So, it seems that the first round of industry conferences and conventions is upon us, this week being the ongoing Game Developer’s Conference of 2015. While I couldn’t go (nor was I especially interested in going) I did happen to hear about this talk given by Ralph Koster, Richard Vogel, and Gordon Walton on handling internet drama as a community manager. I was dreading another typical prog screed about how you need to purge your community of evil undesirables, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was actually some real talk coming from Koster and friends, perhaps more real talk than they’re aware of. You can read a summary of it by gameindustry.biz here.
First, let me get to what I had mentioned on twitter, the points that the presenters seemed to miss or gloss over. I think Vogel is wrong to blame anonymity as a major problem for online communities. Personally, I’m of the belief that anonymity helps produce a more stable community. By removing the importance of reputation, you remove the status jockeying that goes on in your average online community. The reason sites like NeoGAF are rapidly declining in popularity is precisely because of the constant signaling and forced consensus. Meanwhile, communities like 4chan’s /v/ tend to be some of the biggest movers and shakers in games culture precisely because the anonymity allows original content to prosper without the pesky matter of status jockeying. If you want innovation, originality, and a fun time, you want to allow as much anonymity as possible. Reputation creates a stale, boring environment where fresh ideas are not able to rise to the top.
Another interesting point I think Vogel misses in his critique of anonymity is that his solution involves building a collective identity that encourages the group to co-exist with each other. To that, I’ll respond by using /v/ as an example. Certainly, to an outsider, /v/ looks like a disaster, with so many different users butting heads on nearly every conceivable topic. However, the best way to find a consensus? Mention Reddit or NeoGAF or, god help you, tumblr. Suddenly, the group identity is obvious. Users will put aside most petty conflicts and bond over a mutual disdain for outsiders. Thus, you create a healthy, stable sense of community without ever needing to abandon anonymity.
But that leads me to my much larger point, the part of their talk that absolutely floored me. Ralph Koster actually said that Switzerland’s low crime rate is due to its homogenous population. Combined with his earlier statement that most crime in Switzerland is in areas where different groups live, I’m amazed that a horde of rainbow-haired she-twinks with their goony man-beard escorts didn’t storm the stage and tar and feather the man for being racist. Indeed, his entire lecture touched on one of the points that the right has been yelling about for ages: diversity brings conflict. Of course, any criminologist will tell you that a homogenous community is less likely to have crime than a diverse one (barring other factors like poverty and single-parent households and other statistics).
Koster initially seems to complain about people forming tribes and those tribes coming into conflict with each other. Indeed, he draws parallels to segregation when discussing Switzerland’s tribal conflicts. Of course, Vogel and Watson proceeded to drop an uncomfortable truth-bomb on the conference: that segregation was part of human nature. I can just imagine that when he said this, Arthur Chu stopped masturbating to his own reflection and gasped in horror. People naturally choosing to associate with people similar to them is the perennial fact that proponents of multiculturalism are obsessed with trying to deny, or in Chu’s case, undo.
Walton also pointed out that it’s much harder to be a criminal in a town of only sixty or so people instead of being in a large, massive city. First they acknowledge basic human tribalism, then they point out why urbanization is bad? Oh the humanity! Someone stop these evil creatures! Even more heinous is that all the developers agreed that the solution to the problem of online nastiness lied in the same key idea: promoting a shared identity. Not only do they acknowledge that tribalism is a very natural behavior, but they even understand it to be the solution to their ills. They want to create a tribe out of their community, a group with a clear, guiding identity beyond basic consumerism. Back up now buddy, this isn’t Stormfront!
I’m being a little facetious here, as you can tell. I don’t think any of the three men in the panel genuinely got what they were hinting at. If they actually understood the dangerous nature of the ideas they were playing with, they’d probably never have given the talk, lest it undermine the greater good of ideological purity. Yet I suppose a man can dream that there are still nerds who value functionality over petty ideology. Maybe next year we’ll see developers talking about human biodiversity affecting games? You never know…