When I gave my 2007 PAX Prime Keynote, I said
Arcades were more than just magnificent geek Shangri-Las, filled with all sorts of video games and pinball machines. They were a vital part of my generation’s social development. If I beat another kid in a two player game and taunted him mercilessly, with explicit references to his mother's sex life and my role in it, the way some online gamers do today, he would have justifiably kicked the everliving shit out of me. So I learned – in arcades – the importance of good sportsmanship. Because arcades were real places, staffed by real people, we had to worry about much more than getting kicked off a server if we were complete idiots in a game. I guess this is a double-edged sword, and I’m feeling like a cranky old man by even mentioning it, but would you all do me a favor? When you’re playing online, have fun, and don’t be a dick, okay?
I hoped that it would catch on, and that people would spread it around, live it, and eventually make online gaming fun again.
I got lucky, and it did catch on. Within a few days, people were using it as their forum signature. The Enforcers at PAX called it Wheaton's Law, and used it as a sort of Prime Directive. Maybe it's the blue car syndrome, but since 2007, I have seen and heard people referencing those four words all over the place, and I hope that they're taking it to heart. I sincerely hope that it will spread throughout our culture, and it will give our fellow geeks/nerds/gamers/humans/muggles a sort of mantra, so we'll all be kind to each other.
So, yesterday morning, CB on Twitter showed me a picture of their calendar, which had my birthday and NASA's birthday marked down for today. The calendar said, "In his honor, don't be a dick!"*
I thought that was cute and awesome, but my brain positively lost its shit about it.
"DUDE!" My brain screamed, "LET'S MAKE YOUR BIRTHDAY TOMORROW THE OFFICAL 'DONT BE A DICK DAY!'"
"Okay, first of all, it's technically our birthday. Also, I don't think we can just pick a day and decide that it's a thing."
"Are you kidding us? It's fun and it's silly and what else are you going to do today anyway? Upvote more cat pictures on Reddit?"
"Well, I was... but now I think I'll be upvoting all the scumbag brain pictures in solidarity."
"You're adorable," my brain said, "let's see you do that... without control of your central nervous system!"
I shit myself, then. It wasn't my fault.
"Okay," I said, "You've made your point. I'll get to work on it."
I registered a domain, put my incredibly impressive* graphic design and HTML skills** to work, and about 45 minutes later, Don't Be A Dick Day was born.
I'm not gonna lie, Marge: I really hope this becomes A Thing.
A few notes, and a story, about this whole idea:
First of all, epic thanks goes to Jemina, who made that beautiful artwork I ended up using as the centerpiece of the thing.
A non-zero number of people have suggested that every day should be Don't Be A Dick Day. I agree, but we should start with baby steps, right?
Most of the Internet took this in the spirit it was intended. Sadly, some folks decided that I was being arrogant by suggesting a day I made up should be a thing, and some other folks decided that I was doing this because I want attention. I'm very sorry that those people missed the point.
The FAQ for Don't Be A Dick Day is simple by design, but for those wondering how specifically to not be a dick, and why this is something I talk about, I offer the following story.
When I was in my early 30s, I had major sinus surgery to correct a severely deviated septum and to remove so many polyps I could hardly breathe through my nose. In the pre-operation phase of the surgery, I had to fill out a lot of paperwork, including something called an Advance Directive, which told the hospital what my wishes were in the event something went wrong.
As I filled out that form, instructing the hospital to pull the plug if I something happened that was going to leave me in a persistent vegetative state and give all of my organs to people who needed them, for the first time in my life, I had to really think very clearly and honestly about the possibility that I may go to sleep and never wake up, leaving Anne without a husband and our kids without a father.
I can see it so clearly now, years later: I'm sitting in my office. The ceiling fan is on low. My dog, Riley, is sleeping near my feet. I'm listening to New Order on iTunes. It's late afternoon, so the blinds are closed to keep the hot sun out of the room, and they glow brightly around the edges like there's a spotlight on the other side of them. From the living room, I can hear Nolan playing Call of Duty on the Xbox. My chair creaks as I lean back in it and before I know what I'm doing, I'm on my feet, walking into the living room.
"I need to talk to you for a second," I tell him.
"Hold on," he says, without looking away from the screen.
I wait. I really hate this game, and I don't understand the culture of dickishness that seems integral to its multiplayer experience. Through the headphones he's wearing, I can hear barely-pubescent voices curse each other in a myriad of colorful ways.
I wish Nolan enjoyed the RPGs I enjoy, so we had something more in common. He's either 15 or 16, and everything I like, everything I do, every breath I take is so lame. I've pretty much lost him to the Teenage Years. I don't know that I'll get him back when he's 20, and though I know not to take it personally, I still do.
The screen changes. Based on the squawking in his headphones, one team was victorious because the losing team was too busy fucking the winners' mothers.
He puts the controller down and sets the headphones on the couch next to him. He looks at me. I sit on the coffee table and face him.
"I'm having major surgery tomorrow morning," I say, gently.
He barely nods.
At least he didn't roll his eyes, I think.
"And it's very unlikely that anything will go wrong... but just in case, I have something I have to tell you."
I look at him, really look at him, and hope that my words are getting through. I realize that I'm dangerously close to tearing up, which I know will make him tune me out. I take a slow, deep breath to steady myself.
"If something happens to me and I'm not here to continue raising you, I want you to remember these things: I want you to live your life honestly, honorably, with kindness, compassion and generosity."
A cloud passes across his face and briefly disturbs the mask of indifference he's been wearing for a year or more.
"So please, please, if you don't remember anything else I've said to you, please: be honest, be honorable, be kind, be compassionate, and work hard."
His expression doesn't change at all. "Okay," he says.
He has the headphones back on and the controller in his hands before I've stood up.
"Okay. I love you."
"I love you too." He says it by rote, like a kid reciting the pledge of allegiance. Just words he know's he's expected to recite. My heart aches a little bit.
I hope I got through to him, I think, regardless of what happens to me tomorrow.
I've been closing my talks at conventions with a version of that story, and leaving a similar wish with the people who are there. I don't mean to be preachy or anything, but I figure that if people are going to listen to me talk, I should at least have something meaningful to say.
So if you're still reading, I hope you'll join me in the celebration of Don't Be A Dick Day, I hope that you'll take it in the spirit that it's intended, and I hope that you'll:
- Be honest.
- Be kind.
- Be honorable.
- Work hard.
- And always be awesome.
*Actually not impressive at all, even by 1999 standards.
*** Well, I guess it's slightly impressive that my code validates.