Games Journalism 2018: We're taking it back!


This forum trends older and male, and I’m not sure what the universal experience was, but mine was that teenage boys were just as obnoxious and “toxic” back in the 80s as they are today, they just didn’t have a way to distribute their attitudes that was nearly as efficient as the internet.

TL;DR: Same old shit, brand new delivery method.

Nintendo was right in not having in-game chat after all!

Nintendo got burned early simply by letting people design their own Mario Kart icons. And getting swastikas.


I’d have to disagree. Just as obnoxious yes, toxic no. We didn’t have echo-chamber communities to amplify all our bad habits.


Kids were like that in the '90s too. But in real life, the older, more mature kids had the cars, money, etc. to be cool. The younger kids had to stop acting like little dipshits if they wanted to hang out with them.

On the internet, everyone is equal, so maybe we don’t have that same pressure to grow up?


Outlaw sockets.


I’d also note that the list of banned things to say was considerably shorter a few decades back, so “toxic” is probably a moving target.


Wasn’t this rather definitively settled in 2004 by John Gabriel? It’s certainly not limited to or even predominantly a gaming phenomena.


I remember back in the 80’s playing a pickup game of basketball on the local court. The opposing team stole my pass then tea-bagged me while calling me a faggot cuck globalist. Funny how things never change.


Ahh so that’s where the inspiration for Pyre came from!


This is a great post. A++. Would like again (if I could)


That was funny :) the words used to hurt change, but the attitude remains and is amplified by anonymity and the magical thinking of nothing having consequences in the Internet.

Back in the day calling names to people could well mean that you got your butt kicked.


All behaviour had social repercussions, whether family, friends, schoolmates or w/e. The internet pretty much removes that because you can choose who to associate with at all times.


One of the worst things to come out of Penny Arcade is the “Theory of Internet Anonymity” comic. People quote it all the time, but it’s flat out wrong. It’s not anonymity that enables shit behavior. It’s the lack of real-world consequences.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have shown that people will be super awful even with their real names exposed. The problem is that social media communication gives them insulation from most consequences.


I actually thought about addressing that in my post, but then didn’t take the time to do so. If you take “anonymity” to literally mean “no one knows my real name”, then of course the theory is at best incomplete. If you take “anonymity” to mean “isolation from personal connection and contact” then I think it’s quite accurate.

I’d argue that the above is, for all intents and purposes, anonymity. Am I abusing the definition? Maybe. It’s directionally accurate, though, and people certainly talk about “the anonymity of big cities” the same way.

I mean, I could use my real name instead of Wyndwraith and I’m still just some asshole on the internet who won’t shut up. Real name or pseudonym doesn’t change the fact that you don’t know me personally absent an astoundingly small random chance.


I mean, anonymity makes it easier to hide from real-world consequences, and anonymity is the default online, so they seem mostly related. But Telefrog is right, the fact that my cousin’s real name appears next to his screed about Black History Month didn’t make him any less likely to post it.

But since he did, someone could theoretically find it and show it to his mom or employer or whomever. That puts a real-world consequence to an online action. Doing that for every asshole online is impossible, though. We do it for the high-profile folks like politicians or journalists, but low-profile assholery is mostly overlooked, so people just keep on keepin’ on.


Hypercompetitive teenage males making misogynistic, racist, aggressive comments isn’t new. What is new is that…

Internet enabled games let them find each other.
Competitive internet games let them congregate with each other.
Internet forums about these games let them form communities with each other.
Social media lets a 15 year old have as much a voice an adult and that means that
Suddenly internet game communities are a toxic force in the world.


John Suler’s 2004 article, The Online Disinhibition Effect is much more accurate, I find.

It boils down to a lack of meaningful repercussion online enables toxic behavior.


That’s totally fair. From skimming the wiki article you linked, though, I’m pretty sure I’m wrapping anonymity, invisibility, and empathy deficit up into “anonymity” as stated by Penny Arcade. If you want to insist that they’re separate effects, I won’t argue any more.

Edit: Last edit, for real.

I just read “anonymity” in the PA comic to mean “lack of meaningful repercussion online”. If you grant me that, I’m pretty sure we’re saying the same thing.


You can interpret it that way, but the context of the original comic was specifically “anonymity” as in nobody knows who is saying what during UT2004 matches. You can add that the freedom from consequence was a result of that anonymity, which gets you closer to Suler’s argument, but I’m pretty sure most people posting that comic online don’t think about it beyond the surface reading.

Edit: And I don’t think this is worthy of an argument. It just bugs me that their old comic gets trotted out all the time as a pat reply to any complaint about online toxicity.


Just to prove that I am in fact an asshole who won’t shut up, anonymous or no:

I can’t speak towards how people use the comic these days, but from the PA news post on March 24, 2004, there’s this with a link to the same theory you linked to

When we submitted John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, we were not aware that it already had proponents in centers of higher learning. Except, when they talk about it, they call it The Impact of Anonymity on Disinhibitive Behavior Through Computer-Mediated Communication. Same thing, though.

I’m not doing a good job not arguing, but I really see this as a discussion over terms, not an argument. I still think we’re saying the same thing, I’m just using a pithy comic to do so. Which is totally a problem I caused, because you’re reading it differently than I am.

I’m also not actually trying to shut down debate, I just feel like it’s been discussed to death and there isn’t actually much more to say than John Suler’s take. I really just posted the comic as an attempt to snarkily burn the NYT for being 14 years late. I might have posted Suler’s theory if I’d known of it instead.


Lol. Sounds good man. I’m still going to be supremely annoyed by that comic being used as a casual reply.