Discord Made a Mistake in Attempting to take Advantage of the Charlottesville Tragedy

Discord Made a Mistake in Attempting to take Advantage of the Charlottesville Tragedy

Unpopular opinion ahead.

pocru by pocru on Aug 19, 2017 @ 07:34 AM
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I posted back in February of this year, following the announcement of the Muslim ban and the subsequent response from people within the games industry, that things were going to start to become political in the gaming world, like it or not. Now, I've made a lot of predictions in my day, some right, some wrong, but when I look back on that article from six months ago, I'm not quite sure how right or wrong I actually was. I'll be the first to say I had certainly exaggerated the outspokenness of the games industry. I expected there to be more outcry more often as the political system continued to devolve, but I wouldn't go so far as to say I was completely wrong.

I write this in the wake of Discord's decision to shut down the alt-right.com chatroom and ban several of their most prominent accounts, following the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia that left three people dead and the entire country enraged on all sides. It was a small gesture, but one of the dozens of hundreds that followed the tragedy. The impact and outrage was so profound that even our president, who has a suspiciously strong base among the alt-right (whom many credit for securing his victory) was pressured into condemning them by name, calling them deplorable... for about three days. But then he backtracked on that statement so hard you'd think he was marching with the neo-Nazis themselves that day. It was disgusting, deplorable, and the whole reason this article is still relevant today.

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But this isn't just about Trump's delayed reaction, his crappy backpedaling, or the predominance of the alt-right. This is hardly the place to start going into that kind of thing, and frankly, even if this was some kind of political website, I doubt anything I have to say about Mr. Trump would be anything but parroting the expressed opinions of millions of other people around the nation.

No, I want to pull attention to Discord, the gaming-adjacent app that we discussed in brief earlier. Because while I praised them in my first article reporting on the news, the more I dwell on it, the more unnerved I am by the little details. What I thought was a clear-case of company responsibility is starting to take a more sinister, and perhaps even frightening angle. The very real idea that Discord wasn't acting out of goodwill, but rather, took advantage of this event as an excuse for free marketing.

I should qualify: of course, even in the best-case scenario, this is marketing. Companies, even ones like Discord, are nothing if not predictable, and will always act in ways that make their brand look good with their target audience, even if it is widely considered controversial. There was no doubt from the very beginning that this was a marketing ploy. But marketing comes in different breeds, and the more I examine this, the less this feels like the action of a company deeply moved by a sense of social responsibility and more like a cynical attempt to take advantage of a growing cultural gulf between our quickly divided nation for a few new Twitter followers and downloads.

Case in point, I would draw your attention to the 2015 twin-stick shooter you forgot existed, Hatred. Remember that? It was announced sometime in 2014 in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting as a game where you played the ultimate edgelord in his quest to kill as many people, innocent or otherwise, through a series of levels. When it was first announced, it was immediately the subject of heavy controversy, with people from all sides demanding it get banned, even leading to a brief period when it was banned entirely from Steam Greenlight, only to be reinstated within a few days.

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Now, Hatred was far from the only game to court controversy in order to get attention: games like Manhunt, Dead Space 2, and Dante's Inferno (never forget the staged protests, kids. Or that Sin to Win monstrosity) tried to use their gruesome graphics or touchy subjects to draw some free press. But Hatred showed a certain contemporary disregard for tact and common courtesy that those other games simply lacked. It wasn't playing with ten-year-old notions of graphic games being bad for kids, or teasing long-held grudges between the fervently religious and mass media: it was taking a serious, immediate, and extremely controversial issue and choosing to make it the stage on which to present itself. For a mediocre game, it got far more attention than it ever deserved.

I feel as if Discord is attempting to do the same thing now, but on the flip side of this same coin. They're still capitalizing on a recent event for publicity, but they're doing it in a benevolent, easy-to-admire way. They're positioning themselves as the good guys, not the angry creatives unafraid of SJW's in their crusade to bring new gameplay experiences to the world. But I mean, think about it: people have known for a long time that the alt-right houses some really extreme beliefs and people. They could have shut down their chatroom a long time ago if they were really concerned about creating a safe space for gamers of all stripes. But they didn't. They sat, they waited, they found the perfect opportunity to strike and then they did the barest minimum to show solidarity. There were other things they could have done instead: given to charity, or to the family of Heather Heyer, make a video, start a conference but they did this. Just this. Something they probably should have done ages and ages ago if they felt that kind of rhetoric didn't belong on a game chatting app (which, by the way, let's not pretend it's not already a haven for that kind of thinking).

But I don't mean to imply that Discord is being malicious intentionally. It's more than likely this was just a poorly-thought, spur of the moment thing they decided to do to show solidary. But, when I say it was poorly thought, I mean that with as much emphasis as I can afford, because if you slow down and stop for a second, isn't this exactly what those alt-right extremists want?

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Think about it, fellas and ladies. The alt-right defines itself not for what it stands for, but for what it stands against. They are anti-women, anti-color, anti-LGBT. They're a hate group, which means they need people to hate, and enemies to fight. It's good that we can all stand up to them and say no, but that's exactly how they bolster their numbers and steel their resolve. It's their number one tactic: to take people who are on the edge, who share some of their beliefs, and to point to the rest of the world and to claim, not incorrectly, that it's them versus us: We're the underdogs standing up for ourselves against a world that despises us. For however loud they shout, we need to shout louder. And they're not wrong. It's absolutely us versus them. And that's everything they need to keep their hatred burning brightly, their venom in society pulsing through our veins. As long as groups like Discord give them a reason to fight by discriminating against them and trying to silence their voices, the more megaphones they'll have to push against their lips, and the more ammunition they'll have for their war against decent society. We cannot fight hatred with hatred.

They're prepared for everything we can throw at them. Everything, except compassion, and a willingness to hear what they have to say.

I invite you to learn more about Daryl Davis, the African American musician who personally befriended 200 members of the KKK and convinced them to leave their white robes behind. Or to listen to the speeches made by Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church who could only overcome her hatred and bigotry when she was shown kindness and compassion. Hatred is almost always based off some misunderstanding, some unknown quality to the other that makes people afraid of them. But its possible to change that. No one is born bad, and no one has to stay bad: they just need the right voice, a kind, and patient voice, to guide them through their own loathing and anxiety to make them realize that they're wrong.

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I realize it's easy for me to say that: I'm white. I'm male. I'm not Jewish, which is apparently important. But from everything I've seen, having a shouting match online or in real life has never changed any minds, or turned any hearts. Just because it's easy for me to say doesn't mean it's not true.

And Discord, if you really want to help, you shouldn't be silencing the voices of the alt-right. Quite the opposite: you should be helping them find the help they need in order to turn their lives around and see past the blindness of their rage. As long as you act as their enemy, they will be more than happy to treat you, and everyone who uses you, as such. Maybe we don't need to give them megaphones and a stage to parade around on, but what you're doing right now is not helping. Maybe in the short term, but in the long term, we're still in trouble.

Because right now? All you're doing is tightening the blindfold, and putting one extra bullet into their chamber.

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