Don't speak, I know what you're thinking
Subjects discussed: Chastity vows (for video games), collective freak outs (on the internet)
Last December I declared to Jen, with the officiousness of a vicar and sincerity of a small child, that I was done playing video games. Mostly, okay. Definitely before sundown, and during the week. I’d made a half-dozen similar promises over the years but two convergences necessitated a change: 1) The annual report, provided by PlayStation, that estimated my # of gamed hours in 2022 as somewhere between 500 and 600 hours (or, at least more than an hour every day) 2) My dismay at checking the informal log I keep of books read, movies seen, albums listened to, etc. in a given year, and finding that I’d only finished [NUMBER REDACTED FOR EMBARRASSING REASONS] books. In 2020, when the pandemic hit and I lost my job and was mostly stuck inside in between sweaty visits to the grocery store, I self-cared my way into ignoring long works of literature about death and futility; in 2021, when I was revising my own novel, I couldn’t read a page from a great book without considering all of the myriad ways I’d fucked up. (My problem, not Muriel Spark’s.)
For the pattern to continue, two years into our indefinite now, was unforgivable; I didn’t need to wake up with a cup of coffee and an Elden Ring side quest, nor take my midday siesta by running through a biome of Dead Cells. So I did set some hard rules about when I’d game, intending to treat it like a dry January experiment — a self-limitation that actually stuck throughout the month as I never picked up the controller while it was light out and finished 12 books like one of those freaks who post to LinkedIn. It’s amazing, the resilience of the human spirit.
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February brought with an unexpected development: This brief break had accelerated my long-growing dismay with modern gaming, my feeling that games have become so technologically advanced and refined at the expense of innovation. Everything is an experience that I’ve encountered several times before — not just the icon-packed open world games that have felt exhausting for nearly a decade, but the leaden storytelling and voice acting in so-called “adult” games, the repetitive mechanics of shoot-slash-kill, the allegedly novel spins on traditional formats (the MetroidVania, the rogue-lite, the deck-builder, the JRPG), all of it congealing into an inert blech whenever, at night, I’d boot up a new game and find myself dozing off after 20 minutes.
I’d observed and written about this before — the horrors of the time spent, the repetition of the games themselves — but something about digging deeper into my 30s, with all its encroaching responsibilities (wedding planning for this summer; book proposal for the future; the looming TBD of having a baby) made me finally accept: “It’s time.” Pleasure isn’t always something to over-examine… but when the pleasure’s gone, why linger? Mostly these days I just play my tennis game, for the soothing tik-tok of the ball going back and forth, regarding all glitzy AAA games as something that’s really just no longer my concern. (I reserve the right to change my mind when Elden Ring 2 drops.)
I wonder how my relationship with Twitter would shift should the platform adopt a similar hours-counted metric that, every December, informed you just how much time you’d spent scrolling and simmering and posting. Most likely I’d move to the woods to find God. Jokes aside, it is a little alarming to consider how much of my adult life has coincided with Twitter. I have periods where I don’t look as much, and periods where I don’t post as much, but reality is I’ve been more-or-less active on the platform for the last 13 years — far longer than any social media service I’ve used, by a considerable amount. Far longer than most of the objects and utilities in my life, actually. I replace shirts, buy new furniture, swap out poorly made pots and pans for Wirecutter-recommended brands, but it’s this same old Twitter account that I check every day, into which I’ve tipped no small amount of mental and intellectual energy that I suppose has meant to help constitute some version of myself.
The reasons why I stay are pretty simple: I still like using Twitter, for all the good and bad. I like looking at my little dumb posts, saying hi to my little fake friends, texting the fizzy little jokes that pop up every single hour of every single day. We gossip in DMs, we make plans that sometimes come to fruition, we share links about this and that. I kvetch a bit about what annoys me but I enjoy the kvetching, okay, I’m half-Jewish, it’s in my heritage. It would be a bit much to lapse into that “another day on hell site” rhetoric espoused by the weary and dramatic who seem to regard their participation as a civic obligation, rather than something they can just… not do. Yet the turmoil of Elon Musk’s leadership, and what’s felt like a slow but noticeable decline in the site’s actual functionality, has necessitated some thought about what it would mean to finally “log off.” Twitter changed my life — perhaps sad to say but undoubtedly true, given the genuine IRL friendships and valuable professional connections I’ve made just by lolling around the platform. I would get on with it if the site ended tomorrow but it would be the end of more than just a website, right? I’d be saying goodbye to an entire alternate self, one who benefitted from all the scrolling and kvetching.
Often I consider how Twitter has created a myopic universe that’s basically incomprehensible to those who aren’t paying attention, but every now and then I’m reminded how many people are paying attention. Here is a paraphrased sentence that’s been said to me three times in the last week, by people who do not work in media and who I would not consider “chronically online”: “Did you see the lady who got dog-piled for saying you shouldn’t smoke cigarettes on the subway?” To recap, as quickly as I can: A woman posted a short thread about how she “would like to be able to ride the subway with my 4 month old baby and not be in a car with people smoking.” Pretty clear-cut and uncontroversial, no? Well, buster, that’s exactly where you’re wrong, because this person proceeded to eat shit from several ideological actors: libertarians who wanted her to stop trampling on personal freedom; leftists who told her to stop using such cop logic; what I assume are contrarians who admonished her for feeling “ownership” over public space (keep in mind, we are talking about an enclosed subway car); COVID activists who remembered that this person had said some (in my estimation) vaguely callous things about how we just had to live our lives during COVID, and thus took the moment to chide her for the perceived hypocrisy.
From afar, this was just another manifestation of the recurrent phenomena where strangers on Twitter lose their minds over what they think you’re actually saying, whenever some mild opinion goes viral. But I had a different thought, witnessing the intensity of the blowback. The original poster, who I wasn’t specifically familiar with, seems like a nice and smart person; she’s a writer, and contributes important work to venerated publications, and essentially seems like a variant of every other Twitter user whose bio includes their bylines and their email, self included. (I’m being vague about her name because, while their original post is not hard to find, she really did not deserve the pile-on and I don’t want to contribute another Google search result about this hubbub — maybe a bit paternalistic or unnecessary of me but, whatever, it’s my blog.) However, scrolling her timeline, I could see that she’s one of those users who post a lot about everything, including current events and their opinions on current events. She goes semi-viral here and there, which means her name and thoughts have absolutely spread outside her social and professional circle.
And what I think invited so much vitriol and condescension over such a benign opinion was kind of a collective denial of the idea that this person, who is basically just some person, could expect her opinion to be taken as law. A thought process that went something like: “Okay, lady. I have seen your posts for a long time. You are a known quantity, in my peripheral vision. But this is the final straw. I’m sitting here, increasingly irritated by the conditions of life, and by the dynamics that constantly elevate other people’s opinions as something I have to pay attention to, and I am done. You think you can tell me how the world is? You think just because you've got 20,000+ followers and write for venerated publications that I’m not gonna smoke in front of your baby? Well, fuck you.”
Regardless of what she might have been implying or what she’s said in the past or what her prior ideology has communicated about their worldview, I think we can all agree that one should not smoke a cigarette in front of a baby. And yet. And yet. Ergo this spasm of anger at a person whose public life involves the regular expression of their opinion, a rejection of whatever authority they’ve built up through their followers and their bylines. Why this specific opinion invited so much drama, I truly cannot say. But everybody has their day, right? That’s the whole thing with Twitter — it’s just the luck of the draw. Eventually I’m gonna tweet something slightly irritated like “I really hate walking behind slow people on the street” and 15,000 people are going to descend to call me ableist or a fast walker or antisocial or whatever distorted projection gets them through the day. And, honestly, I’ll have earned it by logging on and inviting any kind of engagement in the first place.
And, as I think about it now, this has happened to me several times in the past. Once I tweeted something snooty about how, for all the exhaustion over how creative class New Yorkers wax romantic about their bodegas, the specific services of a bodega are relatively unique across urban cities (of which I have visited many). I mean, just read that out loud to yourself — what an obnoxious thing for me to double down on. “Oooh, my little bodegas, ooooh, I must defend them.” Why was I snooty about it? Man, who knows. But it went a little viral, which meant that while many people agreed with me, a lot of people lost their minds. I don’t remember a single thing they said, because none of it bothered me — I grew up using gaming message boards and SomethingAwful and was sort-of cyberstalked by these two weirdos in college (one of them is now a lawyer; the other became a big name at Facebook) and used to get into it on Tumblr, all of which means that no stranger on the internet could ever possibly hurt my feelings because I’m made of flint and spite. The tone, I remember, was what I just described above: “You think because you have 15,000+ followers and contribute to venerated publications, you can tell me what to think about bodegas? Well, fuck you. You motherfucker. You motherfucking New York piece of shit.” In that moment, I was not myself — I was the public composite of Jeremy Gordon, whoever that is to you, and thus just asking for it.
This is adjacent to the obsession with “blue checks,” the idea that being verified on Twitter (prior to Musk’s bungled subscription experiment) signaled you as part of some identifiable body of elites. When in reality, here is how 98% of writers have a blue check: They worked for a website whose social media manager once exchanged DMs with someone at Twitter who was like, “Hey, does anyone from your site want to be verified?” That’s how it happened in my case: I worked for the music publication Pitchfork from 2014-2016, and in 2015 our social media manager Charlotte linked up with someone who worked at Twitter and made us the offer. Because I once drew a $47,000/yr salary at this particular website nearly a decade ago, and because Charlotte was good at her job, I’m forever branded as some hoity-toity PMC ideologue.
It’s so boring of an answer, like pointing out that paper comes from trees, but a number of people really do believe there is some kind of corrupt conspiracy that explains why every employee for Business Insider has that check next to their name. This, I think, is one of Twitter’s true downsides — the way it’s encouraged a social stratification between people who, in reality, are not that far off from each other. You know, the lady with a baby who doesn’t want anyone to smoke around her in a subway car isn’t some imperious institution, some Mrs. Moneybags walking around like the ruler of reality, some living synecdoche for the online left. She’s just some person. She’s just saying some stuff, you know? It’s not great, that a lot of people can’t tell the difference.
Yet it is true that lots of people on Twitter like to talk as if they are authorities on morality and behavior and God, when the reality is they’ve got plenty of their own shit to work on. I’ve known some of the most upside-down, goofy-ass people who should not be trusted with caring for a hamster who nonetheless log on and start huffing and puffing about how other people should act. It’s humbling, to think about those types and think how much of a contradictory freak you’ve been in public, here and there. I remember when my buddy Sam was talking about one of these people (to be very vague about it) and was like, “You know what, I don’t care how right they are — I’m never going to be on the side of some loser like that.” He’d gotten in some hot Twitter water for something he’d posted, and when I lightly teased him for getting defensive, he said something like “Please understand that it’s not that they’re mad at me. I don’t care about that. What I care about is they are fucking losers.”
Harsh but true. As I type now, another friend of mine is getting dogpiled for some innocuous thing she tweeted, taken out of context by dozens of strangers who think she’s some blowhard hotshot to dump all over. My friend, a uniquely thoughtful and ethical writer regarded as a paragon of integrity across my social and peer group, the type of person you can believe wholeheartedly about any given subject, is nonetheless being treated like she’s humanity’s biggest asshole. I’m looking at the accounts attacking her and thinking, “Respectfully, I know you are a person with their own issues, and you’re maybe good to your mother and your father, and you’re maybe a friend to dogs and cats and the victims of the world, but right now you are just some idiot who doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.” And most likely they’d think the same of me.
Funny enough, given the subject of my last newsletter: I talked to Mike and Brad from Linkin Park about the Meteora reissue, and the rediscovery of some unreleased songs sung by Chester Bennington, for The New York Times. You mean it’s 20 years since I watched the video for “Numb” every day on the VH1 Top 20 Countdown? Time… is never time at all.
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