Lady Gaga is one of the most accomplished musicians of all time. Ninja plays video games for millions of people online. If this isn’t the biggest crossover in the history of pop culture, I don’t know what is.
I write about video games for a living and barely know what the heck Fortnite is all about, so it came as no surprise when Lady Gaga—between private flights to concerts in exotic locations, no doubt—asked her Twitter followers for the details on this “fortnight” she’s been hearing so much about yesterday morning. As is often the case, the internet exploded, with IGN, Twitch, and even Smash pro Ezra “Samsora” Morris fighting for the “Bad Romance” singer’s attention. Lady Gaga’s original tweet has since amassed over 204,000 retweets and almost 870,000 likes.
Never one to shy away from the spotlight, streaming superstar Tyler “Ninja” Blevins stepped up to the plate, offering to guide Lady Gaga through the wide world of video games with a couple choice references to her music: “Call me on the Telephone. I’ll give you a Million Reasons to play. You and I.”
In any case, Lady Gaga didn’t seem too impressed. She responded to Ninja directly with a follow-up tweet this afternoon, posing another simple question: “who are you.” No capitalization, no punctuation. Ninja, displaying big “not mad” energy, name-dropped Drake, another famous—but not quite as famous as Gaga, mind—musician who appeared on his stream last year. Since then, both sides have gone quiet, likely because they have more important things to do than stare at a Twitter feed all day like me.
What does this mean? Does it mean anything? I don’t know, man. The world is ending. Find some joy wherever you can.
Kotaku contacted representatives for both Lady Gaga and Ninja but neither responded before publishing.
Yesterday, Lady Gaga, a contender for world’s most famous person, made the dreams of innumerable men come true when she, a woman, asked you, a man, what “fortnight” is.
Now, there’s two different dreams here. There’s the dream of a beautiful, successful woman asking you about your favorite video game, the wildly popular and divorce-causingFortnite, which due to it being all over the news lately due to its implosion and subsequent resurrection, is clearly the subject of Gaga’s tweet. Or there’s the dream of pointing out that she, a woman, spelled it “fortnight,” which (rubs hands together) actually means “a period of two weeks.”
The only one allowed to make this joke is the dang Dictionary, which it did.
It’s easy to imagine the tweet was, like we’re thinking that Adele tweet was a few weeks back, just a bit of trolling. As plenty of fans were quick to bring up, Gaga is a noted fan of Bayonetta. Her gaming bonafides are murky, obviously, but she’s no noob.
This being Gaga, some famous faces popped up, not the least of which being the ultra-famous gamer Ninja.
But to scour the comments of such a post is to expose one’s self to all manner of oddness—be it memes, shitposts, video clips, or delightful comparisons to Cher.
But nothing is funnier than those who replied earnestly to Gaga’s question, explaining to her that, you see, Fortnite is a video game. A very popular one. And, now that you are aware of it, perhaps we can play together. Here is my screen name.
Currently, there are more than 26,000 replies to this tweet.
Alternate InternetThis week, we look at the ways the internet could have been—and could be—different.
Browsing the internet generally feels exhausting for me. Mostly, it’s because everything is bad. The websites I once visited for “fun” are now saturated with reminders of society’s collapse, brands making painful jokes, lies, outrage, and actual Nazis. I only visit these websites out of habit and poor impulse control.
But I’ve recently joined a welcoming community on the internet that doesn’t drain me of my joy and energy. It’s a place where people with similar interests can connect, share interests and experiences, and foster friendships despite distances—the things social media sites always claim they do and always seem to fail miserably at. I’m talking about Bird Twitter.
On its surface, Bird Twitter is just Twitter users who tweet about birds. Many share pictures that they’ve taken, post weird bird facts, or recall sightings of special birds in real life or on TV shows. Some people make jokes about the silliest bird names—have you ever heard of the southern screamer? Ornithologists join in with interesting findings like how band-rumped storm-petrels might be split into several similar-looking species. Writers post odd stories like the one about the gulls that fell into vats of curry.A lot of it is just friends helping friends identify the species of bird that they saw in the field (or commiserating with blown identifications).
But it’s more than that. I’ve made plenty of actual real-life friends just from taking part in Bird Twitter, people I now hang out with every weekend and people who have shown me around their city when I’ve come to visit, like in Portland, Maine this past winter, where a Bird Twitter friend met up with my partner and I to look for razorbills, black guillemots, and harlequin ducks on the Atlantic coast. I’ve been able to follow along with other people’s birding exploits, like when my Bird Twitter friends started sharing the lists of an Australian birder visiting the United States just to look at the gulls.
I’ve found a place to clear my head when I’m stressed by my impending deadlines or when a troll emails me a death threat.It’s what I wish the internet could always be.
Obviously, you should use social media to discuss things you like and follow people with similar interests. But this is harder than it sounds. The corporate infrastructure of the internet has replaced internet communities. Social media encourages us to lump our interests and friends into one place, mixing our hobbies with our professional lives, and has made me feel like I can never really end my workday so long as I’m using the internet. It shows us things the things we enjoy alongside the things that upset us, sometimes on purpose.The content we’re supposed to enjoy is interrupted by a barrage of flashing ads and autoplay videos. Finding community spaces away from the noise takes real work.
I think I’d lost the plot in college. I’ve long been into blogging and made friends with similar interests on forums, Tumblr, music blogs, and the various other places where random people with similar interests (who aren’t gamers) might meet online. I used Facebook to talk to my real-life friends and I used Twitter to make lame jokes. But eventually I got too busy, and Twitter and Facebook subsumed the rest of my online hangouts. I soon relied on both of these websites (and today, mainly Twitter) for all of my online social interactions.
But Twitter and Facebook are suboptimal ways to be social. There’s a reason why most of us don’t plan our friend hangouts in Times Square—we want to be alone with our friends and talk about the things that we like, not yelling over the crowds while trying to dodge the Naked Cowboy.The common spaces of the internet have turned into toxic places where it feels like no one’s listening to you unless you’re hot or very loud, where it can feel like we must forfeit a part of ourselves just to play along.
Bird Twitter has become a carved-out space in that mess where I can toss out the rulesof posting. Here’s a bird I like, and I’m posting it because I’m excited about it—three people reply asking about where I saw the bird and how they can see it. Someone has asked the best place to see birds in your city, you just offer to take them birdwatching. Someone in the community is raising money for something, and people pitch in. It feels good.
Joining Bird Twitter wasn’t hard—I just followed a lot of bird tweeters, put them in a Twitter list, and then started tweeting about birds, creating what felt like my own comfortable corner of the larger, louder internet. If I was a little more proactive, I could have made a second twitter just for posting bird things. The system is obviously not perfect, but to Twitter’s credit, the mysterious algorithm ensures that bird tweets find the right audience (me), and if not, you can always just tweet to “#birdtwitter.”
Again, it’s not perfect—it’s still a community of people who might disagree or fight, and it’s still on Twitter. But it also has shown me that there are still positive pockets of community to be found on social media. I hope you find your own analog of Bird Twitter. If you haven’t found such a community, just know that they exist, that you can create them.
Twitter is a place where adults yell at each other for no reason and pretend that the world isn’t ending. It’s also a place for fun games and bots. A Twitter account called Endless Jeopardy is providing computer generated trivia questions every 15 minutes, for a game that will never end. (Well, at least until Twitter is finally, finally shut down.)
Endless Jeopardy is the creation of musician and occasional game maker Neil Cicierega. It algorithmically creates a trivia question for which players must then generate answers. The questions are absolute nonsense, of course, and the goal is mostly to come up with the funniest reply. Whoever’s answer gets the most likes wins some fake funbucks, which are accrued over the course of the game. There’s also prizes for the second and third most popular answers. I play, but sparingly, since I have found that being verified on Twitter and having a decent amount of followers gives me something of an advantage.
Endless Jeopardy isn’t new by any means. The game started last February. It has, however, become a silly staple of my day to read other people’s jokes and a welcome excuse to occasionally come up with dumb puns and flights of fancy. If you’re in need of pick-me-up or just want to flex your bullshitting muscle, Endless Jeopardy will provide plenty of opportunity and hopefully a few laughs as well.
Video game music rules. Sometimes, it is legitimately great. Since the start of 2019, Twitter account 140 Seconds VGM has been breaking down game tunes into bite-sized chunks. Sometimes the songs are classics, sometimes they’re random oddities. But every new post brings a bright blast of music.
140 Seconds VGM posts a handful of times a day, with samples slightly over two minutes. It’s a good way to get a taste for well-known composers as well as find some of the stranger, lesser-known pieces of music. For instance, you might go from the JRPG boldness of Octopath Traveler’s Yasunori Nishiki to the operatic and inimitable work of Nier composer Keiichi Okabe:
Other times, it’s something a little more random and funky. For instance, you might stumble upon the pop music from the clumsy-to-play but still pretty charming Sega Saturn racing game Sonic R. 140 Seconds VGM has something for everyone.
Now, one might say “Heather, you bojo! This has been running nearly a year! Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” or even “Psh, I knew about this before it was cool.” But 140 Seconds VGM has just recently stumbled into my life, and I want to share the joy. Start your morning right with a little bit of music.
In 2014, webcomic XKCD introduced readers to the joy of Wikipedia article titles that can be sung to the tune of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. Now there’s a Twitter bot spitting out fresh examples on a regular basis, turning even the most horrible eight-syllable tragedies into delightful singalongs.
The “Wiki Titles Singable To The TMNT Theme Song” Twitter account is not one to scroll through in one go. The bot account scours Wikipedia for article titles matching the syllable count and stress pattern of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” portion of the classic cartoon theme, runs the title through Glen Chiacchieri’s TMNT logo generator (also inspired by the XKCD comic) and spits out fresh results on the hour.
It’s the sort of account one follows and then forgets, until it spits out a fresh singable tidbit into their feed. Here’s one of the latest.
The bot, created by Twitter user _eel_, has gained more than 26 thousand followers since it started on June 12, so others seem to think it’s nice as well. Sing along with some of my favorites.
Mmm. Brightens the day every time. That’s good Twitter.
You can pet the dog in Enter The Gungeon, but it was not always this way. Until recently, nobody could pet the dog, and times were dark indeed. Then a humble Twitter account stepped in and saved the day, at what turned out to be the very last minute.
Upon being alerted to this, Enter The Gungeon designer Dave Crooks realized the error of his ways. “Hold my beer,” he said on Twitter at the time. Then, last week, Enter The Gungeon’s final update, A Farewell To Arms, came out, and the dog was finally freed from its nightmare mime bubble of un-touchability. Behind the scenes, though, it took a lot of careful work to implement the dog-petting, since the feature was added just as development was coming to a close.
“The team saw the tweet, the retweets, and the numerous posts on our subreddit,” Crooks told Kotaku in an email. “Initially we just laughed about it, but the next day, one of the programmers, David Rubel, threw out the idea: ‘We’re already doing this update anyway… I bet I can make it work if we get the animations.’ Given that we were so smashed for time to get A Farewell to Arms out, I was surprised anyone was suggesting last minute additions.”
Anything involving player movement, Crooks explained, was “risky,” and the QA testing process for the rest of the update was already complete. “It was described to me as the most cautious piece of code Rubel had ever written,” said Crooks.
But once it was in, it became clear that it was “a great idea,” and the team even put it in the trailer for A Farewell To Arms. Crooks, Rubel, and the team actually decided to put the feature in before Crooks sent the now-infamous “Hold my beer” tweet, but still say it wouldn’t have happened if not for the efforts of the Twitter account.
“To directly answer the question many people have asked, yes, we added the feature as a direct response to being called out by the @CanYouPetTheDog Twitter account,” Crooks said. “It was a label we couldn’t live with.”
@CanYouPetTheDog has, in turn, deleted its original tweet and replaced it with a new one. “Following an update,” it reads, “you can now pet the dog in Enter the Gungeon.”
Whether out on the sidewalk, at a party in somebody’s house, or fleeing from a pack of wild dogs, what’s your first instinct—as a rational, sound-minded human being—upon meeting a dog? That’s right: you want to pet it. Video games are meant to let us fulfill our wildest fantasies, and yet, many of them won’t grant us that simple wish. One hero has taken to chronicling every game that lets you pet dogs—and those that don’t.
The “Can You Pet The Dog?” Twitter account describes itself as “a catalog of pettable and non-pettable dogs in video games.” Each entry gets straight to the point, saying whether or not you can pet a dog in a particular game and providing visual evidence. Despite its relative simplicity, it’s resonated with people. After being created earlier this month, the account already has nearly 60,000 followers. This outburst of interest is understandable, because while some video games now have hyper-detailed animations for things like shaving and pushing aside tree branches, some can’t be bothered to let us pet our scruffy canine friends! If, in real life, it came down to a choice between being able to pet dogs and being able to shave and avoid trees, I’d let my beard grow until my face was a forest whose trees I couldn’t stop running into—no question. Clearly, many people, like me, feel that video games need to get their priorities in order.
The creator of “Can You Pet The Dog?”—who prefers to remain anonymous—is one such person. For them, the breaking point was a recent game: The Division 2.
“I started this account after playing The Division 2 beta and Far Cry: New Dawn in quick succession,” they told Kotaku in a Twitter DM. “The latter has a satisfying dog-petting feature, whereas the former does not. The Division 2 is made worse in this respect because from what I can tell, you can only interact with the dogs in the game by means of violence… Even for a game set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, that is a needlessly bleak and cruel way to design a neutral creature for your world.”
Last year, I wrote about the subject of petting animals in games and said that the ability to do so doesn’t just make a game world more realistic; it adds an extra dimension to both the character doing the petting and the pet. It creates a physical bond of support and trust between them, something that’s rare in a medium where most direct, player-triggered interactions between characters involve violence. And yet, the creator of “Can You Pet The Dog?” has noticed an unfortunate trend toward violence against dogs even in some of their favorite games. They cited Spelunky as an example.
“You can pick up, whip, throw, and even sacrifice the dog to a dark god, but you cannot pet this dog,” they said. “I forgive this game only because you can also rescue the dogs and get dog kisses upon exiting the level.”
Whether or not you can pet dogs might seem like a simple binary, but there are more shades of gray in this shiny, alluringly pettable coat than you’d think. In the case of Fallout 4, for example, some people reacted to a “Can You Pet The Dog” tweet by pointing out that your character does, in fact, pet the dog in a scripted scene shortly after you meet him. Additionally, mods exist that let you pet the dog whenever you want. By the Twitter account’s criteria, however, Fallout 4 didn’t pass the test. When I asked about this, the account’s creator walked me through the finer points of the complex mental task that is discerning whether or not you can indeed pet the dog.
“Each word within the phrase ‘Can you pet the dog?’ can be interpreted in numerous ways,” they said. “Does it count as ‘you’ if a dog is pet during a cutscene? Does a ‘dog’ count as a dog when it is a four-legged alien from a distant planet? I have come to accept there is not an objective ruleset for the account, but rather a loose guideline. Defining a pettable dog is a bit like defining obscenity in that way; I will know it when I see it.”
Surprisingly, the creator of “Can You Pet The Dog?” does not have a dog of their own. They grew up in a household with dogs and are interested in adopting some, but said it’s “not a good time in my life to do so.”
“My current real-life dog situation might be a contributing factor as to my strong feelings about virtual dogs,” they said.
When asked about their favorite pettable video game dog, they gave the only possible correct answer, irrevocably proving they’re the right person to be running this account.
“I have ruminated on this question for a long time,” they said. “I have come to the conclusion that the best pettable dog is all of them. They are all good dogs.”
Ah, promotional Twitters, a regular source of both great joy and great consternation to fandom everywhere. Sometimes they bring trailers, exclusive clips, interviews, all the joys the excited fan demands. Sometimes, they bring a bounty like today’s: tweets that don’t make any sense.
Hello, Star Wars UK Twitter account, long-time listener, first-time blogger, I have some questions about this tweet:
And I’m not the only one. I came across this particular post via some publications and fans wondering if this meant some announcement was on the way: a trailer? A title reveal for Episode IX? Something else? It’s certainly not unlike a Twitter account like this to post an enigmatic tease.
But, golly, for a tease this sure is an odd one. Why does it repeat this same clip seven (yes, I counted) times? It’s possible this is just a reference that somehow got wonky on its way to the wide world of the internet. Or maybe it is a tease? I have no idea.
What I do know, however, is that this is where the fun begins.
Dylan Marron likes to talk to his enemies, until they’re not quite enemies. On his podcast Conversations With People Who Hate Me, Dylan gets on the phone with people who have sent him hate mail, left angry comments, or tweeted nasty things about him. He also moderates conversations between others who have insulted each other online, like Yo! Is This Racist host Andrew Ti and an embarrassed caller, or Amanda Palmer and a Twitter critic. Dylan’s charm and thoughtfulness make the conversations surprisingly pleasant, and he and his guests inevitably find some common ground—without anyone sacrificing their dignity or excusing shitty behavior. Dylan gave Lifehacker some advice on how to cope with hate and criticism on the internet—and what separates useful criticism, incivility, and abuse.
Empathize without endorsing
The tagline of Conversations is “Remember there’s a human on the other side of the screen.” (Dylan doesn’t like to call people “trolls.”) That’s a good lesson for shit-talkers, but it’s also useful to those getting shit-talked. As Dylan explains in his TED talk, you can develop empathy for the person who said something nasty about you, without justifying what they said. If you think of them as a specific person and not the grand disembodied voice of the world, you take away some of their power over you.
“Empathy is just the acknowledgement that someone is human,” Dylan says. “But it can feel really weird to empathize with someone who you really disagree with or who very much disagrees with a very core part of you and who you are. We are scared to empathize with people because we’re scared that empathizing with them props up their point.” But he’s talked to people with wildly different political beliefs or approaches to life, and it hasn’t changed his beliefs or made him less vocal in fighting for what’s right. It’s actually made it easier for him to hold onto his beliefs and his work, because the criticism doesn’t feel so scary.
You can empathize without engaging—and most of the time, you should. Dylan originally started the show after digging into the online profiles of people who insulted him and his political videos. “I would click on the profile of the person who sent it to me, and I would humanize them.” You can quietly research, or you can merely imagine this person’s personal life.
Do not—and trust me, I’ve made this mistake—do not use your research to attack the other person online. They might deserve it! But if you escalate online, they’re likely to dig in escalate too, and their momentary shittiness will turn into an extended fight.
Take it offline
If you do have a reason to respond to someone—like if you know them personally—get on the phone or face-to-face. At some level, humans are hard-wired to get along with the people around us, or at least to try. But talking on the internet, even texting with someone you know, can put enough distance between us to ignore that hard-wiring. If you had the option of starting this conversation offline in the first place, that’s where you should take it. It sucks that you might have to jumpstart someone’s empathy to make them stop yelling at you, but it’s an effective method. “We more casually co-exist in physical spaces than we do in digital ones,” Dylan says.
Realize your haters aren’t thinking straight
A specific, helpful way to make the other person less scary is to realize that they probably don’t even mean to sound like such an asshole. This doesn’t excuse what they said, it just makes it feel less true about you.
“The internet enables us to use pretty intense language, sometimes to convey non-intense feelings at all,” Dylan says. “We’re prone to exaggeration, even when there isn’t a negative bent to it. The structure of a comment section has us jockeying for likes and upvotes.” The same goes for most social media. People are shouting to be heard, and they can forget that the person they’re talking about might read their message. A lot of people on Conversations have literally written that they “hate” something or someone, and a lot of those people walk it back as soon as they hear their words out loud.
Dylan’s first guest, Chris, left a nasty comment on one of Dylan’s videos calling Dylan a piece of shit. On the phone, Chris said that Dylan had “caught him at a bad time.” As Dylan kindly pointed out (and Chris immediately accepted), Chris was the one who chose to engage; Dylan hadn’t “caught him” at all.
So when you read someone saying something horrible about you, you can mentally ratchet it down a few notches. You, like Dylan, can recognize that the person insulting you online might be having “a bad time,” without excusing them. Hell, you don’t even have to forgive them. This is about mitigating the damage they can do to you.
Don’t engage with abuse
Engaging with criticism does not mean engaging with abuse. “I’ve also gotten death threats, and I’m not speaking to those people,” Dylan says. “I’m speaking to people who I feel safe talking to.” He doesn’t invite people on who threaten him or use bigoted language to attack fundamental things about him.
Whatever level you deal with criticism or mid-level hate, do not feel obligated to give any such consideration to abuse. And recognize that your personal limitations aren’t the same as someone else’s. While Dylan is willing to get on the phone with someone who called him a “piece of shit,” he doesn’t expect anyone else to: “We [each] have to figure out what we want to engage with.”
Don’t write off all criticism
A subtler effect of undeserved hate is that it erodes our ability to deal with deserved criticism. And most of us eventually get some unsolicited criticism that could actually help us.
Think about all the times you’ve agreed with a negative tweet or comment, and wished the subject would pay attention and stop, say, being such an asshole. What if … you’re the asshole? Sometimes—without saying it—that’s what Dylan is kindly pointing out to his guests. And it’s not a quick fix. “I don’t know of any human who hears criticism for the first time and it immediately changes everything about them. I don’t do that! When my friends say something I’ve done hurts them, I’m not like ‘I’m done! I’m changed!’ Take your time to sit with criticism. You don’t have to respond immediately.”
Look at hate directed toward wonderful people
As an online writer and video maker, I get a lot of hate mail. And hate tweets, and hate comments. Listening to Conversations helps me remember that this happens to anyone who does something interesting in public. If you want to feel better about your hate mail, look for the hate mail directed at something wildly popular and respected. I like to look up my favorite literary classics on Amazon and Goodreads, and read the one-star reviews.
Now, this can be a bit depressing, in that you’ll see just how terrible some people’s taste can be. You will see a lot of people writing bad and stupid things about great people and great works of art. But think about how well those people and their work did anyway. It doesn’t mean that these people were never hurt by criticism. It means that they did not give into it. It also means that no matter how great you are, there’s always someone ready to hate you—or think, momentarily, that they hate you.
Put your haters to use
This part is weird for me—I’m not one of those people who keeps a scrapbook of my hate mail. I’ve been to a live reading of other people’s hate mail and found it petty. And I didn’t listen to Conversations until very recently. But I do screencap and tweet the occasional angry email, and it does make me feel better. So you could turn people’s hate into a big project, a small one, or just something you text to your friends to have a laugh.
And remember to cherish the positive feedback. Print out a stranger’s praise or a nice email from someone you respect. Spend some time with people who like you. Let the haters fade into the background.