Like any child of the Internet age, video game forums were my go-to location for discussions about video games. At first, they appeared virtual hotbeds of intellectual discussion and mutual agreement – you know, the kind of talks that put an academic seminar to shame. I’ve seen many of those, and I’m grateful for those that I did see; I probably wouldn’t be writing about video games/theology at all if not for those experiences.
On the other hand, 99% of the content on any given video game forum is pure garbage, intentional antagonism due to anonymity, or a pervasive sense of rudeness and/or inability to see the other person’s point of view. Two ships pass each other in the night, and neither one knows the other ship was even there. What first began as a conciliatory conversation about some video game concept or another turns into a flurry of elitist posturing, ignoring arguments, and generally going so far into minutiae that you barely know what you meant to say in the first place. I’m not sure why text communication turns into this – maybe people have far too long to think about what they’re going to say – but it certainly isn’t helpful nor constructive.
I have a little system going to identify various types of people. Combinations are allowed!
1. The Overbearing Narcissist – Somehow, every single thread becomes something about them. Even if the subject matter’s totally irrelevant (say, discussing the merits of God of War versus Bayonetta, for example), he/she will move the conversation over to their personal interest, which could range from an interesting anecdotal interlude to some other unrelated subject matter. I imagine you’ve encountered this one before, and usually the results are not pretty. Forums are “open” in the sense that most anyone who is a member of said forum can contribute, so anyone can start having a conversation right in the middle of your thread if they don’t like it.
2. The “Arguing for the Sake of Arguing” Guy/Gal – This person likes debating, pure and simple. Doesn’t matter about what, or for what reason; as long as they are “winning” (whatever that might constitute) or showing off their knowledge about something (the elitism of some forum members always feels horrible necessary, all said). It’s annoying, and frankly quite bizarre, dealing with this person; the conversation will shift to something they’re an expert about, and you just keep the fire kindled in response. It’s an unconscious reflex, I guess, but it happens all the time!
3. The “I Will Ignore Any Argument, However Valid, That Does Not Support My Position” Person – Basically, you can win any argument and you will never find any admittance that a person was wrong. I’m not sure whether this is natural and endemic to forums as a whole, but I rarely see a person capitulate. It doesn’t matter how stupid or dumb their argument is, or whether or not it’s a rational/logical fallacy (supposedly, those actually apply in these conversations, but not really). They will fight you to the death for something, or they will magically disappear from the conversation. A lack of accountability, that, but this comes with the territory of Internet anonymity.
4. The Reductivist – They reduce. So imagine, you’re talking about the status of video games as a whole. Suddenly, we’re talking about the specific mechanics of a game in the most incredible detail, one for which a generalist like me is wholly and utterly unprepared for. Congratulations! You’ve been hit by the rhetorical technique known as the “reduction”. Of course, they aren’t expecting you to admit that you are actually wrong about something, so they will continue until you end up like #3 or continue to look foolish. They moved the terms of the conversation, and now they dictate its flow.
5. The Gang-Upper – This person’s just in it for kicks, but they’ll but in if they get to gang up on someone (hence the name). Doesn’t matter what it is, but if they can get the mob to go against you, even for things completely foreign to the discussion topic, they’ll do it. They’re in it for the fun of the whole thing, after all, and they care little for your personal conviction or anyone trying to discuss the issue rationally.
We could categorize all these under the broad category of “trolling”, but most of it comes from the average video game forum member, who develops an “us versus them” complex on some level. It’s really a shame, and I endured this far too many times to count. Actually, I get angry at it, not for what’s happening above but that these elements disrupt the process of actually learning anything! It’s truly a shame, but that’s the Internet for you. I’m not implicating anyone in this; it’s just the whole concept of a video game forum leads to that sort of thing, especially when everyone’s relatively intelligent.
So what exactly should you do from this situation? I believe in presuppositionalism – that is, your beliefs and assumptions about the world will inevitably make discussion and conversion impossible unless one party makes strides to understand the other person. In a video game forum, without knowing the person behind the keyboard, it’s hard to know how you come across other than in cryptic and mildly hostile textual jabs. I find comment sections in articles much more focused because they force rules on the conversation from the get-go before it devolves into some twisted, writhing shell of its former self.
That’s where I get off the train. An essay and a comment section, or a podcast seem like a fine place to discuss topics. But I’ve never found a video game forum where talking doesn’t devolve into some variation thereof. You may be different, but I know why I don’t visit forums (except for guides and the like) often. Too often, it turns into Paul’s description in Ephesians 4:
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Christians set themselves to a higher standard. We’re certainly not superior to anyone, and it’s that realization that lets us walk towards the light. So how do you confront other people in conversations if they don’t share your convictions, Christian and non-Christian? It’s a difficult task, in any sense. You don’t want to offend, but you certainly don’t want to back off something so important. Sarcasm’s fine, but mocking is not. I’ve gotten physically, actually angry from such things. Just having a conversation where no progress happens and no one learns anything sets my brain on fire, and isn’t good for sleeping either! I did this stuff too, and not consciously! Good thing we get additional guidelines just a tad further into Ephesians 4:
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Unfortunately, the Internet isn’t a place where knowing your neighbor is an easy task. Nor does it help you sleep when you’re angry at a wall of text. And being nice to someone always feels somewhat passive-aggressive on a forum, as if you attempt an underhanded tactic. Acting like an elitist jerk doesn’t help either. So, my personal recommendation: act the opposite of any of the archetypes listed above. Be kind; admit to your own faults and failures, and don’t be afraid. By reaching out like another actual human being, and not a troll, you may earn more respect than you think.
This applies nearly anywhere on the Internet. Cynicism, negativity, and disapproval abound. People will take their perceived grievances and bring them to the public square. You can be a pinprick of light in a sea of darkness; you just need to see yourself in that sea, and swim out of it.