Thoughts on Online Harassment: the Culture War

[This is a continuation of the previous post about online harassment and Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic harassed and threatened for talking about video games. This was just an exploration of my thoughts, so it's probably a little rough--warning for liberal and perhaps unfair use of "they" and "we" to lump amorphous groups of opinion-holders together, who I know in reality are very nuanced and multifaceted and not all violent or in agreement.]

But when we get to the core of the fact that people want these elements in their games, now we can have a real discussion. Do they want them because they find them funny? Realistic? Pleasing? These are the motivations we have to examine, and once people can accept that in themselves, they can start to explore their own feelings. If you find killing a prostitute funny, is that okay or something you should think about? If you find a game unrealistic unless women are being raped, what is the reason that realism trumps other people’s feelings that it’s traumatizing to see?

You can probably tell by my questions, by this whole thing, what side of the issue I agree with. In fact, I strongly hesitate to post this publicly (even though I don’t exactly have an audience) because of the fear of harassment. But that’s exactly why this issue needs to be addressed.

I just don’t get why people react so strongly, so violently, to opinions. I mean, this is the way I feel, I have absolutely no power to do anything about it, I’m not even sure what I would do if I did. I think the fairest thing is not fewer games that are, in my personal opinion, skeevy—but just more games that aren’t. More games, not less. I mean, there’s a part of me that would like to see no more games with sexualized dead women or rape, mostly because I’d like to see no more of that in the real world, but I realize that not everyone shares my opinion so I wouldn’t want a ban or anything like that.

Just discussion. Awareness. Options.

Why is that so threatening?

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Thoughts on Online Harassment: Anita Sarkeesian

[This post and the next begins a bit of thoughts/exploration of an issue specific to the gaming world--the harassment of feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who recently had to cancel a speaking event because of a mass murder threat. But I like to think it could be applied to most passionate controversial debates that bring out harassment.]

To a certain extent, I sort of understand how people who get upset over something turn to harassment. When I see the horrible things people have done to harass others online, threatening sexual violence against women, there is a small part of me that wants to turn around and do the same to them. How would they feel if we published their address online with vicious threats? But I would never do that, because it’s wrong and it’s sinking to their level and it’s only perpetuating violence as an answer to disagreements. I say all this only to indicate that when you feel angry about something, at someone, I can acknowledge that part of your brain wants to hurt that person.

But a decent human being doesn’t actually do it, doesn’t even send a threat. They realize that people have different opinions, that people do different things, and as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, they should be allowed to continue having these opinions and doing these things.

Where it gets complicated is when we reach the point of “hurting anyone.” For example, I view trolling as hurting people; I’m sure trolls would not. So I might be the type who would advocate taking action to stop trolling by an authoritative third party, such as the website or the law—and now the act of stopping the trolls from saying what they want is seen by them as “hurting someone.” So who is right?

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Thoughts on Online Harassment: Trolling

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about online harassment, given this whole GamerGate brouhaha… It seems systemic, unstoppable, and frequently dangerous, and it’s become a larger and larger part of the world as our social interactions (and public presences) migrate into online spaces.

The way I see it, online harassment generally comes from two places—trolling and actual hate/anger/fear.

The first type, trolling, is the act of saying/doing provocative things in order to get a reaction, which is considered humorous or at least entertaining. I really don’t get trolling, and find it pretty despicable, even as I’m surrounded by trolls in real life. How is making someone else feel hurt or angry or scared funny? Like, “Ha ha, I said this horrible thing and you got upset, so hilarious.”

I’ve only been trolled in real life by people “trying to get a rise out of me,” but I know being on the other end of trolling feels really frustrating. You react to something, try to argue your side and not get too emotional, and then the other person just laughs and diminishes your feelings by making a joke out of them. Ultimately, I think it’s a tactic to dismiss your argument—you’re “overreacting” to a “joke,” so of course what you’re upset about isn’t real. Your feelings aren’t real or worthwhile. It cuts any actual debate off at the knees, and leaves the troll feeling superior and satisfied.

It’s not a new form of humor, though—pranks are a classic form of trolling, meant to get a reaction which is somehow humorous because it’s to something not real. But in that moment, for that person, that reaction and those feelings are real. Trolling in the form of, “Oh, look a spider,”—fear—“Ha ha, it was fake,” is, for the most part, harmless—even though I still don’t get it; maybe I’m just a killjoy. But trolling in the form of, “[Horrible sexist statement]”—anger/hurt—“Ha ha, I didn’t mean it, just trolling,” is a lot more troubling. Because the sexist statement has sometimes been said with sincerity, it speaks to remaining issues and power dynamics in the real world, and it’s far more personal and emotional than a fake spider. It’s kind of like the difference between the spider prank and pranking someone to believe they have cancer—that’s far more emotional, more damaging, more real, than the threat of a spider.

I don’t know how to “fight” trolling—someone who gets entertainment out of your anger or upset can only get further amusement out of your attempts to stop them. But I think that if someone is truly trolling, and not just using trolling as an excuse once on the defensive, then they probably are overall harmless. They think it’s a joke, and they’d probably tell you they wouldn’t actually want to hurt anyone. They’re the types who’ll say something awful, but as soon as they’re called on it, say, “But I would never actually think or do that.” If we believe them, then online harassment by trolls is just obnoxious noise. [Noise which perpetuates harmful real world effects and can desensitize people to actual abuse, but still… noise.]

The second type of harassment, coming from genuine feelings, is far more dangerous. More on that next time…

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Threat-Protection Storylines

In my copious notes on finding ideas, I stumbled across a type of story or plot that I have to admit I particularly enjoy. I’m not sure why… But beyond that, I think it’s a fine tool for possibly coming up with a plot structure, and the logistics behind a plot.

The type of story is a “Threat-Protection” plot, which basically means the main character is threatened in some way, and protected by an individual or group around them. This isn’t always the main point of the story–sometimes the threat is incidental, as is the protection. For example, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is threatened because he carries the ring, and the fellowship protects him–but the primary mission of all involved is to get the ring to Mordor to destroy it.

Here are some of the reasons and methodologies from my notes on Threat-Protection stories.

Threat-Protection Storylines

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Saying Goodbye to a Story

When an idea begins to come together, when it builds into a story, when you see what it could become—there is nothing more exhilarating. For me, that feeling of raw creation is why I write.

But sometimes, as you develop more details, the story begins to fall apart. Maybe it’s too big and complicated. Maybe it’s not really you. Whatever the reason, a story can suddenly not be the bright and shining opportunity it once seemed.

And when that happens, some of the time, you have to let it go.

This is an extremely painful part of the process, and far too easy to confuse with other feelings. How do you know when a story isn’t working, rather than just stuck in doubt or procrastination? How do you know when it’s really time to let a story go forever?

Sometimes, you just have to wait on a story and work on something else while it percolates. That’s not exactly what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about when you know a story is never going to work, and so you mine it for parts and move on completely. For me, when I leave a story for the future, it always comes back and inserts itself in any new project that I attempt—it makes me think that it’s a story I just can’t let go of, that it’s too good to give up on. But I think it’s more often the case that a story I’ve already worked on feels safe and familiar and easy… even when it’s not.

The fact is, I’ve got a story that I’ve worked on fairly consistently for over three years now—I have tried and failed, tried and failed a hundred times to make it work from every angle I can think of. I’ve changed worlds, time periods, characters, age groups, plotting styles, plots entirely—always holding onto the tiny kernel at the center that keeps it the same story.

But the more I try and the more I fail, the more I think that this story is just not going to work. Maybe parts of it can, but not the whole—and if I don’t find a way to let it go for good, it will keep coming back, keep trying to work, distracting me from projects that might actually have a chance.

Maybe those projects won’t be as “good” as the original story, but if they actually get written, then they’re worth a million unfinished ideas. That’s the solid, unavoidable truth, and the only thing that ultimately matters—what you’re writing. Not what you like to think about. Not what you wish you could write someday.

It’s a painful truth to accept, when you love an idea but can’t write the story, that sometimes it just isn’t going to work. But when you’re stuck, sometimes the only way to move is to move on.

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Couple Development Worksheet

couple development worksheet

Once all factors have been determined and calibrated, what should result is a couple that interests you and the answer to the question: Why can they not be together and happy/safe/committed?

The story that you write will answer the question: How can they get together and be happy/safe/committed? As you come up against each obstacle to this question and solve it, you will strip away the conflict until by the end of the story, the couple is together and has no outstanding conflict against themselves as individuals and as a couple.

Note: The first two may or may not result in conflict (if both people expect/accept it, it is not a conflict, though it will help shape it), and thus would require something from the third factor to create a story.

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The Normal Threshold

When building a world, based in our own, but with supernatural or sci-fi elements, you have to begin with the world we know. A completely alternate world does not need this calculation; a historical world within our own could begin with the normal historical world.

The “normal world” is quite simple—the world we know. Communication, transportation, language, social customs, business and economy, food, government, etc. These differ based on location, culture, class, and so on, but depending on where you would like to set your story, figure out the basics of the world around your main character.

I talked about this a little in the posts on worldbuilding complexity, but this is a simpler and singular factor for determining, basically, how different the world is from the normal world.

Ultimately, the previous posts work to really differentiate between the minutiae of worlds. This quotient is a single threshold by which contemporary fantasy/sci-fi stories can be divided—either they are a “normal world with a fantasy element” or they are a “fantasy world.”

Where does that threshold lie?

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