Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thousands of Invisible Lines, Triggering Traps of Every Kind.

When it comes to playing role-playing games I enjoy traps both as a player and Game Master. I like the way that dealing with them can often focus you on the problem solving aspects of our hobby in a way that goes beyond rolling a d20. It's invigorating to have to think about a trap's mechanisms, imagining where each component interacts with the next, in order to stop it and reset it so the orcs following us will set it off instead. That said, fuck riddles. I fucking hate everything about riddles from their often boorish rhyming schemes to their tendency to invoke puns (fuck them too). But I'm digressing so let me get back on topic. 

What I don't enjoy away from the table is how many traps there are in our interactions that people are constantly trying to set for each other. I see it all the time as I'm reading. One person may say, "I don't like using cheese on my pizza," and the next thing you see is some mad bastard from the internet howling in outrage. "Don't you know that by not supporting cheese on pizza that you're supporting the terrorists? Don't you even care? Of course not, because YOU ARE A TERRORIST!"

It's everywhere lately and I've got a hypothesis as to why. 

A lot of the most vocal outrages come from people who identify themselves, or others, by a word rather than on their own merits. By "identify themselves, or others, by a word" I specifically mean people who say things such as, "I'm a ______," or "He's a _____." By identifying themselves with a word it allows them to subsume their personal identity within a wider community and to take on a greater level of importance within their own lives. Any attack on that community, real or imagined, is then a direct attack on the individual. This allows the individual involved to become outraged both on their own behalf and on that of the wider community and is why you have the quick escalation in outrage from what should be a polite disagreement into the hyperbolic. Conversely identifying another person as a word allows them to stop responding to the individual and to invalidate everything they've said. For example, successfully labeling someone a "bigot" invalidates everything the individual has said about the color of trains because all of it becomes a game of "What racist agenda does his insistence on the color blue have?"

I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few months as our hobby has become embroiled with controversies and heated arguments with lines being drawn in the digital sand. The people involved are "story gamers," "trolls," "bigots," "bullies," "social justice warriors," "gamergaters," and so on. This strategy of associating the person you're arguing with to a label has become so widespread that people often launch into it without thinking now because doing so means you "win" - only you didn't win anything because you're arguing on the internet and no one's minds have been changed. It has become increasingly rare to have a conversation where two people disagree about a subject without someone resorting to this tactic. Let's look at me for a moment. In the last two days I've been labeled: a conservative, a liberal, a gamergater, a social justice warrior, a misogynist, and a feminist. Every time I received a label the person doing so was trying to associate me with a wider community so that they didn't have to deal directly with what I was saying and could invalidate everything I had argued. 

I hate how our debates have devolved into these label association traps. People attempt to force you to label yourself so that they can fit you into a neat, little box of expectations. After all, the label dissolves the individual and supplants them with the wider community. You are a white man or a black woman and thus are part of the monolithic larger community. You are not Amanda, Eric, Ocie, or Zelphia; you are a feminist, a story gamer, a troll, and a conservative. By eliminating the individual you're talking to from the conversation and turning them over to the label we have effectively ended the discussion. And if they aren't able to effectively prevent you from making the label stick they have fallen into a trap that has invalidated and silenced them. We no longer have to listen, to understand, or care about what they're saying. We already know because they're a ______.


  1. I had a witty reply about loving pizza so much I woudl make love to it if it wen't so damn hot, but I'll leave it at that.
    After reading the full post I'm going to agree with you and say you are right, that's how internet label slapping non- debating happens. However, You know you're right on point with this one.
    What I will add is this.
    For all the reasons you have mentioned, and some others the internet despite it's obvious upsides and it's original promise has for me failed. It is the single worst place it seems to share any thoughts, opinions or ideas. It seems to me that people end up shouting into the void unheard, shouting into an echo chamber where the only voices they hear already agree with them. Or lastly being roundly flamed for their opinions by people who hide behind internet anonymity and spew good old fashioned bull shit.
    None of those three options are constructive.
    Real discourse is exceedingly rare.
    The more involved I become in the "internet community" the more I see words fair and foul wasted.

  2. I think often the labels are the focus because it's a diversion from discussing actual ideas that people don't want to examine. Not only do people generally not understand the ideas behind their chosen flavor of groupthink, those ideas are quite often no more than pallette-swaps of the ideas of The Other Side. Examining them would inevitably lead to the conclusion that they're really no different in principle from their enemies. Better to shout down anyone who talks seriously about ideas lest their self-deception be exposed.

  3. I hate Illinois Nazis.

    I am a Mean Mother-Fucker.

    He is a Shithead.

    I love it when people come with self-professed labels. It makes it so much easier to ignore people I'm not going to like anyway.

    And of course the same thing goes for me. If you have a thing against mean mother-fuckers best to just drive on.

    1. Wait though, what about Nazis from other places?

      (Ha! See what I did there?)

  4. I do have a thing for hot dinosaur riding nazi chicks from the moon, but that is just my dick talking.

  5. This post is brilliant, and true, and all kinds of yes!

    I eschew such labels. All labels in fact. I barely deal with being label Human. After all, have you seen the species lately? I'll pass.

    1. "I barely deal with being label Human. After all, have you seen the species lately?"

      Never in my life have I more identified with two sentences!

  6. Excellent insights Charles, and spot on.

    I used to just think people were all kinds of stupid and divisive. Then I got on the interwebs and they damn well went and proved it. Thankfully, there are voices of reason, humor and wit out there amongst all the spurious moral outrage and hollering of every online think-a-long-gang.

    I guess some folks are just so angry and empty inside they need to rage against the ... *insert anything here*.


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