I receive my fair share of nasty messages from anonymous avatars on Twitter. That’s not to brag about the level of incendiary comments I sift through on a regular basis, but to help explain why I despise the phrase “don’t feed the trolls.”
It’s also what drew me to DA Games’ Dab on ’em Haterz.
Trying to explain exactly what it’s like to face gaggles of trolls on a daily basis is still overwhelmingly difficult. Dab on ’em Haterz is a game that comes the closest to encapsulating that feeling. The claustrophobic and frustrating sensations that drown out everything else when you’re wading through a never-ending sea of garbage mentions come out while playing Dab on ’em Haterz.
Here’s the thing: Trolls don’t need to be fed by their anxious targets. Trolls feed off the energy of other trolls. Insinuating that trolls will disappear if we pretend they don’t exist doesn’t mean it will happen. Comment sections were supposed to produce thoughtful conversation; Twitter was designed to remove the conventional barricades blocking conversation between people around the world. We design platforms with a belief in the good of humanity, but often fail to account for its rottenness.
The beauty of Dab on ’em Haterz is the conversation that comes out of having rotten messages so prominent. You take control of a YouTuber who wades through comments left on a video. The comments — which include hateful, homophobic messages amid cheery, positive ones — scroll by quickly, making it increasingly more difficult to know which messages you should give a “like” to and which trolling comments you should “dab” on. Players have a limited amount of time to sift through the comments, and must dab on a certain amount of them in order to progress to the next level.
It’s emotionally taxing. My fingers couldn’t keep up with how quickly I was reading the messages and, even when I dabbed on five or six hateful messages in a row, there were always more coming down the pipe. I wanted to get rid of all the terrible comments that were flashing across my screen, that I was taking in, but I could never get through them all.
Dab on ’em Haterz understands the restless feelings of frustration and panic inherent in reading negative comments. It doesn’t shy away from the inescapable notion that no matter how hard you try, there are always going to be more hurtful messages coming your way. When you create something and put it out for public consumption, people will find a reason to hate you for it. Maybe it’s something you said. Maybe it’s because you wear your hair a certain way. Maybe it’s the color of your skin, your gender or your sexual orientation.
You don’t need to give people a reason to hate you. That’s the message at the heart of Dab on ’em Haterz. You can’t force the internet to like you, and you can’t try to win everyone over. It’s a concept that’s difficult for most creators to overcome. We pour ourselves into our work, and when we release it into the wild, we want to be seen. We want to know our work resonated with someone. When the first reply we receive is “you’re gay, go kill yourself,” it’s hard to grapple with the confusion over what we did to deserve that kind of treatment.
The internet is volatile and fragile. Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey described the service as “a very good mirror for what’s going on in the world,” adding that “at our worst it makes people be a lot more reflexive, and at our best it encourages people to be a lot more reflective.” If Twitter’s CEO understands that people on the internet create cesspools, but isn’t sure how to combat it, how are we supposed to know what to do?
The world is cruel. We can’t expect kindness in a world populated by jerks hiding behind anonymous avatars. Dab on ’em Haterz gets that point across quickly, but doesn’t leave you feeling totally apocalyptic. The game reminded me that there are positive sentiments from well-intentioned people — comments that are often easy to ignore amid a flurry of hateful messages.
I don’t remember most compliments, but I can recall every insult flung my way on Twitter, in comment sections, in Facebook messages and in Instagram DMs. I’m not alone. I’ve spoken to other writers and creators about their experiences with handling derogatory comments, and it’s the same story.
I don’t know why insulting comments stick out in our minds. Maybe it has something to do with a fear of invalidation. Those comments never go away. I wait for them.
Dab on ’em Haterz translates that anxiety into a frustrating, but still enjoyable (and important) game. It’s a game I recommend to anyone who wants to understand what it’s like to create on the internet, and to those who want to explain what they live with. Dab on ’em Haterz understands the internet’s mentality, and doesn’t step back from exploring its unfortunate consequences.
Dab on ’em Haterz is available on Windows PC for $1.99 via Steam.