I’m sure any writer pals reading this can probably relate, judging from some things I’ve read recently: it is infinitely easier to focus on negative things than it is about positive ones. And those negative things absolutely dominate your thoughts, almost completely obliterating any good work the positive things might have done.
Let’s take an example. Recently, I wrote a lengthy article about “otaku games” — that particularly misunderstood aspect of Japanese gaming where people who don’t play them constantly judge them as being nothing more than pervy fanservice. To be fair to their opinion, there often is a fair amount of pervy fanservice in them, but it’s pretty rare that is the sole or even the most important part of them. Check out the piece here.
On the whole, response to the post has been very positive. I’ve been very happy to hear from a lot of fans of Japanese gaming who thanked me for giving a reasoned, rational take on the subject — with input from people who are actually involved in bringing these titles to the West — and for treating both the games and their fans with respect. I’ve had people tell me it’s a wonderful article, compliment me on covering something that other sites don’t bother with (or take the more common “This is Bad and Wrong, LOL JAPAN” stance on) and generally express a very genuine-feeling sense of appreciation for something I worked hard on.
So what do I find my brain focusing on? The guy who tweeted at me saying “TLDR” (seriously, that is pretty much one of the most disrespectful things you can say to a writer, especially when they’ve worked hard on something — try giving some constructive criticism or, even better, actually engaging with the points made in the piece), and the commenter who complained about me “not talking about the game” in my Tales of Xillia review and lambasting me for promoting an “incest simulator” in an article about visual novels. (Said “incest simulator” was Kana Little Sister, an incredibly moving work which I’ve written about at length in a number of places on the Internet; to refer to it as an “incest simulator” in a distinctly Daily Mail/Jack Thompson-esque way shows an astonishing lack of understanding, my keen awareness of which was what inspired me to write the “otaku games” piece in the first place.)
I wish I didn’t feel this way, but it made me feel somewhat better to read this piece over on Hookshot, Inc recently. Here’s what was, for me, the most pertinent part:
“Reader feedback is, in many ways, wonderful. It pulls writers down from pedestals and/or ivory towers, and it democratises a whole medium. Every voice is heard, and charlatans are uprooted. A culture of reader-fear has, arguably, been fostered – but ultimately people raise their game, and those much-suspected dirty deals are (by my reckoning) far less likely to occur today than they were five years ago.
“The problem is that all this is incredibly unhealthy for writers with… what you might call an ‘amiably complex psychological disposition’. I’m one of these people (it’s hugely common in my field – and indeed any creative arena) and I couldn’t even count how many of my working days have been ruined by an angry person venting steam beneath a piece I’ve written. The black dog starts barking, and your creative mojo runs away.
“Sure, the trolls are generally a minority – but when your mind has been built to concentrate on negativity rather than happy, happy, joy, joy (and you work at home, on your own) then comments threads are a mental plague pit.
“As a writer – what can you do about this? Well, you can start making your review scores more conservative for a start. Oh, and you can definitely avoid rocking boats that contain angry devotees of certain platforms, genres and franchises. Oh, and how about excising all humour for fear of miscomprehension from angry dullards you’ll never meet?
“OMG HANG ON GUYS OUR COLLECTIVE INSECURITY JUST BROKE GAMES WRITING.
“So basically: say what you want to say, and suck it up. There’s no wrong opinions, only a lot of people who think you should be fired for having a right one.”
I was simultaneously surprised, delighted and slightly depressed to read that. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, and I wish it was possible to train oneself to be more like, say, Jim Sterling — someone whom I greatly admire for his no-nonsense attitude and at least outward appearance of having thick skin. (For all I know, Sterling might finish his day job and cry himself to sleep over the torrents of abuse he receives on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t blame him if that were so — but I somehow doubt that’s the case anyway.)
Ah well, as Will Porter writes in that excellent Hookshot piece — seriously, go read it if you have a few minutes — the only real thing we, as writers, can do is say what we want to say and suck it up somehow. If we start sanitising our own opinions, thoughts and even writing styles to appease the lowest common denominator in the comments threads, then the world of writing would be a boring one indeed.