Internet Toxic Shock Syndrome: How Don’t Read The Comments Doesn’t Work


(Warning: This will not be language safe. Because frankly, this whole argument demands a little bit of four-letter wording).

In one moment, I’m going to show you a video that I saw in a recent Penny Arcade article about the recent Phil Fish / Fez II meltdown that occurred this past week. If you’re not familiar with the situation, let me give a breakdown so you understand what set off this post in the first place. Here’s a little context:

Phil Fish is an indie video game designer who created a game called Fez. He was in development of a sequel to Fez called Fez II when Marcus Beer of the GameTrailers podcast went on his show and verbally ripped Fish fellow indie creator Jonathan Blow a new face. For what reason? I can honestly not pretend to care. It was mostly about the fact that Fish and Blow (who Beer decided to nickname BlowFish) decided not to answer questions about the upcoming indie games offerings on X-Box Live. So Beer decided to target his self-confessed “bitch and moan session” at these creators for not answering questions.

That’s when things went mayhem. Because Fish shot back over Twitter and the two got into a heinous fight over the internet – which as everyone knows, always ends well. And in the end, Phil Fish quit making his game Fez II and who knows what will happen from there. Now, forgetting the fact that this turned into an internet slap fight of epic proportions, let’s step back for  second. A guy who is out there making a thing completely lost his shit because, effectively, he was getting slammed by folks in the media. The response from a lot of people have been, “Big deal. The media hits folks all the time. The internet is an unforgiving place. Don’t read the comments, suck it up, walk it off, get back to work.”

Then I saw this video and read this article from Penny Arcade. The video is Dave Chapelle of course being the bastion of goddamn wisdom that he can be:

Then I sat back and I thought about all the things I’ve been seeing on my own Twitter feed recently. A woman helms a project in England to get Jane Austin, arguably one of England’s greatest female authors, on some currency and receives rape threats on Twitter. She stands up to try to get the people prosecuted for threatening her and sparks a controversy. All this over work she’s done, and it comes in over YouTube. Feminist Frequency’s own Anita Sarkeesian, on the same day, tweets about the fact that she had to report two particularly heinous rape threats and she was curious if Twitter would do anything about it. I watched a YouTube recording of Reza Aslan, a twenty-year religion scholar and author of a new controversial book on Jesus, school the HELL out of a Fox reporter because she couldn’t get over him being Muslim long enough to engage him as a human being over his work and made the mistake of looking at the heinous comments section below. It was enough to make me slightly ill to the stomach.

All of it together has got me wondering: what the hell is wrong with people?

Folks, I am a critic. I am. Part of my job is writing reviews of things. I have reviewed books, television, movies. I’m not as famous perhaps as this Marcus Beer (I have no idea, I had never heard of him until this BS exploded) but I have people who have read my stuff. I’ve even written reviews that were heated and sometimes I’ve gone back and questioned whether or not I was entirely too unfair towards a personality involved. Still. I do not remember where in my undergraduate classes on film and media criticism my professors told me it was okay to blast the shit out of someone in a bitch session. I don’t remember where in my raising since childhood someone told me it was okay to take someone to the woodshed for their creative choices by attacking them personally. I don’t remember that being part of the job.

Now I might not be a big deal reviewer but I know some things. Let’s start with this:

One: Calling people ‘toss-pots’ and ‘fucking hipsters’ for doing their jobs in the indie world is not professional. Its shock jock provocateur behavior at its worst. Its third rate Howard Stern armchair quarterbacking. Its two steps above being that guy on Reddit yelling ‘yur mom’. Because you’re not critiquing the actual work these guys are doing anymore, you’re just taking shots at who they are. You’re that guy chasing the Kardashians for a picture of their belly fat and making up new ways to talk about celebrity nip-slips, only you’re doing it about the gaming industry. I don’t care how hurt your feelings are about not getting the quote or not getting the story you want. Learn to live with disappointments.

Two, here’s my question: where’s your game? Where’s your work? What movie did you make? What have you put out there? And how would you like it if someone went all over the place and called you names? If that sounds a little too touchy-feely and kindergarden teacher to you, that’s because that’s the place where people learn those lessons about how to talk to their fellow human beings – in PRE-SCHOOL. If you’re going out and being a critic, you better do one of two things: be prepared to be a human being about how you critique other people’s work or else you better be able to say ‘I’m a creator too’ when people ask you where your work is, and then you better be ready to take the same slings and arrows. Because if you want to sling, you best put your own hard work out there to be slung at too. And if you don’t care, if you can take that kind of muck-raking and don’t see that it is hurtful, then I don’t understand you. I don’t get where your empathy lies.

Phil Fish put this up on Twitter and it resounded so deeply in me, along with what Dave Chapelle said in that video:


So here’s a guy. He made a thing. He put it out into the world and he gets comments all the time. He gets garbage. And finally, he gets one last straw dumped on him and says he’s done. He’s out. And people are saying that he’s crazy or lost it. Think about what Chapelle said there. Think about how it feels when you get criticized and then imagine what kind of magnification a thousand fold this guy is getting. I’m not looking at what kind of a guy he is or whatnot. I’m looking at the stimulus he has to deal with constantly in his face for the simple sin of trying to be a creator in an industry he likes. He’s the ant under the magnifying glass. Eventually he’s going to burn up. Who wouldn’t?

Now I’m not going to lie. I’ve had shitty interactions with people who are creators when I’m press. Hell, I had a shirty interaction with a comic book writer who is SUPER well known that made me so grouchy that I basically still think he’s a douchebag ages later. But I realized something recently that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I owe that guy an apology: he is not my bitch. Neil Gaiman said that of George RR Martin recently to some folks and it bears repeating. These guys ain’t our bitches, reviewers and interviewers and fans. And treating them that way makes us the bitches. Does it suck when someone is shirty with you? SURE. But get over yourself. They don’t owe you shit, even if you’re media. They don’t.

investigating-harassment-in-the-workplaceThe internet can give you some serious toxic shock if you step out there and try to create, or say a thing, or do a thing. I’ve seen it myself. I’ve had people put up videos calling me names. I’ve had rape threats sent to my inbox because I spoke up against that BS Grope Crew stuff happening on Twitter. I’ve been called names. I’ve had friends called names I wouldn’t call my worst enemy. I’ve seen reporters chase Anne Hathaway through a protest she was attending like a regular person (not a celebrity) shouting at her that she owes him and she’s a bitch for not giving him a quote. I read Wil Wheaton’s recent experience at ComicCon and I start to really think that some folks have lost their ever-loving, self-entitled little minds.

Every time people speak up about this kind of behavior going on, the answers are the same: don’t pay any mind, just let it roll off your back, don’t read the comments. Don’t read the comments? It’s not just in the comments anymore! It’s in the self-entitled disrespectful way people are treating one another on the airwaves, across the internet and in person. The only way to get the hell away from it seems to be to just shut down and get out now or just stop doing anything that gets other people’s attention. At all.

I had to go thru recently to see if I could track down how things got this bad. I think I got it. This is the process:

The internet gives us anonymity to say whatever the hell we want. Then folks step out who aren’t hiding but put themselves out as creators, voices, whatever, and they become targets. They become that way for a billion reasons – either someone has an opinion that differs, or someone is just having a bad day, or someone has some angst they want to vent at another target. They hide it behind things like freedom of speech and ‘this is my opinion’ and ‘you put yourself out there so you want the attention so here it is!’ And then they spew. And the good voices, the people who just come to have decent conversations on the internet or speak their opinions and criticism with respect and humor and community in mind get drowned out by waves of absolutely rancid garbage. Or worse, they get drowned out by voices of critics who use their own self-created voices to spew the same trash, except under the guise of journalism.

The Newsroom this week had a quote come out of the main character Will’s mouth. “I’m against censorship but I’m a big fan of self-censorship.” That means that just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean it SHOULD be said. And when you say it, you have a responsibility to consider what kind of impact it has on another human being. Just because you CAN say something a certain way doesn’t mean you should. It’s a matter of respect and empathy and we as an internet society seem to be fighting an uphill battle against a landslide of poisonous garbage that cuts a path through good people who are just trying to do what they love.

I don’t know Phil Fish. I don’t know a thing about him personally, about his behavior, and I have no opinion one way or another about him as a person. I don’t know Anita Sarkeesian. I don’t know Reza Aslan. But I know folks who have gotten this treatment. I have burst into tears over things said to me in hurtful, hateful internet crap. I’ve had people discount all the writing I might do or anything I’ve said on a panel to slam into me for being ‘a loudmouth bitch’ or ‘fat disgusting slag’. I have looked at my computer with open-mouthed disgust and thought, “Who the hell told you it was okay to say such things?”

And I decided it wasn’t okay. And I decided to try to do better, to be more careful about how I addressed others in my criticisms and treatment. I decided to work on examining people’s actions and output in my criticism rather than who they are as people because glass houses world, glass frickin houses. But I also decided not to keep quiet about the phenomenon. If the trolls and the nasty critics and the hopped-up internet bullies get a voice, so do to the folks who say that this isn’t okay. So I’m going to use that voice and say it loud AGAIN. Because, you know, it seems to need a reminder every five minutes.

This shit is not okay. Not anywhere. I don’t care who the hell you are. Learn to talk respectfully to one another again or put down the microphone because your attitude is not welcome in a community of creators, whomever they may be. I’m not prepared to stand as a creator in a community I’m brand new to and say its okay when creators are bullied and heckled and hurt. Or if that is the way the gaming community works, it best come to realize that not all of us signed up for that – I certainly didn’t – and I won’t stand for it in my interactions. I’m holding others to a higher standard now.

So seriously, come to argue, come to be critical of work, come to discuss. But for the love of everything holy, learn to keep a respectful, civil tongue in your head or count yourself as part of the sea of toxic crap that floats along the media stream. Be quality or be part of the problem.


  1. Good heavens, I don’t think I’ve seen this so eloquently stated in a long time. It makes me want to stand up, point at the monitor and scream, “THIS. For fuck’s sake, THIS is what I’ve been trying to say for years.”

    Basically, well done.

    1. Thank you! I don’t think I’ve had quite such a harsh response to events in a really long time but this made me jump up and go ‘no more’.

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