Dabe Alan

Kotaku’s Boston discussion was generous, not greedy: the role of gaming sites during tragedy

Kotaku’s Boston discussion was generous, not greedy: the role of gaming sites during tragedy

I don’t want to talk about yesterday’s events, as I’m not in a position to offer any new thoughts on the matter. I made the decision to hold the rest of our content until the following day, because suddenly I wasn’t in the mood to think about a violent TV show. A gaming site called Kotaku posted a small news piece about the events in Boston, and pointed to their own comments as a place where people could talk.

This was not greeted warmly.

Other writers I respect attacked the site, some people openly cursed at them, and others stated it was a bald attempt to use the tragedy to drum up hits. These attacks and condemnations came not only from the public, but others in the press. I’m sure the post did lead to some extra traffic for the day, but things got heated. People said nasty things. I'm not interested at naming names.

I found the situation incredibly depressing.

Here’s the thing…

Regardless of what your feelings are about particular sites, we don’t just visit these places on a daily basis; we invite these writers and their content into our homes. We have a relationship with our favorite sites, and the writers we respect.

I know many of you by forum name, and I know many things about you based on our interactions via e-mail, Twitter, and comments. The vast majority of the people who read any website don’t make themselves known to the community or writer at all, they simply read and enjoy the content. Or they lurk in the forum or comments. But there is a strong sense of community around these sites, and I hate the idea of dismissing that during times of crisis. If we take our community and our sense of shared purpose seriously during the good times, I don’t feel it’s a stretch to do the same during the bad times.

This is especially true these days, when most of us buy our video games through Steam, the PlayStation Network, or Amazon. Before I was able to make a living as a writer I managed video game retail stores for a number of years, and you better believe I had more than a passing relationship with many of the customers who came in to buy their games.

We would talk about current events, their kids or parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives. Today, we would have talked about Boston. We would have done it in a place that exists for people to buy and sell video games. It wouldn’t have felt awkward; the store was also a place for people with like interests to gather, and discuss things that were on their mind. That sense of belonging and place was lost in the shift to digital distribution, but we can reclaim some of it with the sites we read.

I’ve never had a bad experience meeting a reader, and I know what it’s like to feel safe and comfortable inside a virtual gathering place. If people are comforted by talking about these events from within the comment thread of a video game website, so fucking what? If that website can provide a place for people to talk, share stories, and come together at a time when most of us feel vulnerable, that’s a beautiful thing.

We always hear how technology is keeping us apart, and isolating us from others. I’ve had good friends I only knew through Battlefield servers. I know that argument is bullshit. Creating a short post and inviting readers to discuss the events in Boston feels like leaving the door open and setting out coffee and donuts. You don’t have to come in, but if you want to, the space is there for you. It doesn’t feel like a site desperate for hits, it feels like an act of generosity.

Different people deal with tragedy in different ways, and I see nothing wrong with a site that has a strong community offering a place to just hang out and talk about what people are feeling, even if that place is usually dedicated to video games. I've known people who have delt with the death of a friend by talking to the person who runs their Dungeons and Dragons game, and that's wonderful. The people with which we game, or the people we discuss gaming with, are allowed to be our friends and support structure. We spend too much of our time alone, and anything that offers a place to not to be together is a good thing.

If the reactions of other sites and how they embrace their community makes you angry, step away from the computer. Think about the people that may be helped by the gesture. Call a friend or take your friends or kids for ice cream instead of cursing at someone on Twitter. There are enough people out there trying to tear down the bonds between people. They don’t need your help.