Last year for the first time in a while, I decided to make some New Year’s resolutions and post them publicly. I’m not normally big on the practice but I thought putting them out into the ether would in some way help me follow through on them. I actually did pretty well on all of them except one (more on that shortly) so I thought I’d so it again. The problem was when I sat down to think about it, I couldn’t come up with much beyond just continuing what I already started. Instead, I’m just going to kind of talk for a while about the year that’s past and what I hope to see in 2015 in a bit more of a general sense.
2013 was a year with a couple of highlights and a lot of downers for me. I had high hopes that 2014 would be better, if for no other reason than I didn’t think it could get a lot worse barring disaster. It was worse. I was laid off from my job in March, very close to my birthday. It was mostly because my employer was badly struggling financially (they still are) but I also found out later that it was potentially because I stated some unflattering things about them online while working there. They knew of this blog and my Twitter. I never named them and my statements were based off information that was publicly available but still, I ruffled the wrong feathers. I’ve long said that having an opinion on a social network account that’s supposed to be yours should be your own business as long as it doesn’t harm anyone (which I didn’t) but that’s just not the way the world works.
I was lucky to have some money keep coming in from freelance work during my unemployment so stuff never got serious. I landed another job in the Summer that’s interesting and pays much better (and I wasn’t badly paid before) but it’s only for a year and has little chance of becoming permanent. I’m happy where I am but I’m bracing for the fact that in a few months, I’ll have to move to something else I may very well not be happy at. There are great IT jobs out there but there are a lot of soul-crushing ones too. I had a resolution to get more training last year and advance my career skills but my unemployment made that not a viable option. I’m hoping I can save enough that if I do end up unemployed this year, maybe I can afford to take a course or two. My girlfriend had a better employment year but had a ton of her own stresses which I hate having to see her endure but it looks like maybe her situation is normalising which is a high point.
I also became a lot more introverted in the last year. A lot of things I’d hoped to do during the year that relied on others didn’t end up happening. Rather than get angry and frustrated about it, I’ve just decided to rely more and more on myself alone to accomplish things because well, I generally know I can count on myself. I’m not sure if this is healthy to be honest but it’s resulted in a lot less disappointment at least. I’ve talked to my therapist about it and her general opinion is that there’s nothing wrong with being introverted and the negativity associated with that is often a result of misguided societal pressures. She says if I don’t feel bad relying on others less, then it’s OK. I’m not certain I agree yet but I guess it’s worked out alright.
There was also a ton of bad shit that happened in the world in general. Ukraine, ISIS, an ISIS-inspired shooting in my home town, Ebola, Ferguson and countless others. I know that in general, the world is a better and safer place than it’s been in a while but one can’t deny that having the instant access to information that we have now can amplify how bad things seem. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of commentary on those subjects because though I try to stay informed, I just am not smart enough to discuss them on a deeper level. Humanity clearly still has a lot of shit to get together and some core problems that many thought were improving still are nowhere near where they need to be. It’s an immeasurable shame.
I also realised during my unemployment that I’ve probably been suffering from some form of chronic anxiety for most of my life. I could never figure out what it was. I just assumed I was jittery and prone to not thinking before I spoke and while both of those things are probably true, it’s become clear that there is something else at work that’s amplifying those issues. I was given some meds to calm me down when I was unemployed but when the issues continued even after finding work, my therapist and I agreed we should get a more regimented process in place. I’ve been off work for two weeks for Christmas and have spent most of that time getting used to new medication.
It’s a Hell of a weird thing to sit through your brain essentially being chemically rewired. The meds I’m taking are relatively light in their class but also one of those that can actually make things worse for a couple of weeks before making them better. I wouldn’t say anything’s been made worse (OK, the occasional headaches and nausea are) but things are definitely different. My girlfriend’s commented on how quiet I’ve gotten and a lot of that is because I just don’t feel the need to hastily respond to every little point someone makes, even when no response is actually needed. I’ve always been that way and it both looks and feels weird to not have that compulsion any more. I still often have a constant background hum of nervousness going on but I’ve been told by several people that this is normal and will eventually dissipate. I really hope so but at the same time, I wonder how I’m going to process not having a negative feeling there that has essentially just been the norm for most of my 35 years.
Then there’s what happened in video games. I talk a lot (i.e. most of the time) about them on this blog and the simple reason for that is that they’re my primary hobby and one of the only activities that allows my over-active brain to shift into a lower gear and relax. There’s plenty of other things I like to do but nothing gives me the mental escape of gaming. This year, I watched the already volatile community around my hobby fracture and shatter in a painful way by the events of GamerGate, a term that’s so rotten, it makes me wince just thinking about it. Most of what I wrote in the linked post still stands but what’s even worse is that GamerGate has accomplished nothing of real value to the medium or the community.
I don’t identify as part of GamerGate but I’ve had many of the same complaints regarding lack of journalistic ethics in gaming, cronyism, flamboyant egos and arrogance for years now, long before GamerGate was a twinkle in any B-list celebrity’s eye. Huge sections of the gaming press are rotten and no, I’m not a misogynist for saying that. If you think I am, close the browser because you’re not someone I care to talk to further. I think audience blowback was a long time coming and frankly deserved but it happened in the worst way possible, galvanising the egos further and making large sections of the audience and anyone who agrees with even some of their concerns look horrible. I haven’t dared even bring up a lot of real concerns I have for fear of getting associated with the petulant anarchist assholes who are using this as a means to harass and threaten others for laughs.
And what positive change has really come out of it? A few sites revamped their ethics policies sure but most of them weren’t violating even their updated ones to a large degree anyway. What else? Sites like Kotaku and Polygon are breaking traffic records. The writers who declared war on large sections of their audience and the clickbait articles they create are more popular than ever. Many of them are now making thousands a month on Patreon to crank out generic tripe. Brianna Wu’s shovelware grade, trope-ridden iOS game went from a failure to a success on the back of the attention she got from inserting herself into the debate with a lot of dubious claims. Zoe Quinn went from a largely unknown, untalented Twine developer to a name everyone knows, with a booming Patreon as well. Anita Sarkeesian has been on The Colbert Report, is also raking in money and has used the harassment she’s received from scumbags to shield herself against the many legitimate criticisms that can be labelled against her work and her statements. Jonathan McIntosh was unheard of before this and now has prominent members of the gaming press starring in videos for him.
You know who else has had huge surges in popularity? MundaneMatt, Sargon of Akkad, TotalBiscuit, Adam Baldwin, Brietbart, Thunderf00t, RogueStar, Internet Aristocrat (before he took his ball and went home) and many others who were considered blood enemies of those who believed in what they deemed to be social justice.
To be fair, I think TotalBiscuit is the only one from that list of GamerGate proponents who has contributed anything of value to the discussions and I think he’s being vilified unfairly but still, every single person I’ve mentioned here on both sides of the dispute is now substantially more popular than they would have been had GamerGate never happened. Most of them are profiting from this popularity as well. Meanwhile, no major reforms of note have happened and no one is satisfied. From my view, it looks like this has enriched a handful of previously mostly unimportant online personalities and little else. People are more entrenched than ever, the community is divided and game journalism is still a mess. What’s the phrase about how the only people that really win in big lawsuits are the lawyers? Kind of feels like that doesn’t it? The worst part is that this is approaching half a year on and there’s no end in sight.
So yeah, a lot of shittiness last year. I had hoped to finally find stability and found anything but. I had hoped the world would calm down some and it didn’t. Even the medium and communities I looked at to get away from that became toxic and hard to handle. It didn’t make for the best mental landscape. 2015 is already looking to have its share of challenges but a new year also brings with it the chance for a fresh start and the potential for change and improvement. What I’d really like to see are larger changes, ones which go way beyond just myself. I can try my best to help them along but they’re bigger than me.
If there’s one thing all of the tragic events of GamerGate and indeed in the world have taught me, it’s that outrage culture has become an epidemic. People love, need to be angry and social media has given us all a dead easy way to be so about anything and everything, even if it has nothing to do with us. This is not to say people can’t be offended about whatever they want but it’s gone from being something you feel and maybe discuss with someone to something you need to scream about in a public venue and rally people behind. The true impacts of issues are multiplied to many levels beyond what they are in reality because of the tools that are supposed to bring us closer together. Being offended has become a hobby, a passion and even a career path for some people. It’s sick and it’s sad and I’ve been as much a part of it as anyone else.
I cut back how much I use Twitter and substantially reduced the number of people I follow. I became ruthless with the unfollow and mute buttons. I started to use Twitter only on my phone, where I’ve added over a dozen user and hashtag filters. I removed myself from Gamers With Jobs for going on 3 months now because I didn’t like how a certain group were exerting tone influence over the community to suit their personal comforts. I stopped reading any comments sections that weren’t my own. In spite of all this, I still can’t stop getting outrage over something or other appearing in front of my eyes almost daily. Snark on top of anger on top of snark on top of derision on top of snark on top or dismissal on top of snark on top of argument on top of more damn snark. It’s so frustrating to have tried to remove my exposure to it to such a large degree and have seemingly little change.
I fully admit I was a significant contributor to this for many years. Anyone who has followed my personal Twitter feed for the last year but especially the last several weeks knows I’ve tried to cut that down a lot. Every few days, I seriously ask myself if I want to even keep using it at all. The service and it’s outdated limitations really have become the enemies of reasonable discourse. I haven’t quit it yet but who knows, I may still. What I have decided is that going forward, I’m going to consciously try not to post snap judgements and inform myself of things before I say anything about them. I also intend to state my opinions rationally but also to stop being afraid of who I’m going to offend. People have a right to be offended but no one has a right to never be offended. Anyone who knows me should know that posting an opinion different from yours doesn’t mean I see you as my enemy. If they don’t, then they can unfollow me. I’ve been ruthless with unfollowing people, I can expect no less from anyone else. Those who will say, consider me an enemy of women because I think there are legitimate gripes buried in the cesspool of GamerGate is not a rational person I want to talk to anyway. My opinions are my own and I’m tired of being scared of them but I also know I have to be 100% sure I believe in what I’m saying and that I can back it up in some way.
That is what I really hope comes from more people in general in 2015. I hope more will choose to really inform themselves of things they see happening before they weigh in with an opinion or adopt it as a call to war. So much conflict could be avoided if people just knew the facts first. A while back, Patrick Klepek coined the term FOMO, an acronym for Fear of Missing Out. It’s essentially a term for those who jump on things right away because they feel they’re missing important parts of something if they don’t get in immediately. The way social media is structured makes it an intrinsic environment for FOMO but it also leads to countless knee-jerk reactions, formed around lacking or dubious information. People also don’t like to admit when they’re wrong and this causes many to double-down on bad opinions, even when they’ve been proven as such.
People are tried, judged and convicted in trials by social media where the presumption of innocence doesn’t exist and defending one’s self is seen as an admission of guilt, all by people for whom most of these things are none of their damn business to begin with. Tribes are formed, trenches are dug and people are made out to be the enemy so that others can justify attacking them mercilessly while still being convinced they have the moral high ground. Most of the time, this is done in blissful ignorance by people who are convinced that because “The Internet” is saying it, the research into its validity must already have been done by someone somewhere.
This has got to stop if we don’t want our progress as a society to grind to a halt. There are so many bigger, critical problems in the world than whatever is outraging people on Twitter and Facebook today or what the clickbaiting press is fanning the flames of. I don’t know how to solve it beyond leading by tiny example so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m convinced outrage culture has to eventually reach some apex where it’s just going to burn itself out and people just aren’t going to care to listen any more. I don’t know if that’s going to be in 2015 but I hope it is and I hope it leads to better information and better discussion around it. Social media can be the most valuable tool we as a society have. We’ve turned it into a weapon instead and it doesn’t have to be.
So yeah, not much on the resolution front this year aside from just trying to contribute to less of the noise I guess. It doesn’t feel like much but given how I’ve personally used social media over the years, maybe doing that is a big step up for me. Beyond that, I just largely want to keep on keeping on with the resolutions I made last year. Hopefully I can end up with a steady job I like this year. Hopefully I can keep losing weight. Hopefully my YouTube channel will continue to grow and maybe this is the year I can finally have the viral hit that makes it viable. Hopefully I can try some more collaborative projects and have them actually happen reliably. Hopefully all the extremist sides of GamerGate burn themselves out so the sane ones emerge from behind our blast shields and actually try to have real discussions about this medium we all claim to love. Hopefully I can get my depression and anxiety under control in a sustainable way for the first time ever. Hopefully people start seeking out information first and attention later. That last one might be a bit of a pipe dream but I think the rest are doable. I hope so. I’d really like a year that’s more good than bad.
I hope everyone has a fantastic and prosperous 2015. Even if you’re someone I didn’t speak of fondly in this post, I wish you no ill will and I hope the world is better for all of us this year. There’s a lot that needs to be done but humanity’s accomplished far more and I still think we’re up for it. Let’s get to work.