The last film I went to see in the pictures before the pandemic was Birds of Prey. During the movie, I stood up, threw my popcorn at the screen, stole the nachos off the person a few rows in front, shouted sexually explicit things about Margot Robbie, and screamed some racial epithets. Not really, but can you imagine if I did? I’d have been thrown out on the spot. If I did the same thing at E3 though, it seems like I’d have been fine.
If I tried any of these things at a regular E3, I’m sure someone would have intervened – but this is not a regular E3. The reason the last film I went to see is a movie from February 2020 is because we’ve been in a pandemic ever since Birds of Prey left theatres, although the two are probably unrelated. Because of this, E3 was online, which meant tuning in to either Twitch or YouTube. While it’s less dramatic than having a bouncer pick you up and throw you out of the cinema, these measures do exist online, only instead of bouncers, it’s moderators. The problem is it doesn’t appear as if E3 has hired any.
E3 did apparently hire some, but far too few to deal with the sheer number of viewers, which in some ways is worse than none at all because you’re still putting people through moderating in the knowledge that they’ll make no difference. Moderating is a difficult job. Twitch chats move incredibly fast, you have to deal with the bile first-hand, and you’re basically an internet referee – no one likes referees. But just like referees, moderators do a crucial job. They not only ensure that the chat is running smoothly, they also remove any spammers or anyone dishing out hate, making the stream more hospitable for the types of people who often find themselves on the receiving end of that hate. It’s Karl Popper for the internet era – there can be no tolerance without intolerance of the intolerant.
At E3, it wasn’t a case of one or two slurs or hateful remarks slipping through the cracks – most chats seemed to be completely unmoderated at all. Aside from profanity filters, you could basically say what you want. Considering E3 played host to Take-Two’s diversity seminar – itself a bold experiment in making a necessary point at completely the wrong time – the lack of moderation shows a complete disregard for this same sense of diversity.
When it’s not a diversity seminar, E3 is a commercial. It’s not like regular streamers, fostering a community of like minded individuals and building parasocial relationships – it’s an advert. And why would you moderate an advert? You want as many people as possible watching your adverts, and kicking them out because of questionable opinions only results in fewer people being able to see your advert. Gamers buy sneakers too, or something.
I won’t hear any of this “It’s just internet culture” bullshit. I’m 28. I was an early adopter of MySpace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. I spent hours online as a kid gaming, watching movies, listening to music, and exploring Wikipedia rabbit holes about Slovakian ballet dancers who turned out to be serial killers. All of my research into my own queerness when I was a confused kid happened online. I was raised on internet culture, and I’m not a racist bellend. The 4channers don’t have a patent on what defines the internet.
Ubisoft disabled its chat completely, while both Square Enix and Summer Game Fest resorted to emoji only chats to stop the hate. E3’s official moderators meanwhile were directionless, and had nowhere near enough mods in their ranks to make a difference. Ubisoft, Square, and Keighley were more effective in their methods, but a full shutdown is a very blunt instrument. It is possible to have an active Twitch chat, even in a stream as crowded as the E3 ones, while still moderating – you just need clear guidelines and a healthy amount of mods. It doesn’t seem as if any of the streams had either one. It feels as if the Twitch chats were an afterthought, and if they’d just been shut down from the start, that wouldn’t be so bad. A bit of a shame to miss out on the vibe of the event, but with a largely disappointing E3 anyway, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The problem is that they weren’t shut down from the start, they were shut down in reaction to the inevitable results of an unmoderated chat, which just introduces extremely avoidable negativity into the proceedings.
This understanding is nothing new – when the Anti-Defamation League investigated how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, two of the most polarizing left-wing politicians on Earth, were able to stream Among Us on Twitch to a huge audience and enjoy and extremely uncontroversial chat, the answer turned out to be the huge importance both politicians placed on moderation – importance practically everyone at E3 ignored. When your Final Fantasy trailer is more controversial than AOC, you’re probably doing something wrong.
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