This is an article about Twitter and there’s no videogame content here. Feel free to sit this one out.

I have over 2,100 followers on Twitter. And I’ve been thinking of leaving them.

Some of you might know the story of how I fell into Twitter’s sweet-smelling embrace. It was the fault of that bastard game Neptune’s Pride, as I explained in The Aspiration:

“Getting a feel for the larger psychological and political picture seemed important. So I did something I had sworn never to do – sign up on Twitter, just to be able to hook into other players’ feeds. Conversations in-game and out-game revealed everyone was nervous and paranoid.

I think that describes the average Twitter experience today.

Just in case you didn’t read between the lines here, I signed up on Twitter for healthy reasons: to spy on people. But after the game concluded, I remained on Twitter and gradually found my groove, having random drive-by conversations with videogame blogging peers and the occasional developer.

Honestly, the memories taste different: vintage Twitter, bottled in 2010. An era before the quote tweet. An era where you could walk outside with your pants down because you forgot to prefix a message with ‘d’. An era when people believed in the word “indie”. Oh gosh, I apologise for some of these cynical asides. You don’t deserve them.

Vintage Twitter. I remember having discussions with folk like Doug Wilson before he was Dr. Doug of Australia, when he belonged to the Copenhagen Game Collective and known to me as a developer on B.U.T.T.O.N. rather than Johann Sebastian Joust. Twitter is probably how I got to know a lot of people “in the industry”. Friendly banter. Exchanging ideas. Occasionally things got a little heated, but not seriously – your steak was only ever medium done. Regardless of intentions this culture would not last.

Have you heard of the phrase “Eternal September”? You can read about its origins on the wikipedia page but it is a cautionary tale of how a small homogeneous group discover the rest of humanity is not a small homogeneous group. Twitter felt like a village of like-minded people in the beginning all willing to just get along but there was a whole world out there. It couldn’t possibly stay agreeable as more users signed up.

Around 2012, Twitter seemed to change irrevocably and it became a place of drama, trauma and popcorn. I hated it and all the things that were happening on Twitter often made me want to stop writing Electron Dance altogether:

I like to call it dotfucking. It’s when you draw attention to a Twitter opponent with a dot in front of your reply. Most of your followers won’t see you locked horns with a Twitter stranger until you insert that fateful dot where it suddenly becomes a numbers game. My followers versus yours. The dotfuck combo instructs your entourage to click the conversation and discover what’s going on. Some of them will get involved, maybe retweet the fight and spread the word.

The orgy of dotfucking evolved into the orgy of the quote-tweet, the screenshot-tweet. They may tell you that quote tweets destroyed civility, but we did our best to destroy ourselves with every tool we could lay our hands on. Mastodon is only a magical place because of its lower numbers; Eternal September lurks in the background looking shifty. You can’t bake a social media cake without people. And people only need a couple of dry dicks to make fire.

Initially, I didn’t care for Twitter as a publicity platform because getting linked from Rock Paper Shotgun or Critical Distance was food enough for the hungry blog. But eventually the tweet teat satisfied the masses more than RSS feeds ever did. Twitter was a people’s algorithm, each brain blinking retweets and favs into the night. Linked traffic began to decline and I noticed more and more people accepting that RSS and link roundups were an antiquated technology from the dog and bone age.

I had to put proper brain muscle into tweeting if I wanted to be seen. In the latter half of the last decade, social media was how people found and consumed new writing. And with threads you no longer even had to read articles at all. 20 ways to leave your lover in 20 tweets. No point clickin’ on. (13/30)

Realising that spending time with Twitter was like spending time with your most negative buddy who constantly brings you down, I decided at some point to minimise tweets with a negative payload. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but I didn’t want to contribute to the anger mismanagement, constantly refilling that intravenous drip of despair.

Social media often conditions its users into a version of permanent scepticism, so you can never, ever, be called out – and it destroys joy. Every happy freeze frame moment punctured with But that’s what they want me to think. Never accepting the simple and straightforward is how we ended up with conspiracy theorists tearing up the mainstream. Perhaps it’s Adam Curtis nihilism: believe in nothing because nothing can be believed. But imagine you’re actually writing: “Cute cat pictures, dude, but I wonder how many of those cats are dead now?” Share the cat picture but cut the cynical crap.

Building followers was an intensely slow process with the infrequent surprise gains whenever I created a thing some people loved. Like a YouTube film about The Witness or a story about Hoplite. As followers increased, clicks to Electron Dance rose. If I tweeted something, it would attract a random fav. There was an almost a proportional relationship between followers and clicks.

And then, one day, the machine stopped working. People stopped liking and clicking. Electron Dance traffic stuttered and fell.

There were days when I soul-searched, wondering if I had said something wrong. You walk out onto the stage, ready for your next performance but the audience hasn’t turned up. Instead of suspecting a marketing or sales problem, you let your imposter syndrome take the wheel and drive you to a dead end destination. You are the problem.

You’re not interesting enough on social media, your tweets were very dull. Or you’ve said one too many stupid things. Whatever. You’ve jumped the shark, man. Recently I discovered someone blocked me and that recycled all this old, pointless self-flagellation. Fuck off home and make space for people who make snappy viral tweet threads. This was partly the reason why I started writing long threads about gameplay experience, inspired by following similar threads by Justin Keverne (@GTElephant). Just to be seen. It had an effect; not significant, but enough to make me feel jacked into the Matrix.

In time, I let go of this inverted hubris and realised Twitter had switched everyone over to an algorithm-driven feed. Many of my Twitter followers had little idea I was still tweeting. Sure, some might still be using a third-party app – despite Twitter sabotaging the API to make them less useful – or something like Tweetdeck. Perhaps they were even smart enough to switch off the algo view. But they were not the majority.

And, with the algo view serving up Top Trends in Today’s Hate to increase what really should not have been called “engagement”, Twitter became a vector of the rage virus. But if the platform can’t quit rage and despair, then maybe you should just quit the platform? And this is a thing that actually happened. The Twitterverse lost a lot of good people; people that I miss. It made me feel like one of the left behind during a digital Rapture. Maybe their handle still existed but they were not really there anymore, their avatar a translucent ghost haunting the platform. Cute follower count, dude, but how many of them are dead?

Late Electron Dance Twitter feels like “fifty close followers” and 2,000 who are silent as it is normally the same people engaging with my tweets most of the time. And keeping a notebook of potential tweet ideas only to commit them to Twitter with grotesque typos feels like not just a job but a waste of my time on Earth.

Okay, here we are, the bit you’re waiting for. The Time: Present day. The Place: Melon Husk Twitter.

Initially, I was only mildly anxious that everyone might Rapture out but what really got me in the heart like a defibrillator was discovering what the Elon Musk Philosophy meant for company management. The EMP might just wipe out the platform from the technology up.  I spent one stressed weekend worrying about what to do – 2,100 followers! Over a decade of building that number cautiously from zero! And just like losing a game of Neptune’s Pride, it was death in slow motion. That weekend, instead of attending to video editing and writing, I became obsessed with this doomsday scenario. I dabbled with Cohost and lit up my Mastodon account again.

Over that weekend, I came to the conclusion that maybe leaving Twitter isn’t so bad. Maybe I should just focus on making stuff instead of selling artificial presence. Sure, I have 2,100 followers but how many of them actually see me? Anyway, didn’t I want to be a writer when I grew up not Professional Tweet Guy?

Mastodon feels a little like vintage Twitter. I have around 350 Mastodon followers but many of them are flight reservations; people who are not Rapturing yet, but ready to flee at a moment’s notice. Still, vintage Twitter won’t last and to some extent it’s already run out of time. Welcome to the new discourse on “how to use content warnings” or learning you will slowly go blind on mastodon.social.

I should explain that last one. Mastodon servers can unanimously block not just people but whole servers if it’s perceived to be in the national interest. Recently there’s been chatter about how the biggest instance, mastodon.social, is going to be defederated by other Mastodon servers as it is home to a number of bad actors. So if you live there, other nodes on the Mastodon network will flicker out like the stars at the end of the time… but only for you. By the way, you can find me on @ElectronDance@mastodon.social.

Despite my new, modest existence on Mastodon, I’m not convinced I want to keep playing the social media game. I remain on Twitter but switched down to a low-power mode. The top quality viral content has migrated to Mastodon. So, sure, I’ll tell you if I stream or post, but I don’t know if I should spend my time crafting tweets to fuel Melon’s Platform especially as I don’t feel like the platform fuelled moi for many years.

Too long? Didn’t read? I’m not sure I should summarise, because I just argued I shouldn’t waste my time crafting short messages. But if you’re worried that you don’t know where to find me in future, don’t be. You’re right where you need to be.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

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24 thoughts on “2,100 Reasons to Stay Goodbye

  1. I’m in a similar boat. I’m in low-power mode on Twitter, but I have little to no desire to hop onto one of these new services. If it gets too bad that I need to leave, I might just step back from social media altogether, but damn, for all its faults I do enjoy the connections Twitter offered.

  2. I signed out of my twitter for good, and I’m one of those followers. It’s mutual: it was hard to leave twitter and “miss out” on updates from bloggers and devs, and said bloggers and devs feel torn leaving Twitter because that’s where people are listening. But even cycles like that can end, and this is how.

    I’m really glad RSS still works.

  3. @Dave In recent weeks, I’ve been actively controlling the urge to like and respond to tweets I would usually like and respond to. At times this low-power mode feels like a struggle with my impulses 🙂 I don’t want to give the impression that this is business as usual and that we’re all tweeting as we did.

    Still, I cannot figure out in the last five years whether Twitter was a net gain when it comes to quality of life. I remember the good times and some of the connections I’ve made, some of the connections I’ve ported over to Mastodon. But there are also the bad times, having to doomscroll through 500 hot takes on Jason Rohrer’s latest libertarian spasm, and the hellish hours I’ve spent writing tweets. (The irony is I’m spending a lot of time writing tweets right now due to my involvement in Thinky Games. )

    I definitely feel like it’s also injured my attention span; I used to read articles for information now I seem to be incapable of finding the time and motivation to do so.

    @Stephen Did you leave Twitter in recent weeks or years? I can’t remember what kicked it off specifically but a lot of people abandoned their Twitter around five years ago-ish??? (Metanet’s Raigan Burns, for example, was very active on Twitter and then took a break which I think was more like a “trial separation” that resulted in something like a social media divorce.)

    I’ve still been paying for Feedly Pro every year since Google Reader ended. I just need to coax myself back into using it.

  4. Honestly, I have no idea how the Elon Shift is going to shake out. My biggest problem is that there’s no consensus on where the game devs and players should go when Twitter finally lets out its last Libertarian breath. I’ve heard a lot about Mastodon but 40% of it is that it’s complicated and people are therefore reluctant. Hive has been bandied around but it has no desktop app, and I’m not going to shuffle screenshots back and forth onto my phone for six likes a pop.

    For now we’re still planning to tweet screenshots and stuff (and mirror the content to insta and fb, maybe some reddits), but tbh the main reason is it’s fairly low effort and might catch someone’s attention. I don’t think I need to resist the urge to tweet in order to show Elon that twitter is dying: he’s killing it perfectly well all by himself.

  5. Love the language you use to describe these things. Rapture, flight reservations, what really should not have been called “engagement”, Melon.

    Personally I do most of my online chatting and socialization on various Discords, which I enjoy. Not looking forward to the end times for Discord, whenever that comes.

  6. i ‘moved’ to mastodon—and tried to be more active there, but it was complicated. my mastodon presence feels like a topic-specific facet, not like a place for me to be just me (like, twitter isnt great for that for many reasons, but with a locked account it kinda works).

    so ive still got one foot on each boat… a precarious position in the best of times; but when the one boat looks like it should be flying the J flag, and the other is a small raft of uncertain construction, rather moreso.

    maybe i should close all my accounts and only exist online in electrondance comments…

  7. Moved away from Twitter ~5 years ago. Social habits took a small hit, but in the end it’s been a way better experience imho. Receiving a newsletter + essay links by mail is more than enough for me.

  8. @James I don’t know if I want to go anywhere. Mastodon is complicated – once you get the hang of it, some aspects are quite cool. It’s difficult to give up searchability of posts but that’s probably a strength, to make everything ephemeral. But I’m still not posting because “Joel Loves To Post” but because Electron Dance is here.

    Cohost was basically “Co-Blog”, a bit like signing up for what-if-medium-was-a-social-media-platform so that quickly dropped out of the running. I never heard very much about Hive or Koo aside from Hive seeming to be not ready for primetime and just another blackbox.

    I suppose there are some tools which allow you to post to multiple platforms but I sort of hate them. Mastodon is not really supported by these tools yet, although I think Buffer has been promising this for 90 years. And I have weird reactions to seeing crossposts that don’t fit the medium into which they are injected; I have a uncomfortable reactions to seeing “RT” in Mastodon as if someone is injecting TWITTERNESS BITTERNESS into my Mastodon world.

    On not tweeting much: it’s just I can’t be part of that world any more. Every time there’s an Elon Shock, people leave the platform for a few days but then come back and sometimes it seems like Business As Usual. I’m not gonna be that Everything Is Fine.GIF guy.

    @Patrick Thank you! I’m not really much of a Discord-ian because I find it overwhelming, like some people find Mastodon. I can never figure out what I’m engaging with. And, hell, I don’t want another platform to watch over 🙂

    @vfig I noticed your Mastodon presence seemed thinner recently. It’s interesting how these platforms serve certain needs and can’t serve others. I feel that Mastodon is not that great for marketing but that might change if there’s a giant stampede. But do The People want a great platform for marketing…?

    Maybe it’s time for me to reopen the old Electron Dance Appendix.

    And what is the J flag?

  9. This whole Twitter shitshow kind of makes me thankful I was never on it during your nostalgia period. It’s been terrible ever since I’ve been on it, so I won’t shed any tears if it crashes and burns. I’ve had the same experience too in terms of engagement – nearly a thousand followers now but only a couple of dozen who consistently engage.

  10. @Kat I had this expectation that as your follower count N grew, so would the number of retweets R. I have this theory that something else happened which is not important to the above story, but I believe Twitter users started being more cautious about retweeting everything, because your retweets represent you – and if you keep retweeting “junk” then you’re going to get unfollowed.

    Every time someone followed me back in the early years, I would constantly check whether they had a lot of followers. Was this the beginning? Was this the beginning of every tweet going viral?!?

    This was not healthy.

  11. Same for me, but with Youtube subs! Haha. My resolution for next year is to take several more big steps back from all of that anxiety and desperation. It started to do my head in this year in a bad way.

  12. It’s been interesting to read about this, as someone who never had a twitter account. Is the problem people or the platform? Seems like a bit of both. Driving engagement through outrage just seems like a comically futile endeavour, like the internet as invented by Catbert, but if we imagine social media sans twitter it doesn’t seem like the problem melts away.

    We’re sensitive to negativity, internal or external, and the presence of even a single person with whom we have an issue can poison an otherwise positive space. Reluctance to leave seems to come from a whole lot of sources, from genuine disappointment at the loss of something valuable, to vaguer FOMO-y things and even sheer spite (if I go the bastards will have it all to themselves). I guess this was all as true for meatspace social groups as online ones. Hedgehog theory intensifies, etc.

    In conclusion, I like ED. Both the articles and their comment sections.

  13. I’ve kept my RSS subscriptions up since a long time on inoreader, I think it helped that I never used the google one that kicked the bucket, I used to use a program on my laptop where I had to click a button for the updates to come in (imagine that).

    I’m still on twitter, but I feel the moment coming to ditch it as well. Mastodon never made sense to me, cohost feels like a ghosttown as well, no way am I going back to Tumblr, Hive blew itself up. Do I even want a platform like this anymore?

    I just haven’t built myself a space on the internet otherwise (instagram maybe). So, I’m wondering does it matter. What if people just don’t hear from me without directly reaching out to me in person, physically, by phone number or email.

  14. I found Twitter exhausting long before it became a musk ox, and always admired your ability to roll with the tech trends and make the most of them. But it seems–and your post reinforces this in my mind–that a Twitter presence is increasingly a full-time part of the operation, and a fraught one at that: the stress of constantly second-guessing every tweet is more than anyone should endure.

    Like Oriane says above, an email newsletter and the odd link compilation at a site I visit regularly is enough for me. This will certainly lead to an ecosystem of smaller sites with far less exposure; but like Twitter itself, the constant strain of trying to gain exposure is ultimately self-annihilating. You make it or you don’t. In my book, it’s much better for the soul (and the quality of the work) to do “it” for one’s own fulfillment and enjoyment, and if you’re able to reach a few like-minded folks out there, all the better. This kind of thing should only become a job when it’s actually a job. If it’s turned into work by proxy it just becomes something you resent, something that subtracts from your own life and wellbeing rather than adding to it as it was intended to do, and there’s no justification for that.

    You do you, my friend. Whether its Mastodon or Twitter or something (or nothing) else entirely, once it starts causing too much stress it stops being a net addition to your life.

  15. I’m still on Shitter, but I’m largely silent. No change from the last five years there, really. I’m sticking around mostly to watch Rome burn.

    Most of my online social effort these days goes into Discord micro-servers, just me and a few close friend groups. I’m on two Mastodon servers, including mastodon.social – the other is a Warhammer server. I’m not sure I’m interested in an experience like but unlike twitter, but the niche interested-oriented servers, like the Warhammer one, do seem maybe interesting. Are the massive social media platforms going to fracture and users move to smaller community spaces? Am I just old? Eh.

  16. Once I’ve let about 17 comments run away from me, I usually have no idea how to respond. APART FROM RANDOMLY

    @vfig Thank you for the clarification!

    @CA I feel that what Twitter did was clear away a lot of the noise and allowed us to sit down and really laser focus on the rage. Angry on the Internet goes all the way back to Usenet but I think Twitter was the tech nerd’s successful distillation of it. A flame war could now immolate the whole planet. Still, thanks for your kind comments on ED; always nice to see a lot of people below the line here.

    @John I think for some people losing Twitter is a bit like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If they’re not on Twitter and being observed, do they really exist? (Yes.)

    @Steerpike Running a Twitter account is similar, in some ways, to running a comment section. There’s a feeling that you have to “craft short messages”. But in actuality it is quite different. Down here I only jump into action if someone engages. With Twitter, you’re trying to will people into engaging.

    @Shaun It’s nice that you’re still around, even if in a silent meditative state. A lot of people from ye olde days are gone. For example, BeamSplashX (Sid Menon) still chats on Twitter from time to time but he doesn’t comment here any more; Eric Brasure-now-Murphy has given up games and abandoned social media. (We were actually supposed to meet up in April but I was ill and we weren’t sure it was Covid or not.)

    I was talking to droqen about this issue over email, about the desire to be POPULAR and working for traffic. But I think it’s genuinely worthwhile being a “pub landlord” here, because all that traffic chasing is only worth it if you’re trying to make a career out of this. I am certainly not trying to do that. I am happy to maintain “a small community space.”

  17. I locked and logged out and now… it looks like Twitter is banning a bunch of journalists. I sort of need something to look at on the internet but Twitter may have been a little too well suited to it. I never warmed to RSS because I liked the active thing of checking all my sites.

    I made at least one RL friend through the site (philosophy-related) and also the rage-related reason I joined was righteous, I feel, but I would rather that the people I like all went and hung out somewhere else without the jerks. Like here! Mastodon kinda works like that now because it’s not too popular but I don’t know if it’ll keep like that.

    Unfortunately there may be a need for something kinda popular but not terrible and that’s hard to achieve–I saw someone associated with small online science fiction magazines say that if Twitter went down it would be very hard on them.

  18. @Matt Every day brings fresh new… excitement. You’re actually a late Twitter user as well, as far as I remember? You only joined a few years ago?

    I remember hearing about the SF mag implications through this YouTube video “Is Twitter dead?” from Qualia Redux.

  19. Yeah, I lurked very heavily for a long time but I only joined in January 2021 because I felt like I had to make a public show of support to more junior philosophers who were speaking up about [issue] in philosophy, and posting about it on my blog that literally nobody reads didn’t count.

  20. Joel – it’s nice sticking around! There are only a few blogs I regularly follow these days, and ED is one of them.

    On a related note, Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter is an entertaining way to stay somewhat appraised of the absurd social media landscape of 2022. You may want to give the free edition a look. This recommendation came to me via our mutual, badgercommander.

  21. I just want to say that I liked the pre-social media era of the internet better. Forums and small blogs that’s the way to go!

    Maybe that’s why I dislike Medium so much, it’s a social media platform pretending to be a blogging platform?

  22. @Maurycy I never liked the concept of Medium because it felt like a harvester of writing. We are the one true blog and you will be our product. It didn’t really quite work out, though. Social media “destroyed” blogs so Medium was destined to never take off.

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