A Quick (lol not really) Thought Before Adventures

September 30, 2011 § 6 Comments

You heard the dinosaur

…brought to you by a certain HE KNOWS WHO who’s constantly reminding me of what else I could be thinking about, or ways I’m not being careful enough. Which I greatly appreciate, as always THANKS MYSTERIO (no seriously, you’re the best). But still, now my brow’s all furrowed and that shit ain’t cute.

So — the question of identity. Aren’t there spaces where RL identity/the “authentic self” is completely severed from online behaviors, thereby suggesting that –what I’ve claimed is a kind of basic & necessary– osmosis between RL you and internet you actually has some airtight compartments? Trolls take this sort of robust compartmentalization for granted, arguing that what they do as trolls is completely separate from, or at least has very little to do with, what they do or think as people. In other words, trolling might be puppet-mastered by actual people but is carried out by fictional (or semi-fictional) characters.

It took me ages to make sense of this idea, and is why my early work was so…well, shitty. I simply didn’t know what to do with what one of my earliest participants casually (and at the time incomprehensibly) described as “the people behind the trolls.” At first I wondered if this was just one person’s perspective, but as I continued with my research I realized that this is something of a default position (to the extent that any position can ever truly be the universal default). Caveats aside, every single person I’ve worked with, from /b/tards to griefer-types to RIP trolls, have distanced themselves from their online exploits. Not out of shame or embarrassment, but because in their minds, which is to say, in their experiences, there’s a very clear separation between them and the trolls they perform (as). So, although offered without any forethought, just as an off-the-cuff explanation made by a 22 year-old /b/tard, the phrase “the people behind the trolls” remains the clearest and most succinct characterization of the troll/person relationship I have ever encountered, and has profoundly influenced my approach, and even my basic attitude towards, trolls and trolling behaviors.

(Perhaps?) ironically, “the people behind the trolls” has also been the most frequently and most ferociously challenged claim in my theoretical arsenal. It’s a cop-out, the counterargument goes; trolls may indeed affect distance from what they say and do, but only because they’re too cowardly to take responsibility for their own actions, and/or they really are racist, sexist and homophobic assholes. Which in turn puts me in a very weird rhetorical position. But that’s a different subject for a different post. For now, suffice it to say that trolls recognize and embrace a fundamental break between the “them” of real life and the “them” of trolling; the latter is simply not the same thing as the former.

Some pretty major qualifications aside, I’m inclined not to disagree (lol talk about a different subject for a different post), but would say that one informs the other, thus blurring even this seemingly airtight (and/or more airtight) line between the “real” and “online” self/selves. But not in the way detractors might think; just because a troll says something racist does not mean the person behind the troll is secretly (or explicitly) racist. But– the person behind the troll is acting upon his or her trolling personae in ways that gesture towards RL experiences — not just in terms of what counts as lulzy to whom (the ultimate in trollish punctum), but due to the seemingly obvious fact that, to this particular person, trolling has any appeal to begin with. The fact that they’re (virtually) standing there (actually) trolling suggests as much.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that trolling is the function of some grand pathos; most trolls I’ve worked with are perfectly “normal,” whatever that means. In fact some of my very favorite people are trolls. But trolls are in the minority; most people just don’t get it. In the most basic sense, then, the “getting” of trolling links the people behind the trolls together irl; there is a direct (well, directly indirect) connection between who a person is (what they’ve been through, which at the very least influences their respective senses of humor) and why they choose to wear this particular mask.

Even here, then, which initially may seem like the textbook example of the real/virtual split, suggests a kind of mutual runoff, and further challenges the efficacy of asking “where does the real end and the virtual begin?” My basic position is that there is no discrete end, and that instead of asking where to pencil in that impossible line (which wouldn’t tell us much anyway, even if it were there) we should start from a point of having-been-blurred. That’s where we’ll find all the interesting shit.

(great and now I’m running a bit late, no time for editing OH WELL)

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§ 6 Responses to A Quick (lol not really) Thought Before Adventures

  • […] (and who keeps raising fascinating and provocative questions on her blog!).  A couple days ago she wrote a post on “online identity,” and what a strange and problematic concept it is – and how it seems to be at the core […]

  • Dunno whether to curse you for taking over my brain for a couple days, or thank you for giving me something to write about for my class!


    Anyhoo, I think you might find Sutton-Smith’s The Ambiguity of Play useful.

    • Aw shucks, thanks (again). I am curious about your claim that “old-school games scholars and critics both valorize the magic circle and tend to be more sympathetic to the predators than the prey, for very similar reasons of insecurity in their privilege” — are you referring specifically to game scholars, or are you making a more general claim, at least implicitly? And are you speaking about magic circles In The Literature, or magical trolling circles in particular (hence my question about who exactly you’re indicting)? I ask because I’ve found the absolute opposite to be true (at least if/when we’re talking about mainstream/academic reactions to trolling behaviors), in ways that automatically delegitimize (at least, are designed/assumed to delegitimize) any and all “serious” examinations of trollish behavior online. It’s just racist/classist/sexist, the end — at least that’s the standard argument I constantly encounter, and of which I could not possibly be more wary. Also, are you arguing that the scholars themselves are insecure in their privilege? How does this influence the tendency to side with the aggressor? If that were the case, that is, if scholars are valorizing the troll-types, wouldn’t that suggest identification as opposed to some sort of insecure sublimation?

  • Hmm…. it may be an artifact of mostly doing games-related academic conferences, where a *lot* of grad students have a Goon background, and there does seem to be acceptance/valorization among the old guard – I’m thinking in particular of a very well received (and honestly fascinating) keynote talk at Games+Learning+Society by Julian Dibbell a couple years ago, on lulz.

    And, gods, (IMO) the State of Play old guard hates hates hates Second Life and anything remotely gendered-female/queer, in favor of PvP game spaces, and I think it is a Geek Hierarchy thing, a way of asserting “seriousness’ and masculinity against more “frivolous” (e.g. less-empowered) games/players/spaces.

    I think it is insecure sublimation rather than straight-up identification, because (again IMO) they see themselves as feminized and trivialized by the rest of the academy for studying games/kid stuff/the “not real” in the first instance – at the State of Play grad seminar, the field pioneers were really expressive of that, and it was in strong distinction to the grad student experience, where we found much more general acceptance and interest than they did at the turn of the century.

    So, again, Geek Hierarchy.

    • First of all, sorry no respond till now, have been in final frantic exam-mode — take the oral portion of my first written portion (they make things so complicated here) in a few hours actually. So more on this soon, but for now I must say this is very interesting…my background, and the theoretical circles I travel in, are (mostly) humanities-based, and almost everyone I’ve encountered, and CERTAINLY everyone in my department (I don’t want to overstate or generalize outside my own experiences), have very little if ANY tolerance for the kinds of weird ludic inversions/recombinations we see in our world. Especially when they see the words that are being thrown around (most acutely, “-fag” as universal suffix i.e. newfag, moralfag, I’ve even seen fagfag). I suspect this is because they aren’t able to recognize and certainly don’t know how to unpack the “magic circle,” so just take everything at face-value. Which is a dangerous/highly limiting proposition, from my perspective at least. What you’re describing seems to be its own very particular corner of the universe, and is something I would say you seriously need to write about…again though, more on this. But I’d say you’re on to something…

      • ….the oral portion of your…. ok, nvm, I’ll just take it on faith. I’ve heard weirder things out of departments, I’m sure. At any rate, DIE WELL! /klingonvoice.

        Yeah, we so need to grab a coffee and talk.

        Over on my blog, two of my best friends, an “ex”-Goon and a frequently-griefed Second Lifer are starting to talk, at least through me. I’m hoping to encourage them. They’re clearly in different conceptual worlds, and while I’m coming from her intolerance, with my own class readings on top of it, I can’t deny there’s something complex and interesting going on here.

        More anon!

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