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The Devil's Advocate: A Deep Sadness with Culture

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on October 18, 2013

I’m not quite sure how today’s Devil’s Advocate will turn out, as I’m taking a different approach to writing this today. Instead of having an entire plan in mind, I just simply wanted to talk to the MMORPG.com readers about something that came to me in between writing for MMORPG.com and my day job at Rappler.com.

I feel a deep sadness inside as a result of the combined workload that I have. This isn’t because I have to write a lot, but because all the writing and monitoring of responses on my written work makes me see gaming culture as a subset of the human condition and the culture of the world.

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The Day Job

Since most of you reading likely know that I’ve been manning The Devil’s Advocate for nearly two years, I’ll explain my work at Rappler for a bit of context. Aside from writing technology news, I sometimes man the world news desk, which means I monitor a feed of news articles from an international agency, edit it according to our guidelines, and then put it on the site.

Reading Rappler stories and putting world news stories on the site has kept me informed of things I used to actively avoid: politics, pain, war and, for lack of a better term, human suffering in many forms.

Gaming as Escapism

I played games in my spare time partly because it was fun. I sometimes also played games, MMORPGs and other sorts of video games included, to keep my mind preoccupied. Gaming allowed me to escape from dealing with disquieting thoughts. Writing about gaming allowed me to hone my craft as a writer. Talking to people online about games allowed me to be social in a relatively safe environment.

I suspect that for a number of you, games have also provided some kind of intangible, formative benefit. Whether it was the ability to quickly determine how viable you’d be in a fight through mental arithmetic, the joy of finding friends online, or the realizations that partly led you to become who you are today, a dose of gaming felt worth taking.

This was enough, for a time. Gaming gave me something I could be confident in and learn from. My high school, college, and early working years were filled with games and games writing. The lessons I learned from being open to games helped me form the mental connections that sometimes show up in Devil’s Advocate pieces. All in all, I learned a lot.

Reactions and Concentric Circles

My foray into reading social media sentiment for stories and reading comments on Rappler and MMORPG.com led me to notice some similarities in the approach and tone of people’s comments and reactions to things, whether it was something they supported, were apathetic about, or disagreed with.

It just sort of hit me that gaming culture tends to act like a subset of the culture of the world we live in today, kind of like concentric circles. That might seem obvious, seeing as the previous sentence acts as a literal and figurative statement, so I’ll try and suss some meaning out of it.

Mercy and the Catholic Church

On Rappler, two stories by Paterno Esmaquel II recently made me pause.

First, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle apologized at the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE), in front of representatives of various religions and some 5,000 people for the sins of the church.

He hoped people would purify their memories, “memories filled with prejudice, of anger, of hatred; memories that we passed on from generation to generation.” The basic message, thus, was he hoped people would manage to give up the ill will they had towards others and reconcile and care for each other.

At the end of the PCNE, Pope Francis had a video message for the attendees, espousing something similar. The Pope said, “Don’t get tired of bringing the mercy of the Father to the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the young people, and the family. Bring Jesus now into the world of politics, business, arts, science, technology, and social media.“

As John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter described Francis’ papacy back in August, “his signature idea is mercy. Over and over again, he emphasizes God's endless capacity to forgive, insisting what the world needs to hear from the church above all today is a message of compassion.”

Accepting a Message?

I’m not what you’d call a devout Catholic, but I know a good, sensible message when I see one. Learning forgiveness and compassion is not exactly what most would call a bad thing, but commenters on the Rappler articles I’ve noted could not easily accept the message for what it was.

Motives were questioned and the subtext was one of distrust: How can you accept a sensible message from a person you disagree with, who likely has his own agenda that is contrary to your own?

At the same time, I look at some of the Devil’s Advocate essays I’ve written, and I noticed the same thing. One of my earlier write-ups about fostering a culture of inclusion was likely a headache for mods here, as it got derailed severely by people who felt differently about making gaming culture more accepting and respectful of everyone around who enjoyed games.

The previous Devil’s Advocate piece on Sex and MMOs also didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped, with some folks unable to get past their personal viewpoints to ask how others cultures or people might feel with an oversexualized MMO or less than respectful representations of women.

Why I’m Sad

For the most part, I think I agree with some commenters saying that I have an agenda. It’s not a malicious or otherwise political or moral agenda, unless you think Bill and Ted saying, “Be excellent to one another,” is an example of a political agenda (I will admit that the phrase I used can be a moral agenda).

What has disheartened me in recent weeks is the realization that my day job has made me more sensitive to the world I used to actively try and avoid, what with all its pain and death and suffering, and the type of person I could have ended up becoming.  It also disheartens me to see that a perfectly sensible message can be misrepresented, distrusted, or invalidated because of closemindedness.

It’s hard to sense apathy online (unless you count the shares or pageviews of an article), but it happens every day when I have to put up a story about deaths in a foreign country due to war or calamity and see that for a good number of people, an issue isn’t as important if it’s so far removed from them. It’s a lot easier to see closemindedness though: a hostile comment or angry tweet is enough to remind you that not everyone shares the same culture or mindset.

The Bottom Line

I’ve asked the editors at MMORPG.com for a few weeks off from writing the Devil’s Advocate. Not only is my schedule a bit crazy these days, but I’ve also wanted to take some time to re-examine what matters to me.

I know gaming matters to me, but I’m also kind of growing fond of trying to understand things I used to ignore (i.e. The World at Large). I’m hoping that when I come back, I can gain some additional perspectives on the world that will help me tackle the MMORPGs, gaming culture, and what it means to be a citizen of the world.

Oh, and I’ll also be game hopping when the immensity of life threatens to drive me to the brink. Perhaps I’ll see you on Norrath, Middle Earth, Agartha, or Eorzea sometime soon. Cheers!

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


LINKS:

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can also find him on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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