Hazard Pay

Apparently I’ve grossed some people out with out-of-context tweets about the more unpalatable aspects of my day job. The hazards of 140 characters and never being sure if someone is coming into your rants midstream, I suppose.

Let me set the record straight in one respect, at least: I have a dirty job. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite happy to be employed– my manager is understanding and cheerful, my hours are flexible, it’s very conducive to multitasking. But that image queue and the trolls and perverts who spam it is easily among my least favorite aspects of this job (the other being dealing with suicidally depressed adolescents– as someone who’s been there, I may be either the best or worst at handling them and either way I usually end up needing a stiff drink afterwards).

So today we’re going to talk about why knowledge of unsavory stuff is helpful in my line or work and in the course of that talk about some gross, disgusting things done in the name of keeping your kids safe (or just wielding a banhammer of puritanical morality; I will accept either interpretation). You may wish to skip the rest of this unless you’re particularly curious.

Believe it or not, when I speak of “teaching my coworkers about hentai” it really is being said out of pragmatism, as weird as it sounds. Because not all of my coworkers have my background perusing the depths of image boards and anon memes, they have a tendency to mark any portrait of an anime character or fursona as bad while letting through foot fetish art, vore, and other stuff that doesn’t overtly look pornographic but really isn’t the sort of thing you want on a children’s game.

I once joked that this is one of the few jobs on the planet where knowledge of 4chan is a marketable skill and, indeed, it’s probably part of what’s going to keep me here for some time to come. For god’s sake, the other day I had to explain to another worker –who has been here longer than I have– what a “mai waifu” was. You forget how specialized this usually useless subculture slang is until you’re standing between a troll and an oblivious moderator and realize you have a split second to stop him from approving it and sparking another catastrophe on the forums.

So, yes. Knowledge of dirtiness is part of a moderator’s tool kit where I work. It’s an unsavory job, but the idea with educating my fellow mods is so I will no longer be the only person on the team defending your child from the onslaught of tickle fetish and diaper fur art which tries to sneak its way onto the site. These trolls and pervs don’t represent our whole player base, just the few bad apples who are in it to see if we mods are awake as much as to groom their next target.

(Creepy? Yes, it is. I never thought I’d end up in a job where I’m combating pedophiles on a day to day basis, but that’s a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts for you.)

So if I can teach my coworkers enough to recognize this stuff for what it is and take the appropriate action –that is, banning the person from the site forever, not just giving him a light warning for “bad content” because they were passed along a report and have no idea why a dragon eating a dog could be pornographic— I’m fine with grossing a few people out with some out-of-context tweets. It’s what I do for a living. I don’t earn nearly enough for it, but until I find some place to hire me to write about games (my position at PopMatters is sadly volunteer), at least you can say I’m making use of an unconventional skill set.

That being said, if you told me the problem was being too open about the unpleasant details of my job, I’d say you probably have a point. Here’s to never talking about this again.

As for why I keep a job like this (apart from “it’s a job”), believe it or not, but in general I like helping out kids. The game I work for teaches physics, coding and entrepreneurship, all things even I as a liberal commie bastard can recognize as valuable skillsets in the post-industrial information age. And even though my job is usually to punish misbehavior, I do usually take time out to be corrective and helpful if the kid seems like he or she will be receptive. Much of punishment comes from targeting acquired behaviors, such as the racist, sexist, phobic or ableist things they get from their parents or pop culture. And, as I said, there are the kids who do openly signal their need for help, either because of a bad life situation or their own inner demons.

Come on, like I could go one post without Cuttershy.

Like I mentioned earlier, I deal with a lot of suicides. We have other resources for them and we take kids seriously if it sounds like they’re on the verge of doing something, but if it’s late at night and I know my manager won’t see the report until morning, I set the queues aside for a bit and send the kid a private message telling him or her it’s okay. No, I don’t like that we monitor everything they say and do on this site, but we’re far from the only game that does, and it’s times like these where I manage to be a little grateful for it.

To date I’ve had two kids personally thank me for saving their lives. I don’t think you can easily categorize the sort of feeling that brings. Afterwards it always ruins me emotionally, as I’m far from out of the woods with my own therapy, but knowing I can do for someone what I just wish I’d had done for me at that age makes all the nasty aspects of this job seem a little more bearable.

So, yeah. If I can say anything to all the casual devs out there, it’s that designing great systems is fantastic and all, but we janitors serve an important role in your game too. We keep the pedos at bay and are sometimes the only listening ear some kids have. These are real social spaces with all their inherent dangers you’re creating, and all the neat hats and player tools and stuff you feel like making are great, but don’t forget your moderators in all of that.

There now. As you were.

One of the cutest things one of my kids ever uploaded. B'awww.

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  • Anarin  On 05.15.11 at 6:42 pm

    …Jorge and Emile. That’s.

    /dies of happy

    • Kris Ligman  On 05.15.11 at 6:50 pm

      Heeee. I’ve been dying to find a larger version of it. Dang image queue shrinking submissions down. :/

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