What happens when you make a mistake? Growing up, I heard the constant mantra of “Make mistakes, learn from them, and move on,” a fine turn of phrase that encourages trying new things and growing from the experience. I’ve always been frustrated with this middle school counselor-level of advice, though, because the world doesn’t like mistakes. Or rather, you can never be sure of the ones it finds “acceptable” and the ones it will hold against you; the uncertainty of telling which mistake from which keeps me up at night and gives me a great deal of timidity that I need to work past if I want to be a writer.
This reluctance to forget a mistake is amplified on the internet, where mistakes are not only seen, but broadcasted, regurgitated, and archived for future generations to find and scrutinize. If you mess up online, you mess up for good.
Last night, Destructoid writer Ryan Perez had a few choice words about Felicia Day, actress and internet personality best known as the writer and creator of videogame web series “The Guild.” And by “a few words,” I mean “unprovoked condescension based entirely on her gender.” Dear old sexism rears its head yet again; you’d think that after six months of Seriously You Guys Sexism Is Pretty Rampant In The Games Industry articles, Perez would think more carefully about what he says, particularly when it’s blasted across a publicly-accessible social network.
Anyway, Perez drew the ire of the internet for his misogynistic tirade, and Destructoid promptly dismissed him from its services. As it should be; Perez should have realized that his opinions, while not necessarily representing his employer, do reflect the types of personalities that Destructoid hires, and acting like a sexist bully is not endearing behavior for any site.
My biggest concern, though, is what happens to Perez now that is name is Mudd and the internet collectively hates him for vocalizing some admittedly-harsh and stupid opinions.
The general opinion about Perez is “eff that guy” and move on, and while I agree with Destructoid’s decision to end relations with him, I still feel like the internet, caught in the moment of administering justice, has condemned him to… well, “death” is a strong word, and much more sensational than I want. “Exile” might be better; he’ll forever have a scarlet letter across his chest when he seeks employment anywhere online now, specifically his vile, sexist tweets. It’s easy to say “Yeah, well that’s what he deserves” and move on, but like it or not, Perez is a human being too, with hopes, dreams, and living expenses like everyone else, and I’m not sure if anyone deserves the internet-caliber levels of loathing and vilifying because of one night’s lapsed judgment.
He should take responsibility for his words, yes, but what happens when he’s learned his lesson and wants to get back into the industry? Will he be forever shunned because he was The Guy Who Was A Jerk To Felicia Day? Have his ugly opinions sentenced him to a life of folding jeans at JC Penny’s? I saw one person say “Good, one less foul stench at events.” He’s a human being, man! Are you telling me that we’re barring this guy from ever writing about games again, even if he comes around and recognizes the error in his ways?
This is what terrifies me about the internet: knowing that someday, when I do make a mistake, it will be tattooed across my forehead, and I’ll live in the shadow of it forever. Granted, I hope I will know better than to baselessly and publicly attack a well-known internet personality from a place of privilege, but it’s a difference of degrees. Somewhere down the line, despite my best efforts otherwise, I am going to make a mistake, and I will have to own it for the rest of my life. The prospect of the internet discarding all of my earlier work in favor of my mistake and then promptly throwing me under a bus unnerves me something awful. Are we that remorseless here? Will my misguided words prevent me from eating, even if I am truly sorry and want to repent?
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that generally we writers chose our profession from a place of insecurity. Maybe there was a bully or two in each of our lives, and maybe we wanted to even the score but couldn’t. This is why, when we see wrong-doing on the internet, we rush to defeat the bully, to vanquish the boss from our childhood and restore peace to the land. Sometimes we do that by becoming bullies ourselves; Paul Christoforo was certainly an asshole, but man did we take extreme measures to bring him down. What does it matter if we’re spewing hateful language or turning into the villains we want to defeat, because Justice is on our side; after all, HE’S the bully, so HE should pay the consequences. Perez is feeling the latest round of internet crusading; not only has he lost his job and perverted his relationship with every publication on the web that would do business with him, he also must now deal with libel and hate speech directed at him from now until the internet moves on to the next round of Controversy.
I wish there were a class in school about learning from mistakes, a piece of instruction conspicuously absent from that stupid pithy aphorism. It’s one thing to say “Learn from your mistakes,” but it’s quite another to live with them after you’ve made them. I just want to know that everything will be alright when I made them, and that each mistake I make doesn’t bring me closer to death.
Ryan Perez said some stupid things on Twitter last night, and I think he needs to reexamine his views of women. That doesn’t mean that I want him to still be paying for his blunder when he’s 35, either. He has lost his job and needs to deal with his demons; that’s quite enough to be getting on with, so let’s lay off of the personal attacks. Show a bit of empathy because who knows, you might be in his place tomorrow.