I Love Reading Internet Comments

I Love Reading Internet Comments
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I have a confession to make. I read the comments. Actually, it’s worse than that. I don’t just read the comments, I enjoy reading the comments. I’ve been getting paid to write on the Internet for more than 15 years, and you, Ungentle Reader — yes, you, the one who used to write “More liberal claptrap!” under my articles and now writes “tl;dr” and “Do you even game, bro?” instead — you are the wind beneath my wings. I’m not joking.

My faith is often tested, I admit. Last week, a reader spuriously accused me of plagiarism (for saying that jumping across the Thames River in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is reminiscent of Frogger). Another time, my Twitter mentions became unusable for several hours because some Gamergaters got momentarily confused (about exactly when I gave a few dollars to a writer on Patreon). Incidents like these waste my time, make me angry, and leave me spent.

On their better days, though, readers have buoyed me through a rough patch, like the time they sent me grateful emails at the end of a gruelling presidential campaign a decade ago. They have made my work better. They point out mistakes, allowing me to correct the record quickly. They bring me new information without making me work for it. They make smart observations and post them in a place where I will see them and learn from them. Even when I think an avalanche of commenters are being wilfully obtuse or otherwise missing the point, I wonder if a lot of negative feedback is a sign that I could have written a better story. I should have made my point more clearly, or rebutted an obvious counterargument.

Even you — yes, you, I’m talking to you, the one who is scrolling past this paragraph without looking at it on your way to make fun of a story I wrote 10 days ago that you didn’t read, either — are a shot of dopamine into my writer-brain, evidence that I exist and am not hurling this page of pixels and letters into the void.

I know good writers who hate commenters, who don’t read comments, who are paralysed by the anonymous insults and hate speech that have been part of Internet graffiti for as long as I can remember. I don’t think they should be forced to read the comments. It’s true that, on the rare occasions when I am mistaken for a woman — rarer still now that my byline is accompanied by powerful evidence of my handsomeness — the mockery and vitriol increase.

It’s also true, I think, that social media has made comments worse, by making it easier to summon an army of politically motivated users who don’t read the article and aren’t interested in engaging with it or with other readers. These are the drive-by shooters of online conversation. Still, it’s not like I’ve never fired off an angry email to a reporter or columnist, or tweeted something intemperate about an article I didn’t like.

Readers sometimes resent writers because they are right to resent us! Writers occupy positions of power and authority (Write Privilege?), even if our salaries don’t indicate that. We are underpaid because there are too many of us, and there are too many of us because there are people who want our jobs and will do them for less money. They do the work for free. I yelled at play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, and tweeted about Joe Buck, throughout the baseball playoffs that just ended. (Go Royals.) He is still much better at his job than I would be. I’m still allowed to resent him.

The reader is not always right. (I’m the one getting paid here, remember?) Even so, readers who complain are often right about something. The next time my blood pressure rises from reading something one of you write — and I do read them all, really — I’ll remind myself of something Nate Wells, now an art director at Crystal Dynamics, once told me. I was reporting a story for Wired about BioShock Infinite, and he was trying to explain how Irrational Games used player feedback from focus groups. The quote didn’t make the story, but I’ve repeated it again and again in the years since, so it probably should have.

You have to separate their need, he said, from their bad suggestions.

I’ll see you downstairs.

Illustration by Jim Cooke


  • Good article, and I did read it all the way through, but I am a bit old fashioned that way! 🙂

  • Never, ever read the comments on a news article. It’s full of fuckwits and just pisses me off. I still scroll down there occasionally and regret it every single time.

  • Ah, but do you read the comments sections of other nations’ sites, Chris? Do you?

    Because it is very important that you recognize than a random Australian nerd believes that your opinion on all games ever can no longer be trusted because you had the audacity to declare that AC6 is better than AC4 by calling it ‘the best AC since AC2’. ie: A totally objectively untrue assertion and grounds for disqualification from the official association of uh… gaming bloggers. Yeah. Uhm.

    Well, all the same… Yay for generalized validation of our (collective) commenting existence!
    Let us all come together in mutual acknowledgement of each others’ existence.

    …I wonder if this is how diplomats begin peace talks.

    • Having started my own tiny blog and tried getting my friends and connections to actually read it, I’ve had a small sample of that need for validation. I can see how it can be powerful and potentially destructive.

      For me, a lot of it isn’t the need to be proven right. Just the desire for someone to actually engage with what I say. I think I have interesting things to say, and it’s crushing when none of my friends seem to agree. That said, one friend did point out that not reading my blog does not equate to not caring about what I say. So I shouldn’t be too harsh on my friends.

      But seeing no one read a post is kind of like being buried in a coffin, yelling and hoping someone hears you. And only having silence for company.

      • I’m totally there with you. Whenever I write up a thing (rarely happens :P) I’m always hoping to come back and find responses to it. And super disappointed when there isn’t, even if the little counter tells me a bunch of people have read it.

  • I’ll post how I feel about an article. Most writers are up and down on weather or not I’ll agree, usually I don’t even take note of who it’s by unless it’s a handful of people.

    There’s only one writer for Kotaku who I know by name that only seems to write bad\plagiarized\rehashed\click bait articles consistently.

    I won’t say who though but it’s not you Chris.

  • Sometimes I click on articles just because I know the comment section will be filled with those people that humourously whine about how wrong everyone is and that they are the only voice of reason. Sometimes I am that guy.

  • Uh-Oh! I just discovered through this article that I am one of the casual scrollers. I have been reading this site daily for 8 years and I have no idea who Chris (or any of the other) writers are. I enjoy the content and love reading comments though. Perhaps slot some Bios or ‘meet the writers’ articles into the blogroll?

  • Well I for one feel that it is about time my excellent work in the comments section was recognised.

    We now have a special bond as writer and reader. *sniff* I’ll never forget you Craig….

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