Ninja is (used to be?) a Twitch Streamer and is a celebrity known mostly for being a video game player. Honestly, I don’t know much about Ninja. People watch him play Fortnite which I guess is a thing now. It’s not my thing but many people seem to enjoy it. What I know about Ninja is that he changes his hair color, is a celebrity I saw on TV at a basketball game once, and he periodically gets in trouble for saying things that are borderline problematic. His latest venture into the culture wars is the Twitter screenshot above that went viral on 2/19/2020. As a gamification advocate I read this and immediately thought of Feedback Loops and my online teacher family. I tweeted out my initial thoughts which were:
After awhile I began to see educators in the gamification community I respect supporting Ninja’s tweet. I was a bit shocked. In turn my reaction to their reaction gave me that little mental itch. Why I was uncomfortable with their support? What was it about Ninja’s tweet that made me so uncomfortable? What did I mean by Toxic Gamer Culture? The more I thought about it the more I realized that there is a lot to unpack in that Ninja Tweet.
This was all rattling around in my head when I got home from work and my boys turned on Star Wars. Then I had an epiphany…
The mentality behind Ninja’s comments are the foundational character trait of Kylo Ren…
Kylo Ren is the villain of the new Star Wars trilogy because he has allowed this belief that anger is the appropriate response to a loss. He believes he has been harmed by everyone else. He is correct in his strategy and its everyone else’s fault that he is not winning. He believes he is “strong” because he is angry. Kylo Ren plays the victim when people call him out on his crap. Kylo Ren is abusive, violent, and undisciplined. I don’t want my students to act like Kylo Ren. I don’t want my sons to act like Kylo Ren. I don’t want to perpetuate this toxic notion that anger is an appropriate reaction to loss.
As a gamified teacher this idea that ANGER is an appropriate response to a loss is not educationally sound. That reaction during a class meeting would damage to the class community and it would shut down any sort of thinking that may have been encouraged by the game itself. Frankly, when one adds in the context of “gamer culture” this notion is outright dangerous.
First let’s tackle why this is terrible in a classroom.
Anger is a Fight or Flight tool; heart rate increase, adrenaline is rushes through the body, tunnel vision forms, and mental processes mostly shut down. One PD session I attended refers to this as entering a “primitive brain”. I don’t know how true that is but anger leads to a loss of mental control. It is the opposite of learning.
When I start use game mechanics in the classroom the goal is to foster creativity and critical thinking. Games mechanics can lead to frustration or disappointment but other mechanics are used to support students to avoid anger or apathy. A great example of this can be found in Breakout Games. These puzzle based games can be difficult so other mechanics are used that foster social collaboration or curiosity. During Breakouts it is important to help students to stay in the appropriate part of the “flow” graph by allowing clues or avoiding harsh penalties for mistakes.
Second, Ninja is really talking about Feedback Loops.
Creating Feedback Loops is one of the keep functions of creating a gamified classroom. One of my guiding inspirations has been Super Marios Bros and I have written about the perfection of Marios’ feedback loops on numerous occasions. I agree that not winning a game can be frustrating but anger is not a solution to a difficult game problem; it only compounds the problem. A feedback loop should be a thoughtful reflection on why one has failed. The player (or student) then needs to create a strategy that takes into account the new data and reattempt the game (or assignment). Anger derails this process. Anger is a sign that the player is thinking: “I, THE PLAYER, WAS CORRECT! MY STRATEGY WAS CORRECT! I WAS NOT WRONG!”. There is no feedback loop (or the feedback loop is severely delayed) because anger doesn’t allow for the reflective period. Maybe not reacting with anger is a “weak mindset” but at least my way is a “growth mindset”
Anger destroys the Classroom Culture
Anger is usually used as an excuse to do bad things. If we don’t condemn angry outbursts we tolerate them. As a gamified teacher if a game starts to lead to students becoming angry then the game has to be removed. The concept of Restorative Practices focuses on building a classroom culture that is based on mutual trust. Anger and actions that come from anger might include taunting, name-calling, threats, put-downs, actual physical violence; all of which will break that circle of trust.
Lastly, Let’s tie this comment into the larger gamer culture.
The Ninja quote is spouting some pretty obvious toxic masculinity “Boys will Be Boys” vibes. Gamer Culture as an identity does not mean people that play games; it is a subculture of those mostly young men that self identify as “gamers”. The “anger is the appropriate response to loss” argument is already dangerous and now an extremely famous and wealthy alpha gamer is feeding this toxic masculinity message into an already predisposed population. This community has already had more than its share of controversies regarding racism, misogyny, and threats of and actual violence. Even worse, there have been ties to white nationalist and incel radicalization efforts.
I know. Not all people that play games will fall into this trap. I don’t think video games cause violent behavior. However, to a certain subgroup this is deadly serious because it does help to activate extremism. Megan Condis wrote a whole book about this very subject which I tried to amplify in a past blog post. It’s not like Ninja doesn’t know his words matter. He has been involved in at least 2 other controversies tied to racism and misogyny.
The GamerGate mindset and its rejection of Diversity and “Feminism” has not suddenly vanished.
This article, Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? by Noah Smith of the Washington Post in February of 2019, shows that the online GamerGate mindset and its rejection of Diversity and “Feminism” has not suddenly vanished. Honestly, this is one reason I won’t let my pre-Tweens play Fortnite.
A classic technique of radicalization propaganda is to saying something radical or bigoted but wrap it in something that sounds reasonable or turn it into some kind of joke. This way when they get called out on the garbage they can play the victim. They can call the person highlighting the extremism a ‘snowflake’ or the ‘PC police’ or shout about free speech. Ninja’s Tweet sounds reasonable – I love thinking about Feedback Loops! – but with a deeper context of the problematic nature specific to “gamer culture” which he is deeply part of I hear a different meaning.