"I want to clear my name. I want to get these people to stop bothering me."
That was the main message from Ocean Marketing's Paul Christoforo, a former representative for N-Control's Avenger controller attachment. He gained immediate infamy among the Internet gaming community after a hostile customer service email exchange went viral after landing on popular gaming webcomic Penny Arcade.
In a matter of hours, Christoforo went from being just another customer service agent to a focus of ire for thousands of gamers. Christoforo was featured in mocking images and videos, and the Avenger product he was representing was hit with widespread derision and negative Amazon reviews, forcing the company to publicly drop Christoforo as its marketing representative.
A chastened Christoforo is now looking for forgiveness from the Internet community he unwittingly antagonized, saying in an interview with MSNBC.com's In-Game he was "caught on a bad day" and that he hopes they will "let sleeping dogs lie."
"They've pretty much ruined me in the past 24 hours," Christoforo said. "It was humbling a little bit, but life goes on. I'm not going to die."
That doesn't mean Christoforo isn't still feeling the effects from becoming a household name in certain corners of the Internet - effects he says he was actively dealing with for 17 hours straight yesterday. While Christoforo said blocking his Google Voice number stopped an early flood of harassing phone calls, he's received over 7,000 e-mails in the past 24 hours, some containing threats against him and his wife and two-month-old son.
"It's caused me more annoyance than anything else, but there are some threats and a lot of disrespect," he said. "My son's two months old ... that's uncalled for, you don't bring him into this situation."
Christoforo said his wife's Facebook page has been hammered by friend requests from people trying to get at him, and the shared stress of the entire ordeal has led to at least one major argument between the couple.
Yet despite all the drama, Christoforo said he hasn't lost any of his other accounts, aside from Avenger. "It hasn't affected my business yet," he said. "Clients have brought it up, but they've mainly laughed about it. I haven't lost any clients."
"If I had known, I would have treated the situation a little better."
Referring to the email thread that started the whole mess, Christoforo said that he didn't know who he was talking to in his initial, flippant response to Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik.
"I didn't know who that guy at Penny Arcade was," he admitted. "If I had known, I would have treated the situation a little better. PAX is a great show. What he does is what I've been idlolizing since I was a kid. It's admirable he's put that together. He has a lot of connections, ones I want too."
Yet while admitting he handled things badly, Christoforo said he also felt the situation could have been different if Krahulik approached the situation differently.
"He called me a bully, but he was being a bully ... especially when he emailed me out of the blue, saying 'That's f***ing s***ty, you're banned from PAX,' I was like 'Who the f*** are you? That's how you introduce yourself? ... I dont want to call him out, but he could have gone about that a totally different way, he could have said, 'Hey, I run the show, that email was a little unprofessional, if you don't do something to apologize I don't want you at my show.' But he just came at me and said, indirectly, 'Hey, f*** you, you're banned from PAX.' Is that what you'd call professional? I wouldn't."
Christoforo also said his response was driven in part by what he saw as the disrespectful tone of the messages that came before it. "Not that I don't have respect for anybody, but if someone's badmouthing me or being a little punk or being a jerk, they don't deserve respect," he said. "You can't expect to go up and say 'Hey you piece of s***,' and expect respect. Send an email, introduce yourself. ... I trust everybody until they give me a reason not to respect them. I'm not a tough guy, not a bully, but at same time not going to take s*** if it's uncalled for.
Regarding the litany of names Christoforo's e-mail called up as potential supporters - a list that included everyone from Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski to the mayor of Boston - he said the tactic was meant to "impress, not to threaten" and didn't come through correctly because "you can't see tone of voice in email."
"I don't know the mayor of Boston," he admitted. "That was taken totally out of context, I was just joking around. I am from Boston, though, and I know a lot of people people who own clubs. I know some influential people, like the guy who runs the door at the convention center.
"Maybe it was because it was email, maybe on the phone it would have been different story ... it would have nipped everything in the bud."
Looking back, Christoforo is still a little shocked that what he thought would remain a private email conversation got blown into an Internet event the way it did.
"If this didn't get escalated to Penny Arcade, it would have never gone viral like it did," he said. "Ultimately, if I was able to control the customer, it never would have happened. I've dealt with thousands and thousands of customers with similar complaints, they were all asking the same question. When is it big enough that it hits the news? When it hits Penny Arcade, when it hits a guy who has the biggest affiliations in the industry."
Moving on. Despite the harassment, Christoforo says he still respects the gaming community he says he's been a part of for decades.
"I still love the gaming community, and this is not going to change my mind," he said. "I do think these people were a little bit excessive with the spam, digging up personal information, calling me. Not to put anyone down, but I don't know what kind of lives these people have. ... Ultimately it doesn't affect the way I think about anybody. I don't have any hate or bad will for them, but it's a little bit sad that they didn't have anything better to do than attack me."
Christoforo said he's also been able to laugh at some of the funnier parodies and jokes at his expense out there, particularly a well-made video featuring an over-the-top actor playing an exaggerated version of him.
"I'm not depressed at people making fun of me," he said. "It's like a parody of Barack Obama. It's making me more popular. I'm not doing anything to stop it, and it is kind of funny. ... It's not the end of the world, and it'll be old news soon, but it's hot news now, and I do see the lighter side of it."
While Christoforo didn't completely rule out legal action against Penny Arcade and the sources of some of the more vicious Internet slander and threats, he said he probably will not actually call an attorney. That's partly because he's not sure there's a legal case to be made, but also because he doesn't want his name dragged down any further, he said.
"[Legal action] is something I'm not interested in doing because the community would be more pissed at me," he said. "Regardless of money [possibly won in a settlement], it would really ruin my name. Am I saying I care more about my reputation than money? Yes."
But Christoforo also sees some potential positives in all the negative attention he's been getting. His Twitter account, which has now changed names twice because he was "sick of the tweets and stuff coming in," has been getting a lot of new followers from the controversy, he noted, a situation that may be beneficial down the line.
"If these people stick with me and follow me, a couple months down the road anything I say is news," he said. "If it gets me somewhere else that I wouldn't have been where this happened ... it's negative now, but controversy and bad news is news and that's just the way it is. Look at all the bad press from people in entertainment industry that turned into something good. Whether I do charity work or something good, I don't know."
In the nearer term, Christoforo has entertained the idea of doing some Internet videos himself, and even considered going to PAX East, held in Boston this April, with a shirt tauntingly saying 'I'm Paul Christoforo' on it. "I'm not sure I'd actually do that, since I don't want to get in any fights," he clarified.
So what lessons has Christoforo taken from his brush with Internet infamy? "I'll definitely stay away from customer service emails," he said. "I could have nipped this all in the bud by being a little nicer. You never know who knows who, and lesson learned. We all have bad days and they caught me on one."
"At the end of the day, I'm a human being, and it feels like the entire world was bullying me," he said. "I want people to like me, I don't want people to think I'm a bad person. ... I made a mistake. ... I hope I can make something positive out of it."
Kyle Orland has written hundreds of thousands of words about gaming since he got his start with a Mario fan site at the age of 14. You can follow him on Twitter or at his personal web site, KyleOrland.com. Republished with permission.