The Anti-Troll Love Connection

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This is how it happened

First, I saw a tweet from @popurls about a cockatiel singing the chocobo song, so of course I clicked on it. What I found was not only an adorable video of a cockatiel singing the chocobo song, but an entire website that seemed as if it were made just for me: Limit Break.

chocobo

(Little did I know, the link in that tweet from was a redirect from Reddit to Limit Break; the whole thing orchestrated by Sol Invictus, who is a master at manipulating SEO and Reddit popularity. He was also a member of GameRiot and moderator of one of its other portals.)

Limit Break was a video game community website — a portal of the larger hub, GameRiot — that focused on RPGs. MY FAVORITE! I quickly felt at home on Limit Break, made friends with the community moderator, and starting blogging there. I met a number of great people on that site, many of whom I’ve continue friendships with even after the site went defunct, only a couple of months later.

(I won’t go into the specifics, but if you are familiar with the site, then you probably know what went down. It was messy and disheartening and ugly. (Hint: Sol Invictus was involved.))

Saddened by the lack of activity on Limit Break, I decided to try my luck at one of the sister sites on GameRiot called WoWRiot. I knew this site existed because I followed a few posts over there that ARCTURAS cross-posted to Limit Break, and I liked what I saw from him. Since I played WoW for many years, I figured I would feel somewhat comfortable in that community, even though the atmosphere was much less friendly and much more toxic than Limit Break.

The air, it was thick with the scent of trolls.

I won’t bore you with all the details, so let me lay down a few of my initial observations about WoWRiot. There were a few different types of member in this community:

  • People who were posting seriously about WoW (mostly involving PvP). This included the likes of Ming (World of Ming), Yiska (Hydramist), and Hafu.
  • People who were there to read about WoW. (Some who wished they were as popular as the big names listed above. Some who were just spectators.)
  • Trolls. That is, people who had nothing better to do than spit vitriol at everyone, indiscriminately, no matter the content or context.
  • Anti-trolls. This is my term I just made up to describe this group of people, but basically, whether they realized it or not, these people were cleverly trolling the entire community in a way that actually contributed positively.

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After watching mostly silently for a few days, and leaving some commentary here and there, I felt comfortable enough to attempt a blog post. And yes, I was somewhere in that anti-troll category.

I had a strategy.

  1. Copy the format of Vir’s posts. (Vir was a very outspoken and well-known member who straddled the troll/anti-troll line.)
  2. Fill my post with content that is actually interesting, funny, weird, and basically all manner of things I like. (My first post included links to things like goats, a service that turns one’s cremated ashes into pencils, and who knows what else.)
  3. Alter my format enough to be slightly mocking Vir (who was basically mocking the “serious” bloggers with his nonsense content).

I have to tell you, I was nervous when I published that first post. There was a high chance of me being trolled and abused — not only because I was one of very few female members swimming in a sea of misogyny, but also because my content was non-game-related, and I was trolling the trolls.

Thank the goat gods, it was a success.

From then on, I was someone to watch. People enjoyed my posts and I actually began to make friends with many of the non-toxic members of the community. I had the eye of the two people I was hoping to catch: Vir and ARCTURAS.

I began interacting regularly on the blogs and in the forums on WoWRiot, and got to know several of the members quite well. It was my favorite place on the internet, because there was interesting conversation if you knew where to look. I enjoyed trolling the trolls of WoWRiot, and eventually my content became well-liked enough to garner some invitations.

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My WoW Baking posts earned me an invite from Yiska to join the Hydramist blog — I was in with, and respected by, the Serious Bloggers. Vir and ARCTURAS decided to invite me to join their blog Serious Business, which meant I was also in with the trolls/anti-trolls. DOUBLE SUCCESS! And even more so because I — a woman — had risen to the top of the troll ranks, and I was turning them inside out without them realizing it.

(I hope it is clear that I was not a troll. I mocked the trolls. I cleverly disguised *actual content* so as to catch the attention of trolls and make them like something they would probably otherwise spew venom at. I was tricking misogynists into respecting a woman!)

And yes, this is where the love connection happens.

goatcookies

Goat cookies I made for Valentine’s Day!

ARCTURAS and I began exchanging private messages about some topics we had discussed briefly in blog comments and on the forums (you know, things like really obscure visual novels). Within days, we were talking as much as we could, and within a couple of months, we had met in person.

Basically, he came to visit me and never left.

We both continued to blog on WoWRiot, now reveling in our clever creativity even more because we could collaborate more thoroughly in person. But then things started to go south on WoWRiot, and we knew the end was near. (Sadly, the site seemed to have lost its funding/sponsors and just died.)

We gathered some like-minded gamers and started a new blog.

But things went awry almost immediately. In short: I wrote a post that, thanks to my naïveté, brought much ire down on our site. Harsh commentary was made, and vitriol began to spew, not only from visitors, but from some of our members. The situation was eventually smoothed over, but not before some damage was done. To my reputation, to our blog, and to a fellow gaming site.

And here is where Sol Invictus showed up again, this time trolling our site AND another. By the end of it, Sol had become our “enemy,” and relationships were muddied all around. It has taken me years to repair some of the relationships (some that were over before they started) — but only part of that is his fault (the rest is mine, for writing about something I didn’t know well enough). Again, I’m not going into details, but ask if you’re interested.

Our new blog flourished for a while before we all became too busy to contribute regularly, which is a shame, but seems to be the way many things go in life.

The important thing is that four years later, ARCTURAS and I are still together.

Today is our 2-year wedding anniversary, and I’m ecstatic!

Yes, this is the actual artwork commissioned for our actual wedding invitations.

Yes, this is the actual artwork commissioned for our actual wedding invitations.

Our story is a testament to the notion that there is good out there, even amongst the cesspools of the internet. Two weird, wacky minds found one another and resonated, came together and made something good. And it may not have happened without the likes of someone who ended up being somewhat of an enemy to both of us.

Despite all of the bad blood and insidious behavior Sol has had a hand in over all these years (I’m not really here to debate this, but send me a private message if you want to discuss it in more detail), and even though he and I are no longer friends (Were we ever? It’s hard to tell with a person like that.), I’m still grateful for his actions, too.

If he’d never submitted that post to reddit, I would probably never have seen it, and I may never have met my favorite person in all the world.

So, hey. Sol. Stillgray. Iain. Whatever you like to call yourself.

THANKS.

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[I realize I may have just alienated a significant portion of my twitter feed due to this confession of enmity between myself and Sol, but I guess it just has to be that way. I’m not here to paint him in a negative light — only to share the truth of my circumstances. Do with that what you will.]

The Trouble with Magic and Me

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From a young age, like many people, I’ve been interested in games. My siblings and I would argue over who got to be Mario and who got to be Luigi, whose turn it was to play Yo! Noid (yes, that was a real game), or who got to pick the next title to rent from the video store. When my friend Katie would come to my house for a sleepover, we’d sneak up in the middle of the night and play my brother’s borrowed copy of Strider (which I’m only recently learning is very similar to Metroid). I’d go over to my friend’s house just so we could play Super Mario Bros. on her SNES all day.

Whenever my family went on vacation, I would follow my brother to the arcades so we could play Street Fighter (Guile was my favorite) or Mortal Kombat (I wanted to learn ALL of Sub Zero’s moves). When the Sega Genesis first came out, it was all my sister wanted for Christmas, and we spent the next year playing the crap out of that Lion King game that came with it.

During my childhood, it was never suggested — and I never considered — that playing video games was a boys-only activity.

Flash forward past my middle and high school years (during which I apparently forgot about video games for the most part), to my first year in college. My passion for video Princess Garnet from Final Fantasy IX (aka the best RPG ever)games was reignited when my then-boyfriend brought over his PlayStation and we’d play Kessen into the wee hours of the morning. And once I saw his little brother playing Final Fantasy 9? I was completely, unbelievably hooked.

That was also the beginning of my trading card game (TCG) obsession. We played so much Pokemon that I ended up buying whole boxes of cards online. I had binders for every type of Pokemon, complete with color-coded cover pages, organized by rarity and name. I later forsook Pokemon for the Star Wars TCG, and then eventually learned about the satisfying complexities of Magic: The Gathering.

TCGs took a backseat after a while, though, when I began gobbling up every MMORPG I could find. I made an awesome group of friends and we traveled from MMO to MMO together. World of Warcraft, perhaps unsurprisingly, is where the bulk of my online gaming took place. My guild had a significantly large percentage of women — seemingly by chance — and for most of The Burning Crusade, I was escalated to GM. There were a few rather crude guys, but for the most part our guild was a safe and comfortable place for women.

Once again, in my 20s, I wasn’t really exposed the idea that video games weren’t for girls, or that we’re not as good at games (video, TCG, or otherwise) as guys are.

Maybe I got lucky. Maybe it was actually a setback.

One of the things that brought my husband and me together when we first met was playing MtG Online. From there we branched out to visiting a local shop for draft tournaments, and eventually started playing in standard tournaments a few nights a week.

I fell in love with gobblers, burning my opponents’ faces off, and the watching the way crazy strategies could play out (or go completely awry). When I would Top 4 and actually win prizes (ooh, treasures!), all the better.

There was nothing quite so satisfying as taking Top 2 with my husband and our matching mono red decks (in fact, he’s still heralded as “the best mono red player in Texas”). At one point, it got so bad (good?) that people stopped coming because they didn’t want to lose to us anymore, so we had to change up our decks. Oopsie!

But the more time I spent playing Magic with the general public, the more I began to understand the discrimination and isolation many women experience in the gaming community.

Miss Demeanor | Flying, first strike | During each other player's turn, compliment that player on his or her game play or sacrifice Miss Demeanor.

At first it was fun, being underestimated by my opponent. People saw me as a new player, so my match wins would often come as a surprise to the other person. I relished being able to outwit my opponents with unexpected deck choices and mind games.

It wasn’t until I started receiving certain commentary, however, that I realized there was more going on. My supposed newbie status wasn’t what was throwing people off; it was the fact that I’m not a guy. People would try to bully/sweet-talk me into letting them win. People would try to convince me to make bad plays, like I was an easy target. People would RAGE when they lost, and I would have to stick up for myself and not back down when I knew I was right or had announced something they “didn’t hear.”

After narrowly losing a mirror match (we were playing Tempered Steel at the time) against a seasoned player, I was told, “You’re one of the better females.”

Perhaps he meant it as a compliment, but it instantly made me uncomfortable. Why wasn’t a “good game” and a handshake good enough? Why mention my gender? (And why not “women” instead of “females”?)

One night I was playing in the final round and my opponent hit me with a double-whammy. In the end, I had to admit to myself that he was better at mind games than I was (and I wasn’t familiar enough with his decklist — also my fault). But the thing that made me want to crush him?

“Whew! I didn’t want to lose to a girl,” he quipped as he packed his deck away.

I’m still annoyed with myself for responding with a soft snicker and embarrassed silence, but at the time, I was kind of shocked numb. I’m a good player and the match win came down to one mistake I made (and will never forget). I was disappointed that I’d lost the match when I was previously undefeated, and had been paired down that round. He wasn’t concerned that he might have lost the match and gotten pushed out of the Top 8. He was worried that he might have lost a match to a girl. Good thing I’m not concerned about losing to guys, or I would hate playing Magic.

Oh wait. That’s actually what started to happen.

After a while, it wasn’t about fun anymore. It was about proving myself as a Magic player. If I lost, it was because I’m a woman (and thus obviously bad at Magic). If I won, it was because they were having bad luck that night.

I wanted to destroy that mindset among the players. I wanted them to see me as a good player. I wanted them to see me as more than an easy win. I wanted them to see me as an equal, as a peer, and as a challenging opponent. I know that not every Magic player thinks this way (we’ve made a core group of friends who rise above the rest), but the general atmosphere and attitude among players still pushed me to feel this way.

I didn’t just want to be seen as a good player. I wanted to be seen as the best player in the room. No excuses, no doubt.

I played only to win. If I lost, I was frustrated with myself. If I didn’t Top 8, I was embarrassed and would spend the ride home apologizing to my husband for sucking at Magic*.

Maybe I sabotaged my own success, though. When people talked about cards, or strategies, or new deck ideas, I wasn’t always able to follow the conversation or chime in (or understand all the jokes). I’ve never been as deep into learning about ALL the cards as my husband and our friends are. [Truth be told, I even became too lazy to build my own decks and just let my husband do that for me (but I would make the final decisions on card choices and sideboard composition; I didn’t want to go in blind).]

Sex Appeal |  	  Prevent up to 3 damage total to any number of creatures and/or players. If there are more players in the room of the opposite sex, prevent up to 3 additional damage total to any number of creatures and/or players. So I don’t have time to read about Magic all day long. So I don’t have every single card (which set it’s from, and its current trade value) memorized. So you might have to remind me what the mana cost is for Incinerate if I haven’t used it in a while. Does that mean I’m to be dismissed from the community? Does that mean I’m not a “real” player? Does that mean I’m a poseur for wearing my Simic t-shirt every week? (Dear god, does that mean I’m some sort of “fake geek girl”? Hint: No.)

I don’t know how different things would’ve been if I were a guy. I don’t know how different things would’ve been if maybe I was just more studious about Magic (my husband says everyone who likes Magic just naturally reads about it outside of the game — news, spoilers, new card mechanics, etc.; I contend that I can like a game but still not have the time or desire to delve so deeply into it).

In the end, all I know is that my need to prove myself killed my love for the game.

While I’m still a very active gamer, and I still want ALL the trading card games (have you SEEN Vanguard and the Madoka one and The Spoils and…?!), playing a game of Magic always comes with a large helping of self-doubt and trepidation these days. I hope I can shake that eventually.

For now? At least I’ve got Civ5 to keep me company.

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*To his credit, he always insisted that I shouldn’t apologize for not topping, and that I was not a bad player. It was mostly my own self-deprecating attitude that pops up when I’m on a downward slope. (But his desire for me to be a top player largely influenced my own desire for the same.)

Not THE Beginning, But A Beginning

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hello

hello!

Every time I make a new blog (which happens way too often), I feel like it needs some sort of introductory post to get things started out neatly. But I also kinda feel like it’s unnecessary because if people want to know why this blog exists they can look at the About page. Right?

Well, whatever.

Welcome to the maelstrom.

P.S. If you know what I’m referencing with the title, then we should totally get together for a high-five.