One of the most confusing and disturbing aspects of the crisis in Geek and Gamer culture is the way that we seemed to have turned upon ourselves. After decades of being the untouchable class, geeks and gamers now have been given a seat at the table. Geeks and gamers are now being pandered to by the economy and media as the new rising social class. There are hundreds of conventions a year drawing thousands of geeks and gamers. The change has become so stark that term “geek” is now no longer an insult on the playground, but has become a popular way to self identify. And yet, in the face of this social victory, there has been a disturbing reaction that has caused geeks to become their own oppressors. Trolling has become a recreational activity, online harassment has become both prevalent and so severe to include threats of violence, and the geek community itself has members testing other members in some sort of geek purity campaign.
What is so confusing about this is that many of us took our experiences of insult, ridicule, and social prosecution as a lesson of the injustice that exist in the world. We faced the darkness and saw that it was fundamentally wrong. Bit it seems that others have looked at the wrongs committed against us and used it as the “how to” manual for using their new found status. Instead of learning from the injustice, they sought to perpetuate it.
There have been attempts to understand where this aggression comes from. The frequent gender based content of a lot of the harassment has lead many to assume the cause of the problem lies within a deep seated misogyny. However, similar attacks seem to occur wherever a justification to make an attack can be found, not just along gender lines. So it may be the apparent misogyny is symptomatic of a larger compulsion to find reasons to attack, but not the causal factor itself. Others have proposed that there is a basic sociopathy or rampant narcissism in play. Both those diagnosis involve a deficit of empathy and a tendency to lash out when their image is threatened, but there are problems with this as well. While the competitive aspect of the gamer subculture may attract more sociopaths than may be seen in larger society, the ability to win games should also satiated their their primary drive. Also, the violence of the sociopath is instrumental, not randomly or generally applied. Sociopaths usually use violence as a means to a goal and there is not a clear endgame to the harassment seen. Similarly, even though the attacks often do include and aspect of narcissistic reaction, anyone can lash out narcissistically, but since the primary goal of a narcissist is to gain social achievement, the degree of destructiveness does not fit either because it works against that achievement of esteem.
So what does fit?
If we want to understand the motivations for aggression we need to take into consideration the effects of the aggression that geeks have been facing for decades. In response to the chronic social persecution, for instance, many geeks may have adapted by internalizing the “badness” and seek to prove themselves “good” to avoid future rejection, creating a depression that may have emerged and may be expressed in the themes prevalent in geek media. In addition to this, there is another personality structure that also seeks to deal with a “badness” that the world has impressed upon them. But instead of internalizing the “badness” and trying to defeat it from within, this second structure works to externalize the badness and defeat it wherever it may exist outside in the world.
This is the personality structure of the paranoid.
The classic picture of the person who is paranoid is one where he believes the world is out to get him. This, however, is a gross simplification. In the actual personality structure of the paranoid individual, the person is constantly aware of a “badness” that is ever present due to feelings of shame, confusion, sadness, anger, etc. The person cannot tolerate the idea that this the “badness” originates within himself, so he perceives the badness as existing outside somewhere. He begins to use a psychological mechanism known as “projection” that causes him to seek out and find something outside to make the source of the badness felt inside. Paranoid people need to destroy the “badness” that is always there, because if they cannot fight it outside, they then have to deal with the reality the sense of “badness” is actually coming from within them.
There are several characteristics of the classic paranoid personality structure that are seen in the behaviors of many of the harassing parties. Paranoid individuals, for instance, are hyper focused on the motives of others, usually putting onto individuals very negative and aggressive motives for their behaviors. When it comes to the actions of others, effect and motive are very much confused in these assumptions because of the projection they employ. If a person’s action made paranoid person feel bad, then they must have intended it to feel bad, and therefor they must have intended it to hurt the paranoid person. The badness he feels cannot lie within his perception, it must lie in the aggression of the other. And since the assumption of aggression in others is characteristic of those who are prone to aggressive behavior, such projective mind reading increases the likelihood for the Paranoid person to become aggressive.
Since paranoia is not relegated to the purely “crazy,” a person’s paranoia will come into conflict with their natural drive to reality test. Depending on the level of “badness” they need to dispel, however, this may only lead a person to work hard to prove the rightness of their projected conspiracies. Paranoid people have the ability to construct a seemingly logical defense for the conclusion they made about the people doing them harm, a defense that is to them air tight. It is air tight because it needs to be, because any other conclusion threatens them with a badness inside. What’s more,if you are at any point able to poke holes in their arguments, then you have put them back in a state of crisis, and they will attack you and your motives to negate your argument. They will ignore your argument and assume aggressive motives (“you are just quoting those statistics because you are part of the conspiracy”) or they will ignore your argument and just attack you directly through insult or direct threat.
Paranoid people also try to beat the system at its own game. Due to the humiliation they experienced, they often see the system and authority figures as being oppressive and “bad.” This can create a drive to “win” against the system. When possible, they use technicalities and argue semantics to use the system against itself. But when that does not work, they aren’t above breaking the rules, because the ends justify the means.
Like the depressive personality, the origins of the paranoid personality structure is theorized to lie in a history of ridicule and invalidation. The person may have been the scapegoat used to compensate for the weaknesses in a family or social system. The person could have been frequently targeted for aggression in order to “toughen them up.” The person could have been consistently invalidated, rejected, or even punished for having unwanted feelings or thoughts. In other words, they lived the life of the outcast that often characterizes members of geek culture.The result of this attack and invalidation leads to an assumption that feelings are dangerous and the world itself is inherently threatening.
But does this fit?
We do have some evidence that would support paranoid presentations within this destructive tendencies within geek culture. In the extreme forms you have groups like the Red Pillers who believe that society is secretly controlled by women who are out to dominate men. Factually, this conspiracy does not fit the evidence (women are still underrepresented in government, the wage gap still exists, women are more often the targets for sexual and domestic violence, etc.), but it does have all the makings for a purely paranoid conspiracy. Sexual shame is easy to generate due to a fear of rejection, actual rejection, or just the conflict that occurs as one struggles with having sexual feelings in a very puritanical society. The person will then feel a “badness” generated in relation to the opposite sex, and since the idea of him being bad is intolerable, he will project this badness onto the woman, and then eventually onto women, making them a dark force they have to fight against. The aggression that we see in less organized forms also fits.There is a tendency to attack and “troll” the artistic contributions of others. To a paranoid person, whatever flaws may exist in the work invokes the insecurity and “badness” that he feels because of his own state of imperfection, He attacks the video and its maker viciously because he needs to fight and defeat those external flaws to deny his own internal flaws. Finally, there are the geek purity tests, attempts to prove certain members are not real members of the culture. To them, fake geeks represent a contamination in the system, a “badness” that must be rooted out. These hunted “fake geeks” have manipulative motives attributed to them, suggesting an additional overhanging malevolence.
If this theory is true, then, like the depressive features formerly discussed, the aggression seen in geek and gamer culture is a direct result of the ostracism, ridicule, rejection, and social persecution experienced by members of geek culture. The result of those attacks on the self is an overwhelming and overhanging sense of “badness” that constantly plagues those affected. If the person takes in that “badness”, they become depressed, compulsively striving to prove that they can overcome that “badness” that they can can makes themselves good enough to make sure you don’t reject them again. If the person sends out the badness, then they compulsively have to look for enemies to attack, they have to put that “badness” on someone else and then destroy that person for creating the “badness.” It’s a battle of where to put the badness, either making the self bad, or making someone else bad.
Is there hope?
If this theory turns out to be true, then there is direction towards addressing this problem with in geek and gamer culture. The traditional response is to match aggression with aggression, calling out and attacking those making the attacks themselves. In this model, however, these methods might be escalating the situation, as the paranoid are only feeling more persecuted, and the self persecution of the depressed is likewise being escalated. However, there are also efforts to efforts to provide support to those being targeted and humiliated, and these efforts are good because they can prevent the next generation from falling into the depressive or paranoid spirals. Doing whatever we can to learn to help our fellow geeks get through the harm of a rejecting, persecuting and isolating society without adopting the “badness” could save the next generation from suffering and repeating the harm faced by ours. For those that have taken on the “badness” today, challenging them effectively may be a Herculanean task. But learning to separate behaviors from personal judgment, emphasizing that certain behaviors are wrong, but the people who do them are not inherently bad may soften the blow when challenges need to be made. However, the biggest change we can make would be to begin to attack the notion of the “badness” itself. To avoid this “badness” the depressive beats himself into perfection, and the paranoid beats the world into perfection, but neither stops to ask if the perfection is a real expectation. Neither thinks to ask if the “badness” is real. Normalizing the conflicts, the discomforts, the urges and the feelings that make up the badness as instead being part of the shared human experience needs to enter the social conversation so that we can teach people to say they are flaws and still loved.Creating the environment where people are safe to lose, safe to screw up, safe to fall on their face, and safe to be embarrassed without being humiliated would reteach our community that there is no “badness” to dispel, just flawed humanity to accept.