Apathy is the single biggest problem on the Internet.
It isn’t trolls, toxicity, or the corporate giants who decide they’re going to algorithm us all to extinction. We, the vast majority of ‘normal’ users, are the ones with the potential to ruin it for everybody, and we do. Most of the time you won’t even realise this is happening either, until someone turns up on your feed suggesting a course of action you disagree with. If you’ve already got a beef with their actions, that’s pretty much a guarantee that something is going to kick off.
Life is hard in the affluent Western World right now. There’s an almost daily assault of terror incidents, natural disasters and threats to national security. My country’s trying (and largely failing) to successfuly leave a fourty year relationship. The American people are being governed (between rounds of golf) by a white supremacist (allegedly.) In all of this, people continue to pin their affinity and loyalty to a dizzying array of virtual saviours, or pray at the altar of corporate churches with the the belief their brand loyalty maintains a safe and trusted output, however much money that might cost.
It is no surprise therefore that compassion fatigue is becoming recognisable in larger sets of online communities with each passing day. The main upshot of all this trauma is individuals becoming less and less willing to consider a contrary set of beliefs to their own, being more likely to fly off the handle with the slightest provocation, and feeling that as long as they don’t name names or continue to hide behind a virtual persona, they can get away with being toxic because nobody cares enough to call them out.
So, what happens when a safe and trusted organisation does just that, shaming the nasty people for what others say they are? Overwatch is big news right now, and the level of ‘toxic’ game play is never out of my Twitter feed, reported third hand by person after person. So, when a company (that has never really been that keen on labelling anyone who pays for their games as anything other than a customer) takes the bull by the horns and starts calling out the bad people (and encourages players to do the same) what could possibly go wrong? Why would anyone complain about a company taking steps to eliminate the toxic element in a game that’s clearly full of just that?
Here’s where I stop one train of thought and ask you to pick up a second.
For as long as I can remember, there’s always been a jocks vs nerds fight happening somewhere in my earshot. Whether it is disdain for ‘sportsball’ or esports being a ‘joke,’ the two groups seem to have nothing in common, and continue to be pitted against each other whenever possible. The fact that so many sports fans play games is neither here nor there: they come to the table with a natural advantage, which is often overlooked. It is only by understanding the psychology of team games, the importance of playing as part of a whole, that individuals really begin to understand the need for co-operation and empathy.
The basement nerd, used to playing alone, has a hard time grasping the mechanics of team sports. She’s not been taught how to play well with others, and immediately becomes a disruptive, confrontational force. This has one of two results: people either attempt to help her understand how to play, or they reject her as a disruptive element. Then, it doesn’t matter whether what she says about others’ game play is right or not, whether she’s prepared to do as she’s told becomes irrelevant. You choose to play by the rules of the game, or you don’t. If the latter is your path, and there are rules in place that dictate these actions are against the spirit of this game?
Like it or not, you lose.
Overwatch’s decision to call out bad game play assumes that the majority of players just want to participate in a specific way. I wish them luck in making this stick, but when you are fighting ‘players’ who don’t understand what it means to be part of a team, or why that matters, you’re likely on a hiding to nothing. The internet is full of individuals who believe that their opinion, attitude and outlook are all that matters, that teams need them far more than the other way around. The concepts of loyalty, empathy and belonging are simple flimsy constructs for most; no real ‘friends’ just those who believe in a particular set of ideas, to a point, who refuse to allow reality to damage their persona. This is not just a white male preserve either, before you start giving me that look. I know countless women who perpetuate the shock/bitch persona. White men don’t get to die on that hill alone, oh no.
So what has apathy got to do with all this, the more astute of you will now be asking? This week came a powerful, personal revelation: sitting at a screen, being unwilling to name names when you see someone do something you don’t like because that just causes drama is slowly destroying everybody’s lives. It’s the lump on your arm that might be more than just a mole, but you’re unwilling to get it looked at and diagnosed in case the consequences end up as cancerous as you can’t handle the consequences to begin with. At some point, if you want to be a real human being, there has to be an acknowledgement of what matters most. I’ve realised I’ve had enough of reading social media where individuals aren’t prepared to call others out when there’s been something they disagree with. If you don’t have the balls to put conviction to a claim, then shut the fuck up.
If you won’t, don’t expect people to keep listening.
In effect, I have implemented my own response to toxicity. Watching somebody else complain at others but not rock the boat too much themselves, when multiplied up thousands of times, becomes apathy that destroys communities. If there is a genuine beef with someone, then go talk to them. If, after you talk to them, all that they’ll offer as explanation to your issue is glib platitudes and ‘well, I can hardly be expected to read my feed the whole time’ then it should be apparent your relationship is not as important as it appears was the case, and everybody should really move on. If you’re playing an online games where there are teams of people and you flatly refuse to play by the rules set down by the majority? Expect to get royally owned by those who do, even if you feel you are the one in the right.
If you really want to succeed in the future: be the team player who understands that the rules only work to a point. Play games as just that, and don’t live them as if they mattered more than life itself. Most importantly of all, when someone upsets you online, don’t say a fucking thing about it to anyone, deal with the problem internally or away from social media, and just move on. The real winners don’t need to prove they’re right, they know in their hearts that they’re doing the right thing, and everything else is irrelevant.
In a world where nerds have become their own enemies, the only way to win is not to play.