Hug a Nerd. Save Society.

‘Ooh, a Stan Grant piece. I wonder what the comments are like?’

We’ve all been there. We’ve all watched some interesting Youtube video or read a particularly thought-provoking article, and thought, ‘I wonder what other people think of this – oh, there’s a comment section, let’s see what peopl- oh God, oh dear God, what is wrong with everyone?’ We’ve all read comments that make us wonder how anyone with any semblance of an education could possibly be so stupid, and make us lose a little more faith in humanity. Many of us have trained ourselves not to read online comments because of how sad it makes us. Yeah, it gets pretty bad.

For many, especially those who participate in online communities, the natural line of thought following this is that society is doomed. And at first, it’s hard to argue with them – why are there so many examples of ‘Whether or not homosexuality is a disorder is a question I have a right to ask’ or the classic ‘muslims arent a rase so im not rasist u retart learn some fkn english’? I have literally seen a thread made by a person who was sexually assaulted (physically, for all you ‘hooting is not a crime lol xd’ people out there) where someone made a joke at her expense, was reprimanded, and people were demanding an apology from the reprimanders. And their comments are frequently the most upvoted, they have the most support from fellow posters, their detractors are told unflattering descriptions of their mothers, etc. Saying these people are a ‘bit’ worrying sounds about as accurate as saying our offshore processing policies are a ‘bit’ immoral. So why are we hugging nerds? Let me explain.

See, what you need to realise is that online comments are not perfect reflections of the general population. This should be obvious but perhaps we need reminding. Everyone knows someone who isn’t techno-savvy and could barely open an email, let alone comment on a Youtube video, but they’re not common in this day and age and I’m not going to concentrate on them. See, there’s a middle ground between the techno-phobe and the techno-savvy – that is to say, the normal people. The reality of this hit me when I noticed my roommate, who’s a big user of Youtube, didn’t have an account on it and therefore never left comments. It got me thinking. And it led to a rather interesting question.

What sort of people actually comment on the internet?

To answer this question, let’s think about why someone would join a forum.

  1. They must be passionate. But not just passionate about one topic. For them to be bothered to comment prolifically, they must have a set opinion on everything. This implies a belief that the world, and its issues, are simple, which in turn implies that the commenter is either young, or fairly closed-minded.
  2. They must be internet-savvy. As we discussed, not just able to use a computer, but to be familiar, to feel at home, online. They must spend hours a day on the computer to be familiar with everything, and to feel confident typing things that are almost without exception quite insensitive. Which leads us to the next point.
  3. They must be confident, not just in their computer skills, but in their views. They must feel at least a little entitled to an opinion, to say the things they say. I hate to bring out the PC-hater’s dream strawman, but yes, they are probably men. And again, young. Not many people manage to hold on to their confidence after spending any significant amount of time outside of high school.

Now, let’s think – in our society, where do we find young closed-minded males spending hours a day on a computer, and who are stupidly ‘passionate’ about everything? Some of you might know what I’m getting at here. I’ll give you a hint … remember GamerGate?

This revelation hit me quite hard, since I’m a male gamer that does indeed spend a significant amount of time on internet forums thinking and occasionally telling people how wrong they are. I guess that means you’ll have to take this blog with a grain of salt. But the more I look at internet comments, whether it be articles, Youtube, even large Facebook groups, the more this explanation makes sense. Every now and then, you can see a gaming reference or in-joke, and it gets an absurd number of upvotes. It’s gamers. All the goddamn comments are made and upvoted by gamers.

So it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief, right? They’re just gamers, not a majority by any stretch, so who cares, right? No. For one thing, far more people play games than you might expect. Esports looks on track to overtake regular sports as the most watched spectator sport. But there’s a bigger problem. I, and now you, might know about this demographic, but no one else seems to have cottoned on yet. Online comments are starting to be taken seriously. More and more outsiders, with spectacles and a copy of The Guardian, are looking at the internet and saying, ‘you know, they’re just expressing an opinion; it’s no different to a debate at the pub’. Good on them for keeping an open mind, but, no, this is a worry. What if one of these people is a politician? They’re going to think these sorts of arguments are normal. Gamers’ voices are drowning out the normals.

So what do we do? We could go to these sites and start commenting, but it’s not a long term solution. We need to get to the heart of the problem – gamers themselves. What makes a person become a gamer? What makes them spend hours a day at a computer, replacing human interaction with (more) acne, losing touch with the real world in the process? I’ll tell you what. It’s because they have nothing better to do. They’ve forgotten how much fun a social life, meeting people, and all the other things associated with normals, can be. So we need to remind them what they’ve been missing out on. Meet them. Talk to them.

Give them a hug.