More Ben

Dolor sit amet

Dear internet, I’m a 26 year old lady who’s been developing a science-based, 100% dragon MMO for the last two years.

“Dear internet, I’m a 26 year old lady who’s been developing a science-based, 100% dragon MMO for the last two years.”

That’s the introductory sentence of a Reddit post by user queen-of-hobo-jungle. It’s one of the site’s oldest community-generated in-jokes. The post’s from ten years ago, but its life on Reddit is eternal. Google that first sentence and you’ll find a trove of references from nearly every month since.

Of course, the internet’s not laughing with queen-of-hobo-jungle. She’s the science-based butt of this joke. Her crime isn’t trying to make a dragon MMO — that’s obviously a very cool idea. From the evidence she provided, though, it became clear pretty quickly that it wasn’t much more than an idea at all. Her two years of work on the game had amounted to no more than a limited array of 3D concept art. There was no programming, no animation, no user interface — none of the features you’d expect to support the backbone of a video game.

Moreover, queen-of-hobo-jungle didn’t have any experience making games. This was her first foray into the world of game development. Commenters were quick to point out that an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game) is a colossal undertaking for a team of established and experienced developers. For a newcomer, it’d be all but impossible.

The claim that the game would simultaneously feature dragons and be “science based” also draws some understandable criticism. If you can build dragons that function cleanly within the laws of modern science, you should be accepting the Nobel Prize in Medieval Futurism, not working on an MMO.

Of the comments in the original thread, levelheaded criticism rises to the top; user RukiTanuki references their personal experience as an amateur developer with big dreams to try to convince queen-of-hobo-jungle to focus her energies on smaller projects before she goes for the MMO. Their post is detailed, helpful, and well-composed. It goes ignored.

Some commenters buy into the idea of the game and begin to ask its would-be developer about intended features. She answers some of them vaguely but generally doesn’t hang around the thread long. One user asserts that people will flock to the finished game for cybersex. Queen-of-hobo-jungle doesn’t dispute that. She takes a laissez-fur stance on in-game intercourse.

Most of the comments are more critical. Another user asks “Is this /r/gaming’s version of ice soap?”, referencing a well-known thread where another Reddit user proposed freezing a mixture of water and body wash for use as an on-the-go shower solution. (Originally heralded as a helpful idea, some astute readers later noticed that rubbing yourself with a block of ice isn’t exactly an efficient way to rinse yourself off and that hardened body wash already exists and is called soap).

Other folks coalesce around the mention of queen-of-hobo-jungle’s gender, suggesting that the post is only being promoted because she’s a woman, or that she nefariously added that detail (26-year-old lady) to evoke sympathy and feigned interest from desperate male Redditors. Keep in mind that this is pre-Gamergate, so while it looks bad, rest assured that it’ll only get worse.

Overall, the thread is just shy of 2,000 comments, most of them criticisms aimed at a woman whose claims demonstrate a little too much confidence and ambition. Queen-of-hobo-jungle probably realizes relatively early on that this thing isn’t going the way she’d intended, and she stops posting in the thread.

And if all I wanted to do was tell you about the dragon MMO thread, I’d have stopped writing this after the first sentence. A hyperlink would’ve sufficed. No, there’s more. The thread itself is finished, but queen-of-hobo-jungle’s story isn’t. She keeps posting on Reddit under her same username. She doesn’t reference the science-based dragon MMO from that point on. She sticks to her other interests, stuff like politics, atheism, and memes, all of which are pillars of Reddit in the early 2010s.

Our protagonist isn’t talking about her MMO anymore. But everyone else is.

Wherever she goes, she leaves a trail of itinerant critics in her wake, legions of pilgrims with their tongues glued to their cheeks as they nudge her with facetious inquiries about the progress of the game she once proudly introduced to them. 

The majority of queen-of-hobo-jungle’s comments come with a rider of hitchhiking micro-critics. Sometimes they don’t even ask a question or reference her directly; some sequence of “100%”, “dragon”, and “MMO” is usually sufficient. A lot of them incorrectly label it a “100% science-based dragon MMO”, which is probably something I’ve also done in this piece, but it’s also offensively and flagrantly wrong. It’s a science-based, 100% dragon MMO.

Every once in a while, someone will call out her detractors for their targeted harassment. Invariably, they’ll respond with something like “If she didn’t want the attention she would make a new account.”. That’s a direct quote from user HerpDerpMapleSerp in 2015, but they’re far from the only person to put forward this non-argument, an efficient way to deflect blame from themselves and onto their target.

Of course, they are right, at least to some degree. An online identity is disposable. I’m well aware of that. When Reddit flagged one of my log-ins as “suspicious” a few years back, I had to throw my old account away for good because I registered it using an email that I owned for 9 months in 2009. Somehow I’ve managed to claw my way back. But there are reasons someone might be hesitant to step away from a handle. Maybe queen-of-hobo-jungle had an extensive collection of subreddit subscriptions she didn’t want to sacrifice. Maybe she used Reddit to keep in touch with friends or online contacts and didn’t want to bother giving them new contact info. Maybe it was all about the karma. There’s a good chance you’re browsing that list of reasons and thinking none of them are nearly valid enough to outweigh the avalanche of negatives opposing them; people reply to almost all of her posts with references to this one mistake. But the idea endorsed above, that queen-of-hobo-jungle deserves the attention she receives for continuing to use her account, is reliant on circular logic: she deserves the attention I’m giving her because she didn’t make a new account when other people gave her attention. She deserves to be bullied because she didn’t give up.

This piece isn’t really about queen-of-hobo-jungle, who disappeared completely in 2017 after years of posting. To the end, each new comment continued to fall in the long shadow of her most well-known mistake. I found the Dragon MMO thing as silly and misguided as everyone else, but that’s all it is. With the dust settled, there’s no reason to keep the conflict alive. What got me this deep were the people, these time-full horseflies unafraid to follow and harass a person, years after the fact, for a mistake that was, more than anything, silly.

Focusing on the jungle queen allows the repliers to meld into the background, to become nonentities in a story about an MMO. A single nasty reply is more likely to be read as a duel between two humans, but a torrent of comments is a faceless cloud. We judge the recipient because they’re easier to distinguish and identify. But what we ignore when we focus on whether or not queen-of-hobo-jungle deserved her fate is that each person who took it upon themselves to deliver it to her did so by choice. Each one followed her footsteps throughout Reddit, each typed their uninspired messages, and each hit “reply”. Each atom of the cloud was built consciously, by someone who decided independently that she deserved it.

It’s easy to appraise these comments generously, to call them harmless. You could argue it’s all in good fun, just some tongue-in-cheek memeing. But, while far from the worst thing you can find on the internet on a Tuesday, I don’t think they’re meant to be harmless, because I think I’ve been in the shoes of these guys. You don’t go through the aforementioned steps by accident. It takes effort, no matter how minute.

I wonder how many of these people pursued their micro-harassment because of the cringe feeling the MMO post gave them. We don’t cringe when someone does something we don’t understand; cringe comes from seeing someone standing where we’ve stood, feeling how we’ve felt, doing something we’ve since learned not to do. Even if we don’t explicitly empathize with them, we know they’re making a mistake. One way or another, we’re relating to them. 

When something elicits that cringe feeling, most of us accept the temporary discomfort and move on. Reddit’s become a home for people who respond differently, with subreddits like /r/cringe and /r/cringepics boasting million-subscriber audiences of people who can’t help but stick with the feeling. In 2019, /r/cringeanarchy, a subreddit that was /r/cringe if it wore sig runes and argued about body pillows on the Hearts of Iron II forums, was banned for “the posting of content that glorifies or encourages violence”.

What I’m getting at is that I think each of the people who replied to queen-of-hobo-jungle so long after the fact did it with the intent to hurt her. At the very least, they wanted to resurrect the joke wherever she went, to apply a badge of shame to a woman whose primary crime was to continue existing after posting cringe.

I think it’s very Redditor to harshly punish people for doing in public what you’ve been lucky enough to do in private.

Moreover, I think it’s worth noting that this story is only high profile because Reddit users made it so. I could post right now about my realistic unicorn breeding 4X strategy game and there’s no way it would do these kinds of numbers. In a way, it feels like queen-of-hobo-jungle is being punished because other people took her idea seriously.

I understand that this is a weird story to focus on when there are so many better ones, ones where internet harassment and criticism go much further and have more disastrous consequences. From what I can tell, no one goes that deep insulting queen-of-hobo-jungle. She never addresses the criticism, and there’s no reason to think her disappearance is anything more than her finally getting fed up with the two or three notifications per post and giving in. Maybe she made a new account and lives now in peace. Maybe she detached herself from Reddit entirely. Even better.

This story interested me because of its low stakes. Queen-of-hobo-jungle’s punishment is far from intolerable, but for her crime it’s still severe. No one was hurt by her initial post. No one was insulted. Some people probably wasted their time commenting. At least they didn’t write a 50-paragraph article about it. Honestly, it doesn’t even seem like they were lied to; queen-of-hobo-jungle probably really thought she was in the introductory stages of building an MMO. She flew too close to the sun with her science-based 100% dragon wings. She left no victims, but she still inspired vengeance.

I don’t think any of these commenters set out to be ruthless or to terrorize someone. And I don’t think that’s what they did. But I do think they meant to punish in their own weird, miniscule way. I think they were content with the “death by a thousand cuts” method of internet execution. They weren’t going to swing a sword, but they’d throw a rotting tomato or two. That’s the nature of the internet. I get that. But I think sometimes we web gremlins get too used to it. We forget how weird this would be without the screens connecting and dividing us. We don’t have to worry that our comments come across as mean-spirited when we’re facing the audience and not the recipient.

There’s understanding how the internet flows and there’s choosing to be a part of the stream. I don’t think the internet forces toxicity upon us, but I do think it makes it the path of least resistance. RukiTanuki, that well-meaning game dev, is the closest thing this micro-stakes story has to a hero. Their post draws on personal experience. It takes time and effort to compose. And when it’s all done, it’s one comment. The ogres have an easier time. Their comments are short and thoughtless — they don’t have to learn any new words. But they’re innumerable and constant. A balanced and healthy commenter isn’t going to stick around. They’ve got places to be. But an angry cringe drinker has staying power.

If you’ve made it this far and I haven’t convinced you that this is at least a little fucked up, I’m not going to. I’ve known for a while now that some people are just better at weathering the internet than I am. My point, if I can shorten it any more, is that toxicity on the internet isn’t limited to grandiose overtures where slime-coated ubertrolls try to compel their peers to commit suicide. Sometimes, even in its moments of jubilation, the internet is just sour. And I think most folks would support a school of thought that favors ignoring those voices in favor of the positive ones the internet can also usher forth. But I’ve begun to take a more McLuhan-esque stance; I’ve begun to feel that some of these internet spaces are rotten to the core, that the arc of social media bends toward corrosion. It’s easy to lose ourselves in it.

In short: He who fights with dragons should take care that he does not thereby become a dragon. And when you gaze long into Reddit, Reddit also gazes into you.

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