The social importance of online communities, and their fragility.

The social importance of online communities, and their fragility.

The video game industry will always be my first love. It’s the only entertainment medium that can truly ‘take you there’, and is constantly changing as graphical technology becomes more advanced and new technologies like motion control and virtual reality become viable. In 200 years movies and books may very well be the same, but with video games people may be placing a ring on their head and be transported to a world that feels as real as reality.

For 18 years, Neogaf.com was the preeminent online community for video games. But, it wasn’t only for video games. It was a message board that only had two boards, a video game message board, and an off-topic message board where people could talk about movies, television, current events, politics, and everything else. It was often said on Neogaf that people came for the ‘gaming side’, but people stayed for the off-topic board.

What was unique about Neogaf was that in an era where message boards had largely perished in the face of twitter and hashtag conversations, Neogaf was thriving and growing. It had an insane amount of traffic and there were tens of thousands of active users at any given moment. If someone posted a new topic they could come back within 5 minutes and be assured to have dozens of replies already (if the topic was interesting). The owner of the site regularly received offers to buy the site for amounts over $10 million.

As an online community, the site was like an everlasting party that was always going on. Industry big wigs would regularly post on the site, and during big events like the annual video game industry trade expo (the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 for short), there would so many people posting that topics would receive many hundreds of replies within a span of a few minutes. This applied for everything, such as the Grammys or the latest episode of The Walking Dead. The site had hundreds of well-populated communities organized around everything from the NHL, to K-Pop, to Pokémon. The site had extremely strict moderation, to the point where users always believed the guillotine was hanging just above their heads and that any false moves would receive a ‘permaban’ (permanent ban), but if a member was on their best behavior and played by the rules, it was the most exciting site on the internet. It was a big part of my life for a decade.

The death of Neogaf came in late October, when the owner Tyler Malka got named by someone as part of the #MeToo movement. The downfall of the site was impossibly, unfathomably, quick. Within about 6 hours, 80% of the userbase asked for a permanent ban in ‘account suicides’, and traffic overloaded the servers. In the last few hours the site was available, users organized a mass exodus to a temporary Discord channel that was invite only. The site then went offline indefinitely for “maintenance”. A day before it happened, I would never have believed that such a large, growing, and robust community could have died so quickly.

I didn’t get a Discord invite before Neogaf died and for the next few days I felt the loss of this incredible online community. I had become accustomed to absorbing high-quality insights into people’s thoughts on games, movies, television shows, current events, politics, life events like relationships and having children, and everything else. Neogaf had very high-quality conversation and the traffic to go along with it, and replacements like Twitter were terrible in comparison. Going to Twitter felt like looking in the trash for food, in that I might get lucky sometimes, but it was still a bad idea to do it.

About a week later the community reorganized a new message board, Resetera.com. It was virtually identical to Neogaf except that it was owned collectively by former Neogaf members who were the most admired in the community, and moderation and site management was far, far, far more transparent and better. Virtually the entire former Neogaf community moved to the new site within 48 hours, and Resetera has proved to be a superior in every way.

I made this blog post because the recorded lecture #2 talked about the sociological implications of online interaction, and the downfall of Neogaf and its rise from the ashes in the form of Resetera reinforced to me the importance of online communities to people in this new age. For that one week where the community appeared to be dead, I just had this awful feeling of a great loss.

 


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