Smile on your brother

I’ve been thinking more last night and today about PAX and the “corporeal internet.” Specifically, wondering why going to a convention about videogames can renew my interest and surround me with a warm glow, while reading about videogames on the internet makes me want to punch people in the kidneys.

It’s definitely not for the hands-on experience — over the entire weekend, the closest I got to actually playing a videogame was watching other people play Left4Dead for a few minutes. And I could just as easily go to YouTube or GameTrailers and watch somebody else play Left4Dead for a few minutes, all without having to fly to Seattle.

The difference, obviously, is that that video on YouTube or GameTrailers would be followed with pages of comments telling us that the video is more than a week old, that the game has no point to it, that the makers of the game are overrated, or that the video clip itself likes to have sexual relations with other video clips of the same gender. That’s the whole gestalt of Web 2.0: this is the technology that gives me accurate-to-the-second updates on what my favorite artists are watching on television or having for lunch, and that is a great achievement. But it’s also the technology that empowers millions of troglodytes to crawl up out of their pools of filth and bang away on their keyboards with the same need for constant stimulus and obsession with novelty as a retarded house cat on methamphetamines.

And the problem really isn’t the “troglodytes” part, like people usually assume. It’s the “empowered” part. It’s usually not all that hard to get away from people who are acting like dicks or being willfully stupid. But it’s impossible to spend any amount of time on the internet and not get overtaken by the glacier of human opinions. There are no facts on the internet, and no topic that someone won’t find contentious or “controversial”. It creates an oppressive mass of negativity that, paradoxically, is bred from optimism. We want to believe that everybody’s opinion is valid, and great things will come out of giving everyone an equal voice. What we refuse to admit is simply this: I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass about your opinion.

(Not you, of course. I mean the general “other.” You are a treasured reader of this blog.)

A post on today, called “The Problem with PAX,” pretty much illustrates everything wrong with today’s internet. The premise is that PAX’s biggest problem now is that it’s called the “Penny Arcade Expo,” which is shutting out all the people who hate the Penny Arcade webcomic. Ignoring the logical leap from complaining about overcrowding to concluding that the convention is too exclusive, the theory breaks down because of two basic facts:

  1. It doesn’t have to include everyone. We’ve all seen what happens when you assume that everybody with an interest in videogames is a unified group with the same interests and the same level of social skills: you get the comments section of (Or any other mass-market videogame website).
  2. There’s no reason to hate Penny Arcade. There are exactly two acceptable responses to a free webcomic about videogames: enjoyment, and indifference. (Personally, I’m indifferent). Yes, I’m sure it just grates on your nerves how it’s so popular, and how you’re the only one on the internet who recognizes how it’s just not funny, and you have a duty to be the one who points out the Emperor’s New Clothes. But if it were truly possible to “hate” a webcomic just for not being funny, then everyone in the United States who could open a web browser would’ve had an aneurism by 2003.

I realize I’m definitely not the first person to suffer from Internet Fatigue, but I was surprised to be shown just how much of a drag it can get to be. And doubly surprised that a weekend surrounded by 58,000 poorly-shaven fans of a webcomic would be the thing to show me just how much nicer it is when people aren’t being dicks to each other for no reason. And I think the biggest difference is that the people there really wanted to be there; it requires an investment of time and/or money, and they did it out of pure enthusiasm. It’s the same reason I’ll always value a fan’s opinion of a videogame over some reviewer’s: the fan is the one who really wants to be there, who put in his money and time, and isn’t getting anything out of it other than enjoyment. We’ve got to just accept that it’s neither undemocratic nor elitist to think that some people’s opinions aren’t worth shit. And then keep that opinion to ourselves.

So to sum up:

  1. Penny Arcade: Sometimes not funny.
  2. Someone telling you to keep your opinion to yourself: Not censorship.
  3. Things are better when people are nice to each other.