In a way, I'm as much a fan of Digitiser as you are. I loved it, I loved working on it, and it's back now because of that love - yet it's a two-way thing. It wouldn't be here now if we didn't all love it, or at least really like it. You and me both. Unless you're someone who doesn't love it, in which case... why are you even reading this? Go away.
I know that might risk sounding weird, or egotistical, or arrogant, but it's not meant that way. I mean, for one thing, I suspect I probably love Digi in a slightly different way to you, for rather different reasons. It has a different meaning for me.
It might be coincidental, it might not, but the times in my life when I've felt most grounded and secure were the times when I had Digitiser or Digitiser2000.
In-between those two points, things went a bit wrong, and so did I, and I had to go away to sort all that out. And that's what this is about: how sometimes having a direct mainline to the public can be the worst possible thing for an individual, whether you're a YouTuber, journalist, or games developer... How deeply vulnerable it can make you.
I'm going to try and own as much of this as I can, and try not to generalise... but I suspect that some of my own experience might be familiar to certain others.
From 2003 to early 2008 I was the very worst possible version of myself. It was five years when I just lost touch with who I was, and who I wanted to be.
I'd had a series of pretty seismic shocks in my personal life, my domestic situation had fragmented, and everything that I'd held onto as a touchstone of my identity and sense of self had fallen away or been called into question.
With the benefit of hindsight, I was probably depressed as a result of it all... but it never really felt like depression the way I'd heard depression described. There was no wanting to stay in bed all day, or living under a black cloud.
Quite the opposite - I got on with things, tried running from it all, working harder and harder, thinking that somehow success or money or holidays might sort things out, that it might silence the constant anxiety in my gut. I was trying to find something to hang onto, some sort of solid ground. Trying to keep myself distracted. Always running to keep ahead of the crack in the ground that felt like it might catch up with me at any moment.
SENSE OF SELF
Having a strong and stable sense of identity helps self-esteem. It keeps you flexible, able to roll with life's punches. Without that strong sense of identity, it's all too easy to allow others to define who you are - either by seeking their praise or affection, or from being felled by their criticism or rudeness.
We might believe that we're, y'know, an alright sort of person, or talented, or a good driver... but having that challenged, when you're already doubting yourself, can be catastrophic. Just as dangerous is when our own behaviour challenges our sense of self; when we behave "out of character".
It can be especially lethal when criticism either becomes deliberately personal, or is aimed at something which is entirely personal to us (and thus you become collateral damage); such as, say, a video game you might've written...
Or if people are being deliberately unpleasant, because they think you somehow deserve it. You know: trolling, or stalking, or impersonating you online, or setting up a Twitter account dedicated to trashing your work, or whatever... It can become too tempting to lash out, or to try and control that - to try and control the pain that comes from that clash. To yell at the outside world that it's wrong.
"I'm not like that! Stop telling me what I am! I/my website/game/work is good, and so am I!"
It's fair to say that Digitiser was deeply personal to me, but until I left it - until that leaving coincided with everything else going rather tits-up - I never took any criticism of it to heart. I was pretty grounded. In 2003, with my sense of self gone, without the stability - both creatively and financially - that Digitiser gave me, I'd lost my final point of reference to myself. I was floating in space.
Without anything to cling to, without my identity to hang onto, even doubting that I was the person I thought I was or wanted to be, I became incredibly susceptible to criticism.
I saw attacks in every little thing. I became touchy, knee-jerk, and - y'know - just a bit of a dick.
My resources were so low that I wasn't always polite to people. I didn't always behave as I now wish I had. Some of that time still makes me cringe with embarrassment, and I scarcely even recognise that me.
What's more, I was possibly the worst person who should've been running the forum that was attached to my old blog - which ultimately became the flashpoint that tipped me over the edge. I think in starting that place I wanted to belong to something. I was looking for a group of mates, strength in numbers. I didn't want to be the guy in charge. I was burned by that spotlight.
Ultimately, I shut it down in a fit of pique, and upset a lot of people. There's enough head-hurting politics in running a message board without dealing with a message board's politics while your head is already hurting. My sense of judgement was all over the place.
The subsequent fallout of that impulsive decision - which was essentially a panicked attempt to slam a blast door down on yet another aspect of my life which seemed as if it had turned sour - brought a lot more rubbish my way. I was not remotely equipped to deal with it.
It's too much to expect people to be pleasant in the face of somebody behaving somewhat irrationally or impulsively. I mean, it would probably be better if they would - when somebody is standing in a burning shed and screeching to be rescued, the worst thing you could probably do is throw a load of flaming torches at them.
But still. That's human nature, I suppose. That instinct to want to see people squirm and react. To know you have power over them - especially if you're a bit on the busted side yourself. Unfortunately, it becomes a vicious circle, which continues until somebody has the strength to break away.
I hold no resentment to those who made my life even more unbearable at a time when it was already tumultuous. But it's fair to say that what happened did push me over the edge of a precipice that I'd been teetering on for a while.
I'd forgotten about this until now, but I remember coming off the Internet one evening and breaking down so badly that I howled uncontrollably. A proper, primal, broken noise of anguish, that I thought people only did in films... A bit like Darth Vader going "Noooo", but more convincing. And then I looked up and saw my young daughter, who'd come downstairs to see what the noise was. And still I wasn't able to stop. That's as bad as it ever got.
I couldn't put my kids through it any longer, let alone myself. There was nobody left to help me, or nobody I wanted to trouble with my problems. So I cut myself off from the most immediate source of pain - being Mr Biffo - then started the slow process of putting myself back together, before I could address everything else that needed fixing in my life.
Before it reached that point, I'd woken up every morning for six months or more, dreading the moment when I had to switch on my monitor, and confront whatever horrors had occurred overnight. I'd then spend hours in a heightened, hyper-vigilant state, scouring the internet to put out fires. While also trying to do my job and be a good dad. While dealing with a stalker. While also going through a period of profound personal crisis. While trying to juggle seven - seven! - flaming chainsaws.
Obviously, nobody who knew my work, or encountered me online, or commented on my blog, or wrote shit about me, was aware of any of that. Why would they be? I wasn't going to write about it publicly because a) It wasn't anyone else's business, and b) I didn't want to trawl for sympathy. As far as they were concerned, Mr Biffo was just a twat. And sometimes he was.
Writing about this now is no "woe is me" fest either. It's just important to me that people understand the power of words. I often see it written that words online are just words online... but that feels like a way to absolve someone of their responsibility.
Words have the weight to strike to at the very identity of a person - the most important thing we all have - especially if that person's defences are weak or degraded. We have no way of telling how vulnerable a person is just from looking at them, or watching them on YouTube, or Twitch, or reading their Tweets.
And yes, if you make a shitty comment online it might just be one comment... but you might also be adding to a mountain of other comments. Or a mountain of other pain. Even a grain of sand can hurt if it gets in your eye.
I think people in the privileged - yet occasionally poisoned - position of having their work publicly judged are sometimes viewed as being unbreakable, of being able to take it. Yet we've all got stuff going on behind the scenes. You, me, him, them, her. We're all vulnerable, we're all breakable. We're all just folk.
Some years ago, my daughter was beaten up at school by another girl. She had to go to hospital for an x-ray. She'd had a clump of hair ripped out, and needed stitches from where this other girl had smashed her head into the wall. It was such a vicious assault that we wanted to press charges against the girl.
It felt like it was more than just "bullying" - my daughter had a suspected skull fracture, and the suspension - which is what the girl received - didn't feel enough, because we were angry.
We went into the school to see the head teacher, and he begged us not to take it further. He said there were circumstances which he couldn't tell us about, regarding the girl, and said that - while it was entirely up to us - he didn't think contacting the police would help. And so we dropped it.
If someone is behaving like a knob-end, if they're oversensitive, or acting a bit mental-y, and trigger-happy sensitive, then there are likely to be reasons beyond something as reductive and meaningless as "That person is a dick".
Of course, that applies to people in real life as much as it does to people with a public profile, who write websites, or publish video games... but I think there can be a bit of a disparity with the "famous" that they somehow deserve abuse because they should know what they're getting into.
And there's an element of truth in that: I only returned to Digitiser2000 when I knew what I would potentially be getting back into.
But that's second time around. First time around it sort of happened without me choosing it.
Still, I was terrified when I sent my first ever Tweet as Mr Biffo. I spent the entire evening pacing the house, waiting for all the crap to start up again. I'd slammed a door on a world of shit, and had opened it again - never having once peeked in the interim. I had no idea what to expect.
However, I was only able to really make that judgement call because I'd sorted out my head, heart and life. I knew I wouldn't be using Mr Biffo or Digitiser2000 as a crutch or substitute for anything else. I was fairly confident that I was able to take any abuse with good grace. I'd ignored Mr Biffo for the best part of seven years, so I'd become good at ignoring things.
I wasn't 100% certain it was going to work out. And I was lucky in that, mostly, everyone has been very nice, bygones have become bygones, and I think there's a rather lovely group of people orbiting Digitiser2000 now. That said, I'm still prepared to walk away from it, were it ever to draw too much grief. I'll never hold onto toxic parts of my life again.
And I suppose the point I'm coming to is this: anything I write on this site is never intended as a personal attack on anyone. I might say deliberately silly things, or be tongue in cheek, or criticise somebody's game... but I mean it with no malice.
I'm a strong believer in tough love. It doesn't always help to wrap a person in cotton wool. Yet even tough love - even feedback, even negative reviews, even stupid articles that say ridiculous things about people - can be delivered with empathy.
Anything I ever write on here is written in that spirit. Because I never want to knowingly, or accidentally, be the grain of sand that ends up in someone's eye.
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