Gamers, Girls, and Human Nature

Editor’s Note: I’m posting this a few weeks after I wrote the original draft, both because I don’t get the urge to write very often and to let the original stories die down a bit.

It’s been a bad few weeks for nerd culture. After Zoe Quinn, an indie game developer, was recently publically accused by her ex of cheating/sleeping around in order to advance her career, internet warriors on reddit and 4chan began leaking her personal information, using it to harass and threaten her, despite the denouncement of her ex. Validity or invalidity of the accusations aside, personal threats should never be tolerated. During all this, Anita Sarkeesian posted the newest (and possibly best) of her excellent Tropes vs. Women video series. Sadly, the resulting backlash seem to indicate that personal threats are the norm for women on the internet. Eventually, they caused her to leave her house out of fear for her safety. The crowning gem, and the only story which has received (to my knowledge) mainstream press, was, of course, the hacking of multiple celebrities’ nude photographs and subsequent dissemination on (drumroll please) sites such as Reddit and 4chan.

Rightly so, there’s quite a bit of backlash over this. Kotaku wonders if the identity of “gamer” itself is dead or dying. As someone who wholly self-identifies as almost every stereotype of “nerd” and probably plays close to forty hours of video games a week, I’ve got to say I agree pretty heartily agree with nerd icon and personal hero Wil Wheton on this one. Possibly my favorite response goes to Chris Kluwe.

It’s not just women under attack by nerd culture. It’s no secret that “the internet” is wildly homophobic, overtly sexist, and oftentimes, rather racist. In fact, the most upsetting thing is stories of this ilk are far from uncommon, they’re closer to par for the course – all three have happened before.  But the question that always grates at me is why? It’s not as though “the internet” can stand on centuries of religious tradition, which is the typical justification (at least for the first two). In fact, wouldn’t you expect nerds, a demographic that is literally the sterotype of the bullying victim, (OK, I really just wanted to link to that video), the counterculture individual, and the freethinker to band together to stand up for people being systematically oppressed by “the man”? Sadly, it seems that just as children of abusive parents are more likely to be abusive, the geeks, nerds, and dweebs that have been cast out by popular culture, are perfectly happy to complete the cycle and become bullies themselves.

It’s been bothering me recently that practical jokes are as much a part of our culture as they are. I work in a blue-collar environment, and I see a lot of them. One day I started wondering why. The joker risks his trustworthiness and reputation (two not-unvaluable traits) to display his dominance over another person and make them the fool. It says a lot about human nature that jokers are viewed as funny and friendly, (high status) not dishonorable and untrustworthy (low status) and the jokees are viewed as gullible and stupid (low status) and not trusting and empathetic (high status). It seems almost as though the character traits displayed are irrelevant, perceived status is almost solely determined by one person’s dominance over another. It certainly seems that this is the lesson that nerd culture has taken away – dominate, or you will be dominated.

There are obviously differences between a practical joke and hacking and disseminating nude pictures of someone, or threatening violence on them. But I believe they are more related than one might think. Instead of learning the lesson that nerds should stand up for people being oppressed by the system, we’ve learned that the way to gain status is to have another group that you can point to and say “Well, look, I’m still better than them.”

Ultimately this is what’s most depressing to me about these situations – the above opinion seems to be in the vast minority (note that the linked are all massively upvoted posts). Most simply don’t seem to care. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis make much the same point about hip-hop culture and homosexuality: “Our culture founded from oppression / yet we don’t have acceptance for ‘em, / [we] call each other faggots / behind the keys of a message board.”

I often am asked (well, I would be if I talked to people) why I’m so cynical about human nature. I think the horrible things about human nature that this implies is the answer why. Instead of learning to recognize oppression and learning empathy, nerds instead turn their keyboards on every minority out there for no reason other than to not be the bullied one. And I’m just not sure I can think of any other word for that than profoundly, profoundly sad.