Let’s make the internet a better place.
Two weeks ago, the last episode of Equals Three (also known as ‘=3’) aired on RayWilliamJohnson’s YouTube channel. The show was first started in 2006 by Ray Johnson in his college dormitory room, and it quickly grew to be an internet sensation, amassing over 10.8 million subscribers during the time the show aired, and at one point propelling Ray’s channel to the number one most subscribed-to video channel on the internet. And while his show has had its ups and downs in the past, it remains to this day as one of the website’s most popular shows, making Ray one of the YouTube’s first self-made millionaires and one of the earliest pieces of proof that one can indeed make a healthy living off of creating and uploading internet videos.
As one might expect, not everyone enjoys Ray William Johnson’s antics. His jokes are at times annoyingly crude and immature, his humor borderline offensive, and his personality loud and outspoken. And never mind the fact that his videos are primarily just made up of clips of other videos with simple commentary overlain on top of them. However, what many people fail to realize is that Ray William Johnson is not a real person. He is a character, albeit one portrayed by a man by the same name, but a character nonetheless. His real personality, as seen in his podcast series “Runaway Thoughts,” feels much more… human – almost as if he is regular person, just like you and me.
It is something we obviously do not take note of when we come upon any person or personality online. To you, Battlestriker123 may seem like some dude who sits in front of his computer, writes stuff about Nintendo all day, and angrily deletes article comments just for funsies. Surely, you do not look at my avatar and profile, and think of a university student hard at work pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. That is not to say that all of you guys are senseless jerks, but rather whenever anyone meets anybody online for the first time, the first thought that pops into our heads is rarely that of what he or she must be like in real life.
No one illustrates this point better than Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, better known as the YouTube personality PewDiePie. Every gamer has heard of him, and even if you have never laid your eyes on one of Felix’s videos, you probably know a thing or two about who he is. He is loud. He is obnoxious. He is immature. And he is insanely popular, garnering over 25 million subscribers throughout his YouTube career, 15 million of which in the year 2013 alone. And it goes without saying that he is very much hated by just as many on the internet. One MyIGNer (no, I will not name who, so do not ask) even called him “basically retarded” just the other day.
I will be the first to admit that I am among the 15 million who subscribed to his channel in 2013, but later unsubscribed simply because his content no longer interested me. But during my time as a PewDiePie subscriber, I took the time to look back at his older videos just to see how far the guy has come, and you can definitely see a difference. In 2012, he felt more genuine, like a real gamer who wanted to share his gaming videos with the rest of the world. In 2014, he feels less human – or rather his PewDiePie personality has taken over in the majority of his videos while the real Felix Kjellberg takes a break on the back-burner, likely because that part of him is far less appealing to his existing demographic. (He still emerges from time to time to talk about more serious topics.)
You may be wondering why I bring this point up. Yes, PewDiePie has evolved into what many would consider an unbearable virus, and his heavy Swedish accent mixed with his outgoing personality does make him sound like, well, “basically retarded.” But that is PewDiePie we are talking about, not necessarily the Felix who created him. As I dug through the history of PewDiePie, I found a person who genuinely loved playing video games and sharing his experiences with other people. He is a strong supporter of the indie games scene and is involved with numerous charities around the world, including the World Wildlife Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In fact, he still is all of these things, though they obviously pale in comparison to the notorious PewDiePie personality everyone recognizes today.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Because it frustrates me that people on the internet do not treat each other like real people, something even I myself am guilty of. In the past few weeks, I have seen a massive surplus in hateful comments around the internet, particularly on gaming websites such as IGN, which I can only assume that this is a direct result of the resurgence of the console wars, boosted by the new PlayStation and Xbox machines. At the same time, I took a bit to re-evaluate my own behavior online as well, and found an interesting trend that I believe to be quite widespread among internet users; on the internet, I do not usually think twice before I comment or something, nor do I think about how the other person would react to me. It is a double standard we are all guilty of – we wish to be respected by others, yet do not go out of our way to do just that ourselves. Sure, we may think that we are being kind and respectful online, but typing a comment is much different from reciting one. Even with people you know online, the conversation feels so stifled and artificial that re-enacting an online conversation in real life would sound completely ludicrous.
Imagine if you will the following scenario. Imagine if you were the creator of a popular mobile video game involving a flapping bird and some pipes. Imagine if that game became so popular, that you were receiving comments on it on a minute-by-minute basis. Imagine if every other comment was something hateful, abusive, or even threatening. Imagine if, instead of reading those comments online, you were hearing them being spoken to you by nasty reporters at your door. Certainly, that would drive you insane – unless you find a way to either ignore them or stop them completely.
To ignore them, or to stop them? Some people choose the latter because it just seems much easier. Pull Flappy Bird from the App Store. Quit production of FEZ II. If people hate you for what you do, then why do it? I have been vocal about this before, but it is one of the biggest reasons why – and one that not many people think about when they decide to do it – I do not wish to become a game developer, at least not as my primary career. (There are other reasons as well, but those are not the subject of this blog.) It is hard to love your job if everyone else hates you for it.
Yet people continue to press on, and I envy their courage. They choose to ignore the haters and continue doing what they love doing. It is one of the reasons why I do have respect for people like Ray Johnson and Felix Kjellberg, because they continue to do what they do despite this adversity. I remember sitting there on the last day Ray aired his last episode of Equals Three, scrolling through the comments section, and just feeling depressed that even at a time of celebration there can still be dozens of people so willing to spoil the party. The same goes with IGN article comments, and as a comment moderator it pains me to see that stuff every day.
There are two things I hope you will take away from this blog, but first I want to make clear two other things. First, the goal of this post is not to make you suddenly respect every single person around you. There are certainly terrible people in this world, and you may believe Ray or Felix to be one of them – that is entirely your decision to make. Second, I do not expect this one post to massively reform internet culture for the next decade. Obviously, a 1500 word essay is not going to accomplish something that not even Google can accomplish with YouTube.
But I do hope that those who do read this blog gain a different perspective on internet commenting. More importantly, however, I hope that you will begin to think before you comment, just as how you think before you speak (hopefully). Now, this may or may not ultimately change the way you comment or the language you choose to use when having online conversations, but perhaps you might be just a bit more conscious of what you type. Try to stay positive, and when there comes time to be pessimistic, try not to be degrading. That is all I ask from the internet. Unfortunately for me – and for all of us, really – that request may never be fulfilled.