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On bullying

This young person  just read something about herself on the Internet!

potential triggers: depression, suicide, bullying

I don’t know whether it’s okay to talk about this. Maybe it doesn’t help.

At present, we don’t actually know for certain whether a game designer has taken her own life. We don’t know any concrete details leading up to it. All we have is speculation, conjecture.

Although she had a fan following, she was not a “public” figure by any stretch of the word.

We do know with certainty, however, she’d recently become the target of incessant bullying. Shortly before she made the gruesome announcement, she presented an Internet forum with a screenshot of her inbox, indicating that most of these attacks were cruel remarks about her birth gender. She may have been trans, maybe not.

There isn’t a word for how horrifying. I hope she’s alive. I hope she only decided to take a temporary break from the Internet and that she will have an opportunity to get on with her life. Or I hope her suicide attempt failed. I hope she intended it to fail.

We do know this: while the rate of attempted suicide among the general population is 1.6%, as many as 41% of transpeople have attempted suicide. The numbers of LGBT children who have attempted suicide hover around a similarly startling 30-40%. Familial rejection, economic strife, and systemic or institutionalized transphobia and homophobia all play roles in these suicide attempts.

But let’s not minimize the incredibly damaging effects of outright bullying.

In early 2012 the Center for Disease Control noted that the rate of teen suicide has spiked in recent years. The CDC’s 2012 report went on to estimate that one in 12 teenagers has attempted suicide, with 20% of teenagers indicating they have been bullied. Among schoolchildren, girls plan or attempt suicide in greater numbers than boys.

There are other risk factors in play, of course. The CDC lists physical illness, isolation, clinical depression, loss, and hopelessness as factors. There are genetic and environmental factors to consider, as well—I find “local epidemics of suicide” to be among the more chilling.

Bullying is so insidious, though, because it takes most of these preexisting risk factors and escalates them in the worst possible way. Bullying among schoolchildren is consistently diminished or shrugged off as the natural order of things, even as children gain greater access to communications technologies that allow their meanspiritedness to be “liked,” be “shared,” and “go viral.” School administrators seem especially complicit, probably out of helplessness and inefficacy.

School shootings and suicide have stoked concern about youth bullying, but acknowledging so-called “adult bullying” is still very much taboo. In those cases we especially expect the victim to “shake it off” and “toughen up.” Bullying can happen to anybody.

Bullying has always existed, but culture at large has changed. We like to think the Internet is a “great equalizer,” thanks to the ease with which a flip commenter can take anyone else down and bury her. We are all armchair critics now; thanks to anonymity and the “submit” button, we can escalate attacks from the professional to the personal with a single carriage return. We can research other people for “ammo.” We can orchestrate entire mob-like pile-ons. Long after we’ve forgotten typing an insult, the victim will remember it. She can probably quote it word-for-word. She can call it up using a search engine and stare at it until she drives herself over the edge.

I feel like I don’t get bullied very much anymore, least of all professionally, since I’ve had the luxury of picking and choosing my own readership. I’m also very aggressive about choosing my own close friends. But in the past I have been a bully, and it required other people to call me out on my bullshit for me to even notice. I think, given the right circumstances, anyone can become a bully.

I am trying to practice empathy in my daily life, but sometimes it’s a challenge. I find, in my stabs at becoming a better friend and ally, I buy a lot of books, do a lot of weird leisure reading. I constantly have to reevaluate myself, reeducate myself.

We have to be so careful with our fellow humankind. We must exercise personal responsibility on a macro scale.

Hey! What is this doing on a videogames blog?

Yeah, take a look around. We celebrate homogeneity and conformism like no one else. We are the sum opposite of progressive. We think apathy is cool, even though apathy literally kills other people. Sometimes industry “luminaries” say things and you, like, have to just stare in awesome embarrassment, as if that person were your beloved-but-totally-racist grandfather instead of a comparatively spry fortysomething.

No, no deep thoughts here; just unfocused, blanket alarm.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. I’ll go first: I suffer from crippling anxiety and I struggle to leave the house. A sports writer named Scott Neumyer recently published a piece titled “I Am Royce White,” which describes panic attacks better than I ever could. A surprising number of industry types wrestle with anxiety, OCD, or clinical depression. Games are just one way of connecting. I’m happy to share that priority in common with you, dear reader.

In a perfect world we’d all be much more open with our personal struggles, although—in these contemporary times, where Facebook and Twitter are all part of the individual’s “brand identity”—I understand why that isn’t feasible. In fact, I think persistent connectedness has made us all much less eager to share, more invested in privacy and obfuscation.

Probably the best we can do for ourselves and for one another is to remember we are loved, know we are loved, actively work to surround ourselves with love instead of toxicity, and practice self-love. (Not like that, necessarily, but whatever helps!) I also recommend becoming a dog owner, but that might just be me.

I just don’t know what else to say. There are resources, and there are people who love you. You are loved.

Stock photo via Mom It Forward. Yes, really.

4 responses to “On bullying” »

  1. Dock says:

    Wonderful article Jenn. Thank-you.

    I feel that there is one enormous problem with bullying, and that is that no-one ever takes responsibility for being a bully. I’ve definitely acted incredibly awfully towards people, especially as a teenager, but I simply wish that people could flag my behaviour as bullying so I had a better idea of reference. I know I’ve upset people, and I prefer to remind myself of this.

    Perhaps it’s a matter of saying that ‘everyone is a bully’, or at least, most people have made someone feel persecuted and pressured unfairly within a wretched social conform.

    People highlight the extremes, such as threatening emails, and like to pretend that a snarky forum reply or tweet is any less damaging.

    • Jenn Frank says:

      Heya, Docky! Thanks for the kind words.

      Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I could be a good and kind person, to not let my passions get the best of me. “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart, to utter anything before God,” the Good Book says. I’m not near contemplative enough before I’m already yammering, though. And I’m guilty of the art of the snarky tweet, for sure; it’s too easy for me to write those off as legit “criticism.”

      However. A quick web definition of bullying suggests the real difference between snark and actual bullying is “intimidation.” It’s a type of power play where someone tries to get the upper hand. It isn’t like having (and winning) an argument; instead of trying to change the person’s mind about a worldview, the bully is trying to just make the person hate herself. Google’s web definition also suggests that, in whatever given hierarchy, the aggressor is often already in a “superior” position—which is to say, bullying tends to be a way of maintaining a preexisting “pecking order.”

  2. Jae says:

    It also really helps to tell your loved ones that you do indeed love and appreciate them!

    Your article reminds me of this one wonderful quote by Michael Jackson: “If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with.”

Reply to Jae

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