Take this however you want. Get angry. But I think it might be time for us -- as a community -- to stop telling people to kill themselves.
Last week US Talk Show host Jimmy Kimmel did a spot on eSports and professional gaming. He doesn’t understand it. He made jokes. Basically he did what comedians tend to do: make fun of things.
I can’t decide what bothered me more: the overwhelmingly negative response or the sheer mind-numbing predictability of the overwhelmingly negative response. The inevitability of it. It was as certain as it was bewilderingly embarrassing.
And Jimmy Kimmel did a follow up segment. That segment was dedicated to the response. Over the weekend he said, he had to deal with an incredible amount of online vitriol. The segment was light-hearted. Jimmy made fun of the comments, he also made fun of himself. Some of the negativity directed at him was generally light-hearted: you’re fat, you look like a gorilla, etc. Some was darker: kill yourself, get cancer, get AIDS.
Jimmy then mentioned that much of the abuse was directed at his wife and child. You got the sense that the absolute worst of the comments weren’t being shown.
At the start of the segment, Jimmy said something that surprised me. He said something along the lines of, “this happens two or three times a year”. Jimmy makes a silly joke about the wrong thing and the wrong group gets super angry about that.
The surprising part: this only happens three times a year.
See, I had assumed this would be a normal thing. I assumed that for someone with the profile of Jimmy Kimmel -- someone who makes jokes for a living -- this would be a constant, consistent theme. I assumed he’d have to field this kind of abuse all year round. Apparently this isn’t the case.
No, Jimmy Kimmel has to field this kind of abuse when he makes a joke about video games.
Yes, it’s a few bad eggs. Yes, #notallgamers. But there’s a connection here: as a community we tend to dramatically overreact each and every time there is a perceived attack on our culture. Why is that?
Is it because, as a group, dedicated gamers tend to skew young? Is it a sign of immaturity? Is it a problem with gaming as a culture? Is it a habit? Have we become so used to being under attack as a community that we tend to lash out every time someone wants to make a silly joke?
I think back to a comment made by Michael Atkinson, back in the R18+ days, back when gamers actually had something to legitimately be angry about. He said that he and his family were more scared of gamers than they were of biker gangs. Atkinson made enemies of both groups during his political career, but he was more worried about gamers. Not the group with connections to organised crime.
Back then I laughed. It felt unbelievable. It felt ludicrous. It felt like point scoring. Like Atkinson was trying to demonise gamers in an attempt to ‘win’ an argument. That was almost certainly part of it, but sometimes I wonder: if this is how gamers react when someone makes a joke, how bad would it get if someone was actively and actually trying to attack video game culture?
I think it’s time that we accept that we, as a community, have a problem in how we communicate with people we disagree with. You can say it’s an ‘internet’ thing, you can say it’s a byproduct of anonymity, you can blame YouTube comments. I’m not too sure. Jimmy Kimmel did a follow-up segment on abuse and video games were the focus. Gamers were the group that got angry to the point where Kimmel felt the need to address it publically. Not gun nuts, not the Christian right. Gamers.
Online abuse in video game culture has been normalised and it’s not right. I’m so used to this shit it barely even registers. It’s only when it’s placed in this context, by a person like Kimmel who is genuinely confused by it, that it sort of clicks: this is not okay. It’s bullshit and it needs to stop.
Maybe let’s just start with not telling people to kill themselves. Or attacking their family and children.
Maybe that’s a decent starting point.