Here at Kotaku, we run all sorts of stories. Video game news and reviews, culture stories, stories about Japan, stories about the history of video games, funny posts about snack foods. But no matter what stories we're running, there seems to be a consensus out there in Internetland: "Kotaku commenters are the worst."
I've been writing here full-time for almost six months, and I have to say, I don't believe this to be true at all.
I'm not just saying that to curry favor, either! Our commenters are passionate, intense, and dedicated. Some of them are a little bit crazy. Some of them are a lot crazy. Sometimes, there is vociferous disagreement with what an author has chosen to write, as with, say, my kinda different review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. And it must be said that every now and then, the threads get straight-up appalling, as in this feature about Felicia Day.
So, I could see how someone could jump to conclusions about our commenters. Just today, Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins, in opining about our recent addition of the games-only Kotaku Core feed, referred to some of our commenters as "Feral."
Fair enough. But every time I post or repost a piece that is progressive or challenging, my twitter feed fills with friends and allies complaining endlessly about the awfulness of our commenters. Not some of them, as Holkins did, but all of them. There even exists a Chrome Extension called "Commentless Kotaku," which blocks comments on all of our posts. Presumably because they are so irresistibly terrible that people would rather put on blinders than even be tempted to read them.
Part of this may be due to the way our "featured comments" work. If you don't have a Kotaku account, the first comment you will see on a given post is the "featured" one. We editors don't directly choose which comment gets featured—it's whichever one has the most responses. That means that on a controversial post, the most baiting or trollish comments become featured, usually due to a huge number of people voicing disagreement with the comment in question. The featured comment is rarely illustrative of what's actually going on in the thread—to get a sense of that, you have to click "all" down in the "view comments" tab.
If you do that you'll see that yes, we get trolls, and overly mean self-styled comedians, and conspiracy-theory spouting weirdos, and folks who are convinced that we're a bunch of amateurs (we are not) who are on the take (we are not). But those types of commenters are the exception, not the rule, and in and around them are hundreds of people just… writing what they think. Don't believe me? Here, I'll show you.
Just today, we ran a guest editorial from Denis Farr following-up on his "This Gaymer's Story" post we ran a while back. It talked about the word "faggot" and why he believes the word is not okay. Both of his stories were highly personal, and invited abuse from commenters. The post went up and like clockwork, I saw people in my feed and elsewhere complaining about how awful the comments were.
I've read all of these comments, however, and just as with Denis' first piece, I was struck by how many were even-handed, positive, and thoughtful. And of those who disagreed with his points, the vast majority were equally thoughtful. Whom I agree with is beside the point—any way you look at it, this is not a bunch of slavering, feral assholes.
There were plenty of comments that agreed with Farr's points:
I get really tired of the way people harass anyone they think is in the minority, or is different from themselves.
Read this earlier, great stuff.
And I agree. We should stand against those who use "gay" and "faggot" as derogatory terms. The only way to get people to stop is to hammer the fact that it's wrong into their puny little noggins. It's frankly disgusting that people still see the need to discriminate against LGBT individuals in 2012. It's not like we did anything wrong to deserve such outright hatred and homophobia.
You just said exactly what I couldn't put in to words! Thanks for that!
Very well written article (Seriously, the flow of the text and the composition as well as the use of vocabulary is sublime!).
I always wonder myself why and when "gay" became a synonym for "bad" or "Something or the other I do not like", when it once meant exactly the opposite.
One thing is for sure: We all know what the word means today, just as the word faggot (Except when it relates to the foodstuff and/or the British cigarette), which is why it should be avoided.
Can we not stop there and halt name calling/insulting in general? I too am often upset when people say things which they have no idea what it truly means nor understand the weight and repercussions of the words they throw out so easily. It sickens me when kids say "faggot", "nigger", "bitch", etc I mean what kind of place do we live in when playing a game can invoke grade school aged children to spout out words that can truly hurt other people?
"It's cool that you're gay/a woman/an ethnic minority, I just don't want to know about it or be exposed to it in any way" is bigotry no matter how much you insist it is not.
Some of the comments thoughtfully piggybacked some of his arguments to make their own:
To those who are saying that "faggot" doesn't mean "gay" any more, so stop being offended:
"Faggot" is still used only in a negative context right? It's a slur and an insult yes? Even if you call your best friend a "faggot," you're doing so to insult him a little bit right? Even if he's your best friend in the world and knows that you didn't mean anything by it and doesn't even take the slightest offense, it was still an insult, yes? (Just like calling your friend stupid, dumbass, or dickhead is an insult, even if he doesn't take offense).
I think the point of this article is that people shouldn't just accept the status quo because they think things aren't going to change. Things change naturally over time because people make choices. By bringing attention to something that has a more negative effect than positive, and that people may take for granted as normal, it can prompt that change in mindset. That's all.
And the response to that comment from one reader:
Bingo. Well put.
One reader analyzed his own background to understand why it was important to tell people when language hurts you:
I remember calling things that I thought were weird "fruity" when I was a kid. It was probably years before my parents heard my say it and told me I shouldn't use that word because it was offensive towards gay people. I really had no idea, and I don't think any kids my age did (I was probably 10ish?). I thought it was just an innocent word to use, like saying fudge...I hope that one's not also offensive.
I was probably in my teens before I was informed that being gypped was offensive and referred to gypsies.
I think I was in my 20s when someone told me that calling someone "boy" was racist. I knew it was in insult, but thought it just meant they were childish and should grow up.
It's probably a pretty good idea to get more attention to things, if you grew up in a little town that's pretty much entirely white and Christian you don't learn these things outside of those school assemblies.
Some other commenters expressed solidarity:
Good for you - you're not the only gay gamer out there (I'm one). Thanks for speaking out and letting folks know that being a gamer does not necessary equate to being a straight immature guy (I'm guessing a lot of girl and women gamers would also agree). It makes us all better people when we stop and think before we spout some verbal diarrhea for a cheap laugh or to make ourselves feel slightly better than someone else.
Well said, Gaymers UNITE! *rainbow effect with 80's glitter*
Some took issue with the term "Gaymer":
The thing that offended me in this article was the term "gaymer". A gamer is a person that likes and plays video games. It does not refer to a gender, it does not refer to a race, it does not refer to a sexual preference, nor a religious belief. If you want to identify yourself as a "Gay Gamer" that's fine, but don't wedge your lifestyle into a term already used to describe everyone.
Bleh, while we're on the subject of not using certain words, can we PLEASE retire "Gaymer" (and Gamer too if possible)?
And there were, of course, lots of other types of disagreement:
As I mentioned, I agree with most of what you said (in this article and the previous one), and I can totally understand why you would have an issue with this topic, but please don't try to insult those who are in your shoes and DON'T have an issue with it.
This may just be me, but... I'm not comfortable with someone referring to themselves as a gaymer any more than I'm comfortable with someone who identifies themselves with a dominatrix or whatever. It's equally bothersome to watch some dude hit on random women, even when they're clearly not interested, just because he can't keep it in his pants. Hell, I don't even like PDAs between straight couples, even if that's what the vast majority of the population, myself included, is.
I like people to keep their sexuality private, in other words.
"Why straight men were not the ones capable of 'reclaiming' faggot"
I'm for respecting gays and all, but really? sounds kind of dictatorial...
(After that last one came a long, interesting discussion about how straight men reclaiming "faggot" would be like white people "reclaiming" the N-word.)
Even in disagreement, most were thoughtful and open to discussion.
As for your general point, "stop using the f-word;" sure, I'm on board. I never use it. I don't know that your tactics are really going to be the best way to accomplish this though.
While bullying is not condonable in any form, I feel a second lesson needs to be taught alongside the lesson of not bullying: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." (Eleanor Roosevelt)
But among all of the post's 335-and-climbing comments, I saw very few that were anything close to what I'd call "terrible." Sure, you could go through and cherry pick the most angry, combative ones and try to use them as evidence that "All Kotaku commenters are horrible." But the numbers just aren't there.
Sure, it's chaotic. Sure, there's a lot of dissent. There are amazingly thoughtful people who write amazingly thoughtful things. There are remarkable dumbasses who say remarkably dumbassed things. But the Kotaku comments section is not awful, and it's not toxic. It's just people.