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.