Troll Culture

Like most of you, I cannot get this election off of my mind. I have not been able to focus and write these blogs like I usually do without glancing at my social media every five minutes to see if some new, terrible act has been committed in his name. There is also a part of me that still wants to believe that this cannot be happening, and, despite this dread, I cannot help but know that it is insignificant compared to the legitimate fear that is felt by my black, Muslim, LGBTQIA+, immigrant, Latinx, etc. friends. This lack of focus lead me to conclude that I have to write on something related to the election, but also related to video games.

Enter the troll. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, think of I-r0k from Ready, Player One. They are someone who enters the online community and intentionally stirs up trouble or negativity in a variety of ways, only to sit back and enjoy people’s reactions. They can be innocent and fun, like the infamous Ken M. of Facebook. His comments are often briliiant in their stupidity, and, admittedly, it is a little fun to see people fall for the bait and “feed” him, only leading to more laughs.

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However, there are certainly parts of the internet that are less friendly, and, here, there are much worse people with little regard for social customs or common decency. I would rather not include a picture of some of those comments, as they are incredibly hate-filled, ignorant, and generally unfunny. These sorts of trolls either believe in the validity of their racist, homophobic, misogyny, etc., or do not care enough about these issues to see the impact of their words.

Given this election, I expect that the online community is in for an increase in the number of these sorts of trolls. How do we respond? Do we “feed” the troll and oppose their hateful words? As someone of privilege, I see that words have power, and this is the response that I want to take, but online arguments are extremely unproductive. I’m still very much confused, and there are much larger issues ahead as well. Would love to hear y’alls thoughts.

 

A Story About My Failure

By A. A. BENJAMIN

There’s a game sitting in my Steam queue that I haven’t played for months. I’ve gotten to the very last level, and just can’t get across this dreaded chasm.

A Story About My Uncle

It’s called A Story About My Uncle, and trying to “grapple” with computer keys and a touch pad didn’t drive me nuts until this stage. In class on Thursday I was struck by the “I don’t care if I fail” consensus. It was so interesting to me, to see how a person can be both competitive and yet so careless about failure. Commence brain malfunction in 5…4…3…

I think I have a problem. I have diagnosed myself with “sore-loser” syndrome. It’s not that I kick my feet and whine about how it’s not fair or that the computer “cheated.” I just give up. I tell myself I can’t bear to get so far again, just to have to do it again, and again, and again. I tell myself I have to drastically change my strategy each time rather than just trying the same strategy again with more patience. So, A Story About My Uncle sits in my queue undefeated indefinitely. (A quick note: I absolutely love these kinds of simplistic games for their visuals and story lines…quite stimulating for an aspiring author. But that’s another story.)

Oh, but it doesn’t end there! My relationship with LOTRO began with me blazing through the Intro and Prologue. What did you say? I can do side quests? You mean stop and help those peasants with their remedial chores? BAHA! I think not…But first came the warg, when I got too cocky curious. Then came the marsh, where some short marsh thing blasted me with a firebomb and I almost ran away crying. Almost. Then came Bree, and all the smack of reality that comes after it. I found myself dying. Once, twice, three times, nooo! Then I was not only dying, but failing quests. Then not only failing quests, but having quests lined up in red because my level was so “embarrassingly” low. And don’t even talk to me about the Old Forest. The last time I just tried to make it out alive with a bucket of water, and when I finally made my last steps toward victory, time ran out and the bucket disappeared. You can probably guess I haven’t gone back to try again. Then I killed a little girl, Leila, because I wasn’t prepared to fight every living breathing thing in the Barrow Downs as she dragged me around looking for her cloak. (At least she did find her cloak. At least she was nice and warm when the skeletons got her.)

Then, THEN—for goodness sake— I couldn’t even figure out the CHICKEN RUN. I finished all the prerequisite quests but failed in the part that really matters. Why? Because it was late, and I was too frustrated to even process information properly.

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Yep. I logged out with the chicken run literally right in front of my face, because I was too frustrated to pay attention. “But where’s the race?!” *Puts on dunce cap and goes to sit in a corner.* I’m beginning to wonder if this is a “real life” problem.

If how we behave in video games reflects our reality, I’m going to hit a mid-life crisis real soon. That’s why our discussion last class struck me. If we can theorize that gamers are more inclined to take risks and make waves, what does that say about discouraged gamers? What about those “when I’m good, I’m great, and when I’m bad, I’m terrible” people? There’s no in-between. Which is quite a premature attitude to have. Ironically this attitude appears to be a recent installation in my life, because some years ago when I cared less about pride and more about fun, I completed more games.Therefore, I’m assigning myself an era of reform in gaming. To all who claim that gaming sucks us out of reality, I’d like to be the counterpoint. Perhaps gaming puts the deeper reality we can’t see, touch, or feel right in our faces.

I’ll Pay You For Your Screwed Up Game

By A. A. BENJAMIN

 

There is a potential Donkey Kong kill screen coming up if anyone’s interested.

 

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This, to me, was the most powerful line in the entire King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters movie. For a couple of reasons.

First, I appreciated the dorky way Brian Kuh ran around announcing this all over the arcade as if he were passive-aggressively declaring war. XD

The movie documents underdog Steve Weibe’s attempt to beat Donkey Kong “heavy-weight champ” Billy Mitchell’s high score. Brian Kuh is Billy’s hype man. At this moment in the movie, Weibe has already near-shattered Kuh’s dream of being the first at the arcade to reach kill screen, which induces Kuh into manic slump-shouldered declarations intended to knock Wiebe off his game.

Powerful indeed.

No, the power behind this phrase comes from the sense of intensity and mystery it creates. It calls up the minute existence of video games however escapist and fantastical we like them to be. When I heard the phrase “kill screen,” my ears perked and my low-lidded skeptical eyes widened. What the frack is a kill screen?

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I remember seeing this image of Pac Man earlier in the movie and it made my heart race. Oh no, the game messed up! Progress lost! A glitch! No, Game Designer, we’re not supposed to see that! Make it stop!

Those were my original reactions, until I witnessed the scene in the arcade and saw how seamlessly the gamers had made the kill screen a part of their in-game reality. The kill screen became an active level of the game, part of the experience of playing Donkey Kong, and an indication of your general game-playing awesomeness. An unwritten rule of the game solidifies: if you’re that good, you get so far in the game that it can no longer function. You die because you’re just too awesome. Game designer and theorist Jesper Juul claims “video games are real in that they consist of real rules with which players actually interact.” How does something as mechanical and real as lack of memory space become part of the fictional experience of game achievement which in turn translates back into the reality of the competitive Donkey Kong world? Makes my head spin.

Is the glitch phenomenon something in gaming that we should aim to fix or eliminate, or does the rawness and somewhat intimacy of it add to the gamer experience?

Outside of arcade games, I’ve played many console games where I discovered glitches and turned them into a narrative of my own. For instance, when I was younger I played a video game in which I had discovered a hole in the rock walls. I would use the hole to evade attackers. The game designers never intended for that hole to be there. It was a glitch that I had adopted into my game play rather than getting upset or viewing the game designers any less credible (though, I was prone to compare graphic quality to other game systems). Similar things have occurred in other games, like discovering that turning your character a certain way reveals some laughable or hilariously distorted profile of the character.

As technology advances and graphic quality advances, and as storage space advances, will we see these endearing glitches disappear? The very glitches we made a part of our real world and fictional narratives? What will we do then?

LOTRO maestro and Vanderbilt University professor Jay Clayton asks, “What do you do then? The end game is the toughest part for game designers to wrestle with.” Exactly. This question has been relevant since Donkey Kong and way beyond. But I’d like to add, what will we do when we’re perfect? When all video game glitches are gone and storage strife is over, and video games have infinite quests and everyone becomes infinitely awesome at playing video games—

Wishful thinking. However, in that time of wishing we can reflect on what basic imperfections reveal about the human inclination to mold any and everything into a meaningful experience.