not going to go into a long diatribe about why I decided to do this. I don’t run the site and it’s not my place to tell the people who do how to do their job, one for which they receive little, if any compensation. What I will say is that especially since GamerGate but going back well before it, I’ve noticed a distinct shift of tone in the community.
Communities ebb and flow. This is not unusual and I’ve seen it many times there before. What’s happened the last while is bigger. Growing groups of people have become combative, dismissive, accusatory and sometimes just plain mean. It feels like camps are forming that see each other as enemies. Certain topics are not so much discussed as echoed, including in places they don’t necessarily apply. Those not with only opposite opinions but just non-binary ones are drowned out at best, ridiculed, attacked and shamed at worst. I’m not talking only about “GamerGate related issues”, this affects a number of topics. The tipping point for me was this year’s Extra Life when despite getting more promotion on the site than ever before, all but an amazing few completely ignored our efforts, despite finding time to keep on being angry about other things, not taking so much as a few moments out to help us do good (see the latter part of this post for more on that.) To simplify the point, it’s become a lot like other forums, albeit still much more polite and organised. Why this has been allowed to happen I don’t know but again, it’s not my site.
I honestly thought ignoring it for a week would be hard. For years, I clicked the button in my bookmarks bar multiple times a day out of muscle memory. I used to keep interesting and busy threads open on their own tabs and refresh them constantly to stay current on discussions. I’ve both given and received hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in Steam gifts during the holidays. I still mourn the loss of some amazing people from that site to this day. I said I would be strong in my resolve though and see if I could ignore it for a full week.
I also decided that I was going to implement a new regiment on how I consume Twitter for the same week. This is another thing I’ve used every day since I joined in July, 2009. When I had two monitors at my last job, I used to use the second one almost exclusively for MetroTwit. Every free moment, I was checking it like so many people do. I followed hundreds of people, more than it’s realistically possible to keep up on. In the last year and especially the last two months, I’ve trimmed that list down a lot which has helped but I also found Twitter was both distracting and frustrating me too much as I get too invested in what I read on there, a common problem. My plan was that I would do another culling of “noise” from my feed and that for the week, I would never look at it on a computer. I would only view it from my phone, which makes it impossible to follow in real-time and always builds the feed up enough that I have to scroll through it quickly, not having time to really process or get invested in anything being said.
The idea was that it would hopefully lessen my reliance on these places as part of my daily life and could start treating them as something I read casually instead of habitually. I’ve had many habits in my life and the only way I’ve ever found to get rid of them is not to wean myself to moderation but to quit cold turkey and build back up to moderation, if I attempt to build up again at all.
It turns out it wasn’t a challenge, not even a little bit. I haven’t been back to Gamers With Jobs since the 27th, nor have I used Twitter from anything but my phone, checking it maybe half a dozen times a day at most.
This came as a huge shock. These two things were as common to me a breathing for years and taking not just a step but a few dozen steps back didn’t turn out to be hard at all, especially considering I was on vacation and had few obligations to distract me. I expected a monumental challenge, one I felt I could consider overcoming to be a major milestone. In truth, I don’t feel like a challenge was overcome, it’s just kind of a thing that happened.
Shocking further still is how much better I feel having done so. A while back, I listened to an interesting episode of Freakonomics Radio on how quitting something can be good for you. Essentially, the theory proffered was that people often tend to get personally obligated to things they actually don’t need and don’t enjoy. They feel that quitting is either a defeat or that they’ll feel worse doing so when the opposite is often the truth. That episode spoke to me and provided a lot of the motivation to try this and the lesson is very apt. Having cut out Gamers With Jobs and significantly reduced my Twitter usage, two things that were to me, just things I did, has removed a huge stress and weight off my shoulders. I had a similar feeling a number of years ago when I decided to stop associating with some people in my life I had deemed toxic, yet that same reasoning never crossed my mind with these. Everything that was frustrating and upsetting me about those places still exists but I don’t see it any more, thus it doesn’t affect me. The break snapped the cycle my brain was in of fearing that I was missing out on something and that I had to keep going back to find out. Truly, this is a prime example of how ignorance is often bliss.
To some, this sounds pretty elementary and maybe it is. I have a great therapist but she is completely techno-illiterate by choice. She uses no social networks, invoices me with photocopies she writes my name on and loathes the few times she has to even use e-mail. I couldn’t discuss this with her first. I came up with this on my own and it was an experiment I had to try on my own with no idea what would happen. The results were revelatory.
This has taught me a lot about both myself and just how important these social vectors really were to me. I don’t want to coldly dismiss the impact many people from both Gamers With Jobs and Twitter have had on my life. There are many from both places I would call friends and my life is richer and better knowing them. The thing is, those are individuals and the whole with all the baggage that comes with it is not always necessary to keep them in my life. I’ve learned a method for dealing with situations like this in the future and at least this time, it was shockingly easy to implement. It probably doesn’t work for everyone but it seems to for me.
Both my girlfriend and I are only children and we’re very introverted and self-determined. We’re used to having to work for ourselves to get what we have and drawing energy from solo down time. We love each other deeply but we actually don’t hang out that much when we’re at home, yet we’re fine with that because we each get to do what we enjoy. Many people see this as odd, indeed some would probably see it as dysfunctional but it’s perfect for us and I think it makes our relationship stronger. In the past, I treated some difficult real life friendships with opposite thinking and it stressed me out and made me miserable, especially as infighting began among those friends and I was seen as the enemy by those I thought weren’t wholly in the right. I realised in this week off that I had got myself into the same horrible, emotionally draining cycle, only with online friends instead. The parallels were uncanny when that clicked. I feel like this is a major accomplishment and milestone for my personal emotional development and I don’t think I would have had it if I didn’t have this week off and make these plans around it.
I’ve thought many times about just being done with Twitter, certainly many more since GamerGate began. I still don’t think I’m there yet but I have come to realise just how much damage to discourse and communication that service and it’s ridiculous, dated limitations are causing. I have decided to tweet a lot less (getting there but I have some ways to go) and I’m continuing to check it only from my phone and only a few times a day. I’m also not hesitating to be ruthless with the unfollow and mute buttons to ensure noise and toxicity is not visible to me. If you’re someone I recently unfollowed and you’re puzzled by it, please don’t take it personally. It’s not a commentary on you, it’s just me curating what I take in. Use Twitter however you see fit, that’s the point. I’m just doing the same.
As for Gamers With Jobs, I don’t think I’ll ever be done with that place but I haven’t been back yet and still have no burning compulsion to return. That will probably change eventually and I’d still like to send a bunch of Steam gifts at Christmas, even if I don’t get any back. I look at the friends lists on my consoles and Steam and can’t deny how awesome it is to have so many other people to play and socialise with. However, I’ve also realised that I don’t have to be so invested in a place that a major shift in it I see as negative needs to burden other elements of my life. I can go there when I want and take the good and ignore the bad. If the bad gets too much, I can just go away for a while. My brain no longer feels that obligation and man does that feel like a relief.
I did indeed de-stress on my week off but I think I also learned some things that hopefully mean I won’t have to de-stress so much going forward. I wish I could find a way to hang out in places and not take so much of what I read personally but it’s just not how I’m wired. Maybe one day I can fix that but until then, this should do the job pretty good for now and it makes me feel a little better about the future. An interesting week indeed.