Back in the 1990s I worked in the computer game business. I shared an office with a bunch of games testers, young late-teenaged blokes whose job was to play computer games all day. It was a colourful atmosphere with more than a whiff of unregulated testosterone and other substances about it, and though I am very glad to have moved on those days still conjure a slight sense of nostalgia.
A few days ago I was unexpectedly reminded of the testers by an unlikely stimulus, I followed a link from another blogger and found myself dipping once more into the world of feminist blogs. Though I've made no secret of my irritation with the hate-preaching sector of feminism I found the blogs I was looking at had some sense about them and I found myself agreeing with their writers.
In the normal course of events I might have done what I would in our little corner of the blogosphere: stopped for a while and left a few comments. But I found the usual page on a feminist blog: 'Advice before you comment'. Full of -isms and privileges both real and imagined, and boasts of debating gambits they found unacceptable and trolls they had seen off. I ended up thinking "This isn't worth it!" and moving on. Shame, I always like getting to know people who write well.
So how did the testers come in to this? Simple, I was reminded of the way they used to play erotic computer games. I appreciate that this comparison might be anathema to a feminist blogger, so let me explain. Back in the '90s there was a genre of computer games that involved enticing virtual women into sex. From the merely risqué such as the Leisure Suit Larry series to the overtly erotic such as Virtual Valerie, their premise was simple: do the 'right' things and you will achieve your aim, do the 'wrong' things and the virtual object of your lust will slam the door on you. Never my thing really, but to the testers who had something of the adolescent about them they were fascinating.
What was interesting was how they evolved the playing of these games. Once the initial 'Phwoarrr' factor had worn off and they'd realised that there was only a certain level of eroticism that could be conveyed in pixel form by a mid-90s PC, their focus changed from the eroticism to the chase. Not having their virtual quarry reject them became a daring game of suspense, and triggering the boot became a thrill rather than a failure. This was no solitary pursuit, instead they played as a group, clustered round the monitor offering advice and encouragement.
I was reminded of the testers on the feminist blogs because I saw the same forces at play. The feminist blogger is the unreachable prey and the bloke trolls are the hunters. They get the same satisfaction from worming their way under the radar and springing the trap that closes the door on them as the testers did from being rejected by their virtual women, the object has become to deliver the barb and the door being slammed is simply the expected consequence.
Except that unlike a dodgy '90s computer game, there is a person involved. Do these bloggers gain as much satisfaction from seeing off trolls that the trolls do from winding them up? Or do they crouch beleaguered in their eyries, convinced they are under constant threat and having their prejudices reinforced by people who are simply poking them for sport?