The internet is a great and wonderful thing. I lose track attempting to count the number of ways it has enhanced my life.
It’s given me a career, for one thing – several careers, in fact, if you count the non-internet jobs which I acquired using internet job listings. The internet has also made it possible for me to meet and keep in touch with many wonderful people from around the world – people I would never have had the chance to know otherwise. It has also solved for me the problem I frequently had, prior to the invention of the World Wide Web, of needing one, minute piece of information in order to complete a complex thought or document, and not knowing where to even begin searching for it. Without the internet, hell, I’d probably be working at Starbucks. If Starbucks would even be around without the free internet.
The simple fact is that I am more today than I was before I embraced the internet. I have done more, seen more and know more. And I feel truly blessed that this “moreness” has made it possible for me to share my thoughts, stories, dreams, ideas and publication with those of you who are also connected and to explore the thoughts, stories, dreams and ideas of others. And yet, when it really comes down to it; when I clear my mind and meditate on the subject, I realize that in my innermost soul, I abhor the damn thing.
Mainly because of you. Perhaps not you per se, but people like you. People who, upon absorbing all that the internet has to offer, cannot help themselves from commenting on it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the spirit of community that the internet has inspired. Particularly the kind of community that has flourished here at The Escapist, where like-minded people with a common interest can meet and share each others’ company, discuss the goings on in the world and plan their takeover of the worlds governments for the purpose of establishing a pan-continental, Libertarian World State (okay, that last one is just wishful thinking). Here at The Escapist and other similar places, the internet community may be a rose-tinted pot of gold, but out there on the rest of the internet, it’s far short of leprechauns and rainbows. Out there it’s the goddamn Wild West
See, a funny and curious thing happens when you throw a party and invite everyone in the entire fucking world to come: They show up. All of them. With all of their attendant neurosis, phobia, paranoia and obnoxiousness.
The internet is like your obnoxious uncle Chester who hasn’t held a job for more than a year, lives off disability from having stubbed a toe and owns at least three things that still belong to other people. He’s occasionally the life of the party and usually has one or two interesting stories to tell, but let him linger for more than an hour and next thing you know he’s drained the punch bowl and sucked all the air out of the room. When he hits that parabolic apex of pleasant drunkenness, right before he begins the downward spiral into intoxicated rage, he almost kind of sounds like he knows something – for about two sentences – but the moment is gone in a flash and anyone who might have been sucked into his toxic maelstrom, lured by the siren song of his temporarily heightened mental state, soon finds themselves trapped in a bottomless pit of illogic and meaningless, directionless ire.
See, Chester likes to rant. He’s got this thing (he calls it a theory) that everyone is out to get him. The IRS won’t let him make an honest wage, the guy next door “just doesn’t know how to have any fun,” and anybody who disagrees with him is a communist. Chester sees himself as the Last Honest Guy ™. He speaks his mind, no matter who’s around, and considers this a virtue. He delights in pissing people off, and thinks, because “he was drunk,” that it’s OK.
Maybe it is OK, to be honest. The world is the world and it wouldn’t be without every one of us – including Chester. But that doesn’t mean I have to invite him to my parties. And that doesn’t mean that, just because I use the internet, I want his digital equivalent hounding my every step.
On the internet, anonymity is the equivalent of alcohol – both are intoxicating social lubricants and both induce asshole-ish behavior. Your Digital Chester, emboldened by “digital courage” passes judgment on everyone and everything. In his more obnoxious moments of pretension, he calls this “criticism” and argues that, it being “a free country” he’s entitled to “call it as he sees it.” Setting aside the fallacy that most internet communities are in the public domain and thus protected under various Western nations’ various speech protection laws (They are actually privately owned by private entities who, alone, set the rules), Digital Chester’s argument assumes that anyone cares – that, just because he has a voice and an anonymous internet connection, he is an authority.
Digital Chester is not a critic, he’s just a jerk. His opinion is not insightful commentary, it’s just noise. Hey may have a right to it, but I have an equal right to ignore it.
The problem with the internet is that, as a print-like medium, published works take on a life somewhat greater than they should. Yet anyone can publish. If Digital Chester has a Blogger account, he can become a published author, quoted by the news media. One assumes that there’s a vetting process and that someone, somewhere, has an eye toward tuning out the noise before reporting opinion as fact, but that’s not always the case, and it’s becoming less so every day.
I wouldn’t consult my uncle Chester for tax advice, in other words, but when I google “tax advice” there’s a fair chance some Digital Chester’s opinion will come back as a result, and the onus is on me to know enough to spot the good advice from the bad. I could pay someone with certified credentials, but who does that anymore, really? With the advent of the internet and self-publishing, you don’t have to; any advice you could possibly want on almost anything is free for the taking – making it valueless.
Back in the old days before the internet was in all of our lives, when I wanted to find a tiny scrap of fact, I usually asked a librarian. Chances were, if the librarian didn’t know what I needed to know, they knew where to find it. They knew how to sort through volumes and volumes of information, discarding the crap to find the golden nugget of truth. This was a full time job back then, and a highly-respected profession. At least in some cities.
Today, we must all be librarians. We must, on a daily basis, sift through the silt of published opinion in order to find what’s true and valuable. According to CNET, 90% of all email sent last year was spam. How much of what you read online last year was similar garbage posted by Digital Chester? Probably somewhere near to that, to be honest. Buyer beware.
This week in The Escapist, we’re looking at criticism. As one of the few remaining independent videogame media outlets, we’re proud to publish some of the most honest and highly-vetted videogame (and movie) criticism you’ll find anywhere. We’ve also enlisted some of our favorite writers to tackle the topic as only they can: Peter Parrish channels George Orwell, comparing the late author’s In Defence of the Novel to a critique on game reviews; Chuck Wendig tracks the rise of social media as a review source; Fintan Monaghan unearths a curious new source for how to find the most interesting games – censorship reports; and Alasdair Stuart interviews one of our favorite game reviewers (and contributors) of all time, Kieron Gillen.
It’s Issue 261, “Constructive Criticism,” and we hope you find it useful, as always.
Next week marks the 5-year anniversary of the founding of The Escapist and we’re planning a mammoth issue of the magazine to celebrate. Please come back to join us then.