Lost Odyssey - fixing a hole
Grand Theft Childhood

The Brainy Flamer

Tippedflames This afternoon I closed down the reader comment section on my post Lost Odyssey - fixing a hole. This is the first time I've had to do such a thing since starting the blog, and I hope I never have to do it again. I value the spirited conversation and thoughtful discourse so many of you have brought to this blog, and I assure you the last thing I want to do is squelch that in any way. Here's what happened.

At about 10pm last night I began seeing a large spike in traffic to the blog. By midnight I was receiving roughly 300-500 hits per hour. Nearly all this traffic was directed from N4G, which had linked to my post and featured it among the "hot" stories at the top of its page. In case you're unfamiliar with it, N4G is a social networking site devoted to games, ala Digg, where members can post news stories and participate in discussions. My story was submitted to N4G by a colleague who often links to my posts on Digg and elsewhere.

A war of angry words over the merits of Lost Odyssey soon erupted on N4G among Sony and Microsoft devotees - yes, I know we call them fanboys, but I'm making a strong effort to stay above the fray here as much as possible - followed by a flurry of comments and email posted on my blog and sent to my inbox.

With a few notable exceptions, which you can still read, these comments were abusive, profanity-laden tirades attacking me, my family, my readers, and my blog (not to mention my sexuality, my ethics, my profession - you name it). My first thought was to leave them posted so everyone could read them. But I changed my mind for a couple of reasons.

First, it quickly became clear that I was being "sock-puppeted," a term I learned from my friend and devoted reader Ben that describes a person who posts comments under a variety of pseudonyms. In this case, one person wrote four separate comments under four different names. Each comment posted to my blog contains an IP address, so I was easily able to sort this out. Second, the sheer volume of vile hatefulness made me feel very uncomfortable. I want an open forum, but none of these respondents were contributing ideas or opinions...aside from hating me and everything I stand for.

So that's the story. Now to respond to some of the comments. I feel sort of silly doing this, but I also don't believe it's wise to walk away from false accusations when they're publicly made. I'm not interested in restating my objections to Lost Odyssey. My original post contains everything I have to say about that game.

  1. I did in fact play the game, and my observations all stem from hands-on experience. I cannot claim to have finished it, however. I bailed out after approximately 12 hours of play time. I consider this a sufficient amount of time to support the observations I made in my essay.
  2. I don't work for Sony - heck, I can't even afford to buy a PS3 yet, despite my deep personal yearning to play MLB 08: The Show and get my Cubbies to the World Series.
  3. Writing negatively about an Xbox 360 game does not make me a Playstation fanboy, and vice versa. How in the world did this nonsense get started?
  4. I do not hate JRPG games. On the contrary, I have promoted them enthusiastically both here and on my podcast. The problem with Lost Odyssey isn't that it's a JRPG. The problem is that it's a bloated and trite JRPG. If you disagree, state your reasons and help me see how I'm wrong. That's what we do here. I'm happy to discuss your views, but threatening to burn down my house does not qualify as a view.

None of this has been much fun, but it has provoked me to think about why people feel compelled to engage in these hostile, take-no-prisoners flame wars. I believe it has to do with identity and a perception that when "my" console, my game, my religion, my candidate, etc. is seen as under attack, then I myself am under attack and must respond aggressively. How else to understand the intense hostility and venom directed at the perceived enemy? Perhaps what's at stake in these situations isn't just a silly video game, but a profound sense of self - however misplaced - one's very identity.

Maybe I'm crazy for trying to figure it out. Or maybe you have a better idea. If so, I'd certainly like to hear it. What makes a person--who in all likelihood is a relatively good human being--behave like a nasty fanboy?