John Walker's Electronic House

A Comment On Comments

by on Jul.04, 2010, under The Rest

I’ve been discussing the nature of affirmation and defamation with a few people recently, talking about where we get it from, and how it affects us. And one thing I’ve mentioned, to people who don’t make their living by having their words scrutinised and commented upon by the bustling internet, is comment threads under articles. And I was reminded to write about it by the most brilliantly awful comment that appeared on RPS today. Which is below.

Clearly I’m aware of the irony of a critic talking about the criticisms of their critiques, but as much as this may be, it’s still interesting to think about whether comments can affect me.

(I want to add that I’m mostly talking about comments on reviews, and the like. Comments threads on places like Rock, Paper, Shotgun tend to be much more about a regular community discussing the topic, rather than only people popping in to tell the site why the piece sucked/was great.)

I’ve flipped back and forth on reading comments. I’ve gone through times when I read none at all – I send the review to the editor, they’re happy with it, edit it, and it gets published – so as far as my job is concerned, I’ve done what I’m paid for. Then I go completely the other way and read all the comments, and respond to lots of them, sometimes getting involved in heated discussions. The latter I finally learned, years ago, is never worthwhile, and is something I’ve at last taught myself not to do. People who want to call you names are welcome to, and attempting to reason with them is almost never going to end in satisfaction. My compromise, currently, is to read them unless they’re boring, and to respond to genuine enquiries.

The larger dilemma is working out whether it’s worth caring what they say. I’m hypocritical here. If they’re positive, I take the compliment, enjoy the reaction, and feel good about myself. If they’re negative, I do my best to ignore them, dismiss their thoughts, and rely on the comments of those who commissioned and accepted the work. Which is a tad selective to say the least. And such an attitude of course risks refusing to take on board appropriate criticism and thus not improving.

It’s interesting for me to think about whether this affects me. Anything I write on the internet is inevitably going to draw some negative responses. Even if I write something that is widely praised, that will always then draw in a few who wish to denounce it in reaction, and only more loudly explain why it means I deserve to be tortured. However, things aren’t inevitably going to draw positive responses. When they do I feel pleased and fortunate. But of course the regular response to enjoying something online is to think, “I enjoyed that,” and then water the tomatoes. People are far more likely to complain that compliment. It’s perfectly normal, if somewhat demoralising.

I think I’m reasonably good at laughing off the more stupid and cruel comments. And there’s an awful lot of them. Someone disagreeing with me, and being cross because their perspective wasn’t represented, is perfectly understandable. Wishing my parents dead because of that possibly isn’t. That they tend to be spelt as if typed by a severely mentally ill walrus also makes it a little easier to glide past them. Being a snob helps.

I wrote a piece for RPS on Friday that was born out of playing Singularity for review, and a couple of silly, unimportant things making me think about daft things lots of games do. So I wrote a sort of ‘The Rules For Games’, in the form of Dos and Don’ts. (It was funny to see how many people spotted Singularity as the inspiration. And also funny to see how many people were certain it was influenced by other games I’ve never played. And certainly only a couple of them were inspired by Singularity – most were from multiple sources.) It was written not as a manifesto for the future of gaming, but more as an excuse to make a bunch of jokes, and complain about silly things in games. My aim was to make people laugh, both in recognition and at the gags.

I imagined it may get a few people throwing in similar rules of their own – on RPS a comedy article doesn’t tend to get that many comments, but I figured this one would pick up 30 or 40 on a Friday evening. It’s at around 300 at this point. Which is fun. The vast majority of which are people contributing their own rules, and then others discussing them. It’s representative of why RPS commenters can be so great – big, vibrant threads packed with ideas and sensible discussion. Very few gaming sites can claim such an audience response. There’s also a fair old number of people cross with the article for arguing for something they don’t want. Which is fair enough. However, I don’t think they need worry quite as much as they are that all developers will suddenly scrap their plans and do what I tell them. Even though they obviously should.

However, buried deep within the thread comes a really astonishingly cross comment. What’s perhaps disturbing is not that someone was rude about me – whatever, people are rude about me an awful lot – but that this person is real, and thought this something reasonable to express. I worry about him. Anyway, here it is:

Carrera says: July 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm
God, I hope no developer is dumb enough to listen to this crap. I know you write this shit to get hits on the website but this sort of exploitative journalism makes me sick. You’re as bad as BP and I hope you rot in hell.

I mean, that’s pretty offensive. I’m FAR worse than BP.


22 Comments for this entry

  • nuttterguy

    I didn’t comment on the said article because I had nothing really to add but its articles like these that I love and remember from PCG. RPS is the only site I know of to have anything like this because you all worked there obviously.

    John, chin up and ignore the crazy bastard!

  • nuttterguy

    Also your critical comments on a critical comment of your critique are not very critical…
    They should be.

  • Bozzley

    Makes me wish there was a sarcasm tag for comments, to be honest. That comment was so ridiculously over the top that it had to be sarcasm. It would be helpful if people would tell the internet in advance that they didn’t mean it. May defeat the object of posting, but it’ll save hurting people’s feelings if you don’t really mean it. Unless they did mean it, in which case, f**k ’em.

    Thinking about it (which after several cheeky vimtos is hard to do), Carrera may be a developer of Singularity, or something similar. His / her livelihood may be sort of on the line, which would explain the vitriol if it was intended. Maybe they just need to learn the lessons you already have. Still, f**k ’em.

  • Mr_Day

    The whole piece was very Kangaroo Court from the good old days of games journalism, I enjoyed it very much. More of this sort of thing, I say, and down with trousers.

  • Dr. Evanzan

    I have to say I find it amazing how people can react so strongly to such innocuous things.

    I thought it was a great article and I look forward to more in the same vein. I think things like this are useful for developers too to stop them falling into common pitfalls. Even if you don’t agree with the points though, I think the tone, while superficially confrontational, is clearly humorous and it’s a fun article.

    With any (non-constructive) critical comments, I would generally try to work out where the person was coming from and view things through that lense. If you can think in their shoes, it helps remove the sting from their criticism and you can then look at it more objectively and see if there is anything positive to be taken from it.

    However, a comment like this just comes out of left-field and I wonder if they were reading the same article as me. I would genuinely like to know what this commenter was thinking as it seems to veer off at such a wild tangent I just can’t comprehend any possible misinterpretation that would get me there.

    As such, I don’t think there is much you can do in response to something like this but write posts (and, indeed, comments on such posts) as a form of catharsis.

  • Nick Mailer

    Stop whining.

  • Alex B

    Is it weird that I consider PC Gamer to have moved to RPS now? That is, around 2005 when I was reading every issue, there was a comfortable feeling I got when reading it. Walker, Gillen, Rossignol, Meer, Stone etc.

    Once you had all left, it was rather disconcerting, when I started to read again a few months ago it took me a while to get into the new layout, the new writers etc. (I like Rich and Jaz though, they’re cool.)

    I suppose it’s just because you’ve managed to emulate the feel so well. Not surprising, as you’re the same people. Sorry for rambling.


    ANYWAY The thing is, you’re always going to get comments like that as a writer. Not all people agree with writers who post their opinions on the internet, and that’s fine, but unfortunately there are a few silly people who seem to forget that while this is the internet, it’s no excuse to spew abuse just because you have the luxury to remain anonymous.

    (I thought your article was lovely, I don’t see how it was exploitative. To me, it just seemed like you were uniting PC Gamers (Who’re fans of FPSs) in their hate for features/lack of features included in games. He could have been talking about the similarity to sites such as, but is that a bad thing now and then?)

  • John Walker

    I’m doing my best to ignore you, Nick, and to dismiss your thoughts.

    As a life rule.

  • Paul

    In my short time writing things wot people read on the internet, I’ve found that the most playful, unserious things tend to elicit the most ferocious responses. What can you do? Sadly, some people just like to kick funny, well written puppies.

    And I wouldn’t worry, polls show you’re the games journo least likely to rot in hell.

  • John Walker

    Alex – Tim S and I are still regularly writing for PC Gamer. I write They’re Back every month, and reviews and the like. Jim is still in there too. Of those you list, only Jim and Kieron ever worked for the mag in-house.

    The current team on the mag is really superb, I think. Clearly I’d like to see far more silly, but that’s something that we’ve been able to do with RPS.

    I’m really glad RPS reminds you of the classic days of mags. It’s something I’m personally aiming for.

  • Alex B

    John – Yeah, I know about yourself and Tim, I think that was just me putting on the rose-tinted specs for a moment. I miss the bit before the reviews where they had mugshots of everyone and silly facts.

    I agree about the silly, that’s personally the problem I see with the current mag; it’s not anyone’s fault per se, it’s just a bit more tame than it used to be. It’s nice to read RPS because there are less restrictions on what you can say, because it’s your site.

    (As a big aside note, am I the only one who notices that there are at least 2 letters each month sent in about Assassin’s Creed 2’s draconian internet connection stuff? Old news, guys.)

  • Patrick

    I enjoyed that.

  • wds

    I like your rules for dismissing negative comments. Mine are about the same.

    I usually dismiss a comment outright when:
    – it’s entirely made up of an ad hominem attack (like the one you pointed out above). If there’s nothing to criticise, why respond? Unless there’s a glaring spelling error I feel obliged to point out.
    – it’s written all lower case, no punctuation, shouty internet man style. The commenter is either 12 or drunk, either way he’s not thinking clearly and thus will not understand rational discourse.
    – it’s filled with what I call “code words”. You get this under news articles a lot, things of the “pinko commie” variety, i.e. “barack osama” or “drill, baby, drill” (both as used by the left or the right, les extrèmes se touchent).
    – anyone who disagrees with me. Because they’re idiots. ;-)

  • Dr. Evanzan


    Re: PC Gamer. So I should make use of the current 50% off subscription offer then?
    I’m tottering on the fence with that one as to whether it would be worthwhile. (I’m already an RPS subscriber – though I suppose I could always subscribe again!)

  • Owen M

    Ahhhhhhhh commenting on a comment of a comment which contains comments on other comments about comments on the gaming industry. It’s a commenting blackhole! (I hope I got them all right I don’t want more comments about this comment!)

  • Lu-Tze

    Why do Sony recommendation documents never tell us to include taps? They can’t get enough clown shoes and low-gravity, but goddamn them for not telling us we need flushing toilets.


  • Mike McQuaid

    That was a good article and RPS writings, blog and podcast all entertain and inform me in equal measure. Keep up the good work and don’t worry about the trolls, they are well worth ignoring.

  • Colthor

    I guess somebody really likes checkpoint saves. Well, there had to be one out there somewhere – we should track him down and kill him in case it’s contagious.

    (I enjoyed the article, by the way. Ta!)

  • Mark O'Brien

    I enjoyed that.

    *goes out to water the tomatoes.

  • Ian

    eff u john!!1 EFF U

  • devlocke

    I kind of agree with Nick. :) Your brain should have a filter where it just totally ignores insane comments. I find comments that I disagree with and/or seem to be made by reasonable but completely wrong people to irritate me, but I don’t really even SEE comments like the one you quoted. They get parsed enough by my brain to be discarded, and then I move on.

    That said, it’s very sad that there are people who believe comments like that contribute anything at all. I just don’t understand why you’d bother to make such a ridiculous statement; if you sound reasonable, you’re at least possibly making someone reconsider their viewpoint, if they don’t already share yours. When you sound like a lunatic, you do everyone a disservice, including yourself.

    Sadly, the world is imperfect. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE, YOU JESUS LOVER! (I asked you a question about that on your Formpsring thing, and you gave an answer I’m dissatisfied with but Formspring is an awful forum for two-way discourse and I haven’t yet had the inclination to send you an email). :)

    Also, you are wrong about flying things. As much as they frustrate the hell out of me in old-school side-scrolling platformer thingies, if I weren’t getting knocked to the ground by stupid Medusa-heads in Castlevania games, those sections wouldn’t be so satisfying to defeat. And I can’t think of any other style of game that has had flying things which bother me. Tho I haven’t played Singularity.

  • John Walker

    devlocke – First of all, I really wasn’t upset by the comment. It was shocked by it, because of its seemingly out of place severity, but I certainly haven’t taken it personally. Clearly the person who wrote it is unstable and idiotic, and I don’t judge myself too heavily by the opinions of such people. I only mentioned it because it was quite so amazingly angry and insane. And then linked this to some thoughts I’ve been having recently about whether I take affirmation from positive comments.

    I think a few people are forgetting the empathy element here, however. One person on Twitter told me off because there’s so many negative comments out there I will be overwhelmed if I care about them. And then directed me to GameTrailers and YouTube for examples of this. What he apparently couldn’t fathom was that there’s a difference when it’s about *you*. Sure, reading GT or YT comments is a surefire route to wanting to fire nuclear bombs at the Earth, but no, of course I don’t take them personally! Because, um, they’re about something/someone else. But when someone tells you that you’re shit, or that they hate you, or that you should rot in hell, that’s ever so slightly different.