The internet is a pretty crappy place.
It’s not really any kind of surprise that the internet is drenched in negativity, bile and hatred, but sometimes you get fresh reminders of it. This has been one of those weeks, and I blame the ipad. Something like that just naturally generates a storm of nerdfury, and once that storm starts, it drags down the level of discourse pretty much everywhere. Thinking about it like it’s weather is comforting, but it ends up creating a comfortable illusion that these individual acts of jackassery aren’t actually personal, and the problem is that they are.
The Dresden Files RPG has show up on the pirate sites. In and of itself this is no shock – Fred will send of takedown requests as is appropriate and responsible, but it’s fighting the tide. This doesn’t upset me much – it’s a simple reality of the modern age – but what does get me is this: at this point we’ve only gotten a few hundred DFRPG pre-orders. That’s not a lot, in the grand scheme of things. It means we’re still at a point where everyone who has bought the DFRPG has a name and a face. I like this stage, because it feels like we’re really making a connection to people, and that’s why it’s genuinely painful to think that one of these people, these names and faces who I would like nothing more to meet and talk about this game with, is the person who decided to do this to us.
It’s a kick in the face.
This is really only the tip of the iceberg, though. There have been some ugly threads on Story Games and RPG.net that I’ve no desire to draw attention to directly, and while that’s par for the course, the volume is a bit higher than usual. Take it all together, and it’s the sort of week that can make you wan tto give up on the internet entirely.
Yet despite all this, I am filled with genuine good cheer. It is possible that I have finally absorbed so much negativity from the internet that I’ve pulled a Mithradites, and am no longer vulnerable to its poisons, but I doubt I’m quite that lucky. Rather, I think I’ve trained myself to follow a few rules when dealing with crapstorms that the Internet provides us.
Find the Good (AKA Filter favorably) – In even the crappiest of situations, there is usually some useful insight to be gleaned, even if it is only to help clarify what upsets assholes enough to get them to rant. One of the recent RPG.net threads had the truly poisonous topic of why people aren’t interested in the DFRPG but for all that there was a lot of good to be gotten out of it. So long as you are confident about your product (especially if you can back up that confidence with sales) It’s awesome to have people so upset about your product that they want to talk about it. It’s like manure for flowers – it might stink, but it helps with growth. But even beyond that, any and all feedback is useful, especially if you can separate the axe grinding from the real concerns. It’s discussion like this that can reveal where misperceptions spring up, and allow you to address them. Once you start looking for the positive, you start realizing that there are good things out there, even in the crappiest of internet-storms.
If it Hurts, Don’t do it (AKA Just close the window) – This one shouldn’t be hard, but it is. If a forum makes you consistently unhappy, don’t go there. If a blogger raises your blood pressure, don’t read him. I understand the completest urge to stay on top of everything, but you need to realize that not only is it impossible, you’re prioritizing things that harm you over other things in your life. Make the decision. Cut the cord. In large part, that’s what drove me to blogging – as much as I like what is good in RPG forums, the bad is just too unpleasant for me. I get angry and frustrated, and I needed to step away from that onto another platform that let me talk about games without starting to hate them.
This especially goes for twitter. Seriously. One of it’s benefits is that you can skip reading it any time you like.
Be Accountable (AKA Anonymity is Poisonous) – I dig handles, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have one, but it shouldn’t be a mask. Having a discussion with an anonymous person is like talking with someone who is waving around a loaded gun – maybe they’ll never pull the trigger, but who knows. If your words are so important that you have to share them with the entire internet (especially in a venue that is theoretically dedicated to discussion) then think hard about why you’re uncomfortable standing behind them. 
If you have genuine privacy concerns, then at least try to be consistent in presenting your online identity. It’s not a perfect fix. You’re still going to come across badly. Anonymity on the web has become too much of a weapon, and the fact that that paints those who have no ill intent with the same brush is terribly unfair, but is simply true. Sorry.
EDIT: So, some discussion in comments has led to me refining my position somewhat, so here’s the new and improved version:
“Anonymity has a price as well as benefits. Acknowledge that, and don’t use anonymity as a tool to be a dick. Consider the reasons you stay anonymous thoughtfully, and try to separate genuine need from reflexive introversion. There are real benefits (and prices) to transparency as well.”
Listen, Think then Speak (AKA You don’t need to be right) – Again, this should be simple, but it’s not. We have keyboards and by god we’re going to use them because SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET. It’s kind of you to step up as the avenging angel for grammar or whatnot, but take a moment before you hit send to think about why you’re doing this. First, what are you responding to? I mean, what are you REALLY responding to, not just what do you think you’re responding to. Did that guy really just insult your mother, or is it possible you misunderstood? Is the discussion about eggs but you REALLY want to talk about bacon? Make sure you’re having the conversation you think you’re having. If you’re not, but you want to, why not start that conversation somewhere else?
Next, consider why you’re writing. Are you trying to prove yourself right to the internet? Are you trying to score points? Are you emotionally worked up and lashing out?
Stop and answer that, as honestly as you can. If you’re writing for a reason you can be proud of then carry on. Otherwise, maybe you should take 5 first.
Be Useful (AKA No, really, be useful) – You can be useful to yourself or useful to others, but whatever you’re doing, try to make the internet a better place for the footprint you leave. This may mean being more careful about where you leave what kind of footprint, but it’s just not that hard.
The internet is a pretty crappy place, but we can make it better.
1 – I don’t use poisonous lightly. I don’t mind an outright hatred thread (which, luckily, it became) but a thread promoting indifference is toxic to anything. This all comes back to the difference between great and mediocre things. If something is great, people are passionate about it, and that means that hatred is as important to your success as love. If nobody cares, that’s a much worse sign for your product.
EDIT TO CLARIFY: The thread itself was actually fine – it’s the IDEA of it that bothers me. Discussing why you dislike something is understandable to me, but discussing why you’re disinterested in something is…self-contradictory? Genuine disinterest would seem to make it unlikely to bother with a thread, so the presence of such a thread suggests a different motive.
2 – This is surprisingly easy; if the tone of the argument is about how THEY would do it, they’re probably axe grinding.
3- Do you know how these networks of gamers and game designers end up forming and excluding you? They do it by identifying themselves so they can actually talk to one another. Sounds crazy, I know, but you’d be amazed how effective it is.
4 – No, just being right is a reason to *embarrassed* about.