‘Aarin-t’ Nonsense: How the EA Forum’s Info Guru destroyed her own reputation & many friendships

Written 4th/5th September 2009.

August was not a happy month for Aarin – self-appointed ‘guru’ of the Sims3 fan world. She enters September life-banned from the Official EA Games board (which, for all the derision it attracts in other quarters, still attracts members and traffic other Sims boards combined may only dream of), and the subject of hitherto unimaginable open derision.

Banned from the official forum boards after one indiscretion too many, the resultant “Bring Aarin Back Campaign” somewhat backfired. After three days of virulent campaigning (leading to at least two suspensions from the board), the backlash started with open calls ranging from distaste at a heroine worship of someone many found absurd (for the simple reason that – surprising that it may seem to the hidebound members of the Cult Of Aarin – they had never heard of her, anymore than they could name a single board moderator off the top of their heads), to outright calls of “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

Perhaps people had tired of her faux ‘reluctant hero’ persona – particularly when she seemed more and more interested in encouraging others to the vanguard to fight the good fight against board spammers and paid custom content, whilst she remained in the comfort and safety of her Vox blog site. Or perhaps her long history of carping resulted in her slowly eroding what respect she may have built up around the Sims fan world. Like the Caesars of old, the question was not so much that of who were waiting to stick the knife in as who wasn’t.

It is one thing – and laudable – to talk about a desire to help those with questions about the game, and to take the time to write up copious notes covering every possible query imaginable. In that Aarin excelled. It is quite another thereafter to sneer openly about those seeking that very enlightenment on your public blog – the smile of a grateful newcomer quickly wiped off by clicking on the bloglink in her profile to discover that the helpful Aarin who so kindly answered her query in the forum earlier that day in fact detests ‘n00bs’ unable or unwilling to search the forum first to see if the question has already been answered.– and the girl going to her forum to say a personal thank you now goes away humiliated and resentful of another’s pseudo-intellectual snobbery over what – at the end of the day – is only a PC game.

Yes, people can be lazy, but the simple truth is most just want to get back to playing the game, rather than mess around with a bloated forum of mass moving threads and an unreliable Search facility. And there is a whole board of people willing to provide those answers on tap, not just Aarin – including the moderators and administrators of EA, who are actually paid to do this in the first place. There was no monopoly on Sims3 knowledge.

It is here that the other clue to Aarin’s current predicament lies, that there were a large number of people whom through personal experience found Aarin and her followers to be not-so-nice people at all. The moment her ban was announced, two individuals – Amanda1996 and Walden95 – both appeared out of nowhere offering help and advice (with a further two Lady and Bored Guy, also appearing). The first two both had high post counts, yet both will have raised a “Who?” from many. The fact that both immediately came under carping posts from Aarin’s by now notorious devotees betrays the fact that both had been bullied and cuffed into taking a lower profile in the past for daring to offer advice to others: not by a series of complaints over bad advice as their detractors claim (to err is human after all), but by a thinly veiled campaign by ‘the Cult of Aarin’ to stamp on anyone who in their eyes was daring to present themselves as a ‘rival’ – and again not without some encouragement from Aarin herself.

But there is also the appalling timing of events. Aarin’s ban came merely a week after a rather nasty public spat had broken out on the official EA boards, which many pointed the finger at her for orchestrating from her own.

The Aarin’s Spectacles Vox Blog

A large chunk of Aarin’s Vox blog – as well as showing her designs and general Simming activities – consists of her linking back to current posts on the EA official forum (and not in fact any other board) and making comment, those she regards as being particularly offensive to her sensibilities being dubbed ‘forum vomit’, and the comments sections she encourages others to join in her ire. Contrary to her own mythology, her comments were not sometimes ‘biting’, they were quite simply petty spite with little of the wit she liked to think they possessed, and the back-slapping and ‘Oh, Aarin!’s from a handful of sycophants (we are talking no greater than fifteen out of the millions that bought EA’s biggest selling game of all time) does not alter that fact – the wise grow wary before they grow weary of the unwavering applause from the same audience.

Aarin had already managed to step on a number of toes over many things – not least of all her running verbal battle against those choosing to attempt to sell Custom Content – which some see no problem with and others regard as bad form (fellow Sims fans should do it for free, you see). True, Aarin did say later on her site that if people wanted to use custom content from anywhere and pay for it, then that was up to them (albeit stating the obvious). However, having an avatar at one time which was entitled ‘TSR is Evil’ (TSR being the controversial The Sims Resource paid-content website – worthy of an article in themselves, but you can find that anywhere) may be good ‘naughty’ fun, but to the passing observer it suggests one with a brittle black-and-white world view, and did not sit well with one trying to present themselves as one willing to help all Sims fans with magnanimity. More to the point, TSR has a working relationship with EA, and they were not amused about having their board used to crucify their partner.

‘Getting Out Of Hand’

But the point she went too far was a series of posts directed at one little known EA Sims board member called Jix2993, who was running one of the many pretend fashion modelling competitions the Sims3 board tend to see (like the buses, none for a while then five at a time), entitled “Post Modelseque Pictures Of Your Sim.” She might have as well have named the thread “Assassinating Franz Ferdinand” for the chain of events it started.

Forum Vomit

Forum Vomit

Categorised as “Jix’s Self-Love Thread” under the ‘forum vomit’ part of her blog Aarin’s Spectacles, there is no point in Aarin denying she gave gentle encouragement for her readers to bait Jix2993 – and later to openly disrupt her competition thread. Jix2993 had to abandon her ‘contest’ thread not once, but twice due to an orchestrated campaign to ruin others fun by spamming it with picture posts aimed at ridiculing Jix2993, which spiralled into a full-blown verbal punch-up.

This wasn’t merely a low point for this board – it was one of the nastiest cases of cyber-bullying anyone has witnessed, going beyond mere caustic remarks on and off board – it got to the stage of an orchestrated plan of deliberate harassment in the hope that they could get a fellow board member to snap (and snap Jix2993 certainly did!) and in the heat of the moment make posts that broke the EA Terms of Service in order to get her banned for the only reason that they did not like her, though she had done nothing to them to draw their ire in the first place. Anyone that has seen the school bully and their gang in any playground knows such individuals in truth need no excuse: they do so because they can, and because they enjoy it.

So bad was the bullying that at one stage one of the major protagonists – Shadow (with a past history of being banned from the previous official Sims2 board for its behaviour) – posted twenty eight times in a single day on this thread, the vast majority designed to antagonise a bewildered Jix2993 wondering what on earth she’d done to deserve all this viciousness. One equally has to wonder whether the Sims3 administrators and moderators were sleeping on the job – it is standard practice on any board to check on any thread that sees a vast increase in posting activity, usually the first symptom of a flame war in full cry.

Those seeing to justify their behaviour have claimed that the thread was little more than a vanity thread dominated by Jix2993’s own picture posts. She is hardly the first person to do so, as a valid excuse to see her thread bumped back up in the hope people would see it and join in – somewhat more inventive than typing a post consisting merely of “***BUMP!”***”. That she was a touch precious about her own creations is also frankly a case of seeking to find faults in order to justify the reprehensible behaviour which followed. Show the world a Sims content creator that is not the same – including Aarin herself – and the world will show you a liar.

Links to Jix2993's thread again

Links to Jix2993's thread again

...and again

...and again

Aarin’s own posts turned up a few times in the Jix2993-baiting threads, knowing fully well merely her presence – like the commanding officer’s discrete nod to their troops in battle to steady the line – served to act as approval and encouragement to those doing her dirty work for her. It is telling that she was careful to only carp about the content of the thread from her blog, not on the thread itself – letting others run the risk of having their accounts suspended or banned. Getting others to do her dirty world – and to do it to someone she had added as a Friend on the board – gives the impression that she treats her friends more as commodities, and as such ‘disposable’.

Jix2993's request to be left in peace was ignored

Jix2993's request to be left in peace was ignored

With some irony, things backfired when Aarin posted one of her fleeting contributions to this EA Forum debacle. One particular source of ‘annoyance’ to Aarin – a classic example of a bully searching for ‘faults’ to pick – was Jix2993’s pics which had the model with her hand on the back of her neck, although Aarin’s annoyance at Jix2993 seems to have arisen from Jix2993 asking her an innocent question about how she’d got her models to pose and whether it required a particular mod to do it – the sort of question Aarin was supposed to pride herself on answering daily. Confused? Most people were – except Aarin’s sheep.

So when Jix2993 tried to get people to cease baiting her, saying that “Things are getting out of hand”, out came Aarin posting her amusement at this particular line (as always not actually saying anything caustic herself, merely turning the victim’s words against her as a source of ridicule – a classic trolling gambit) – followed as always by a plethora of responsorial sycophantic ‘Oh, Aarin’s from her acolytes.

Yes, it's all in the context...

Yes, it's all in the context...

Jix2993 snapped back that someone that had posted as many times as Aarin by this point in a board not even a year old clearly had no life beyond it (over 7000 – yes, that figure is no exaggeration). It was a childish and predictable retort – however she could not have realised (and may in fact still have not) what a telling blow below the belt it proved. For Aarin – in a rare but fatal slip – made the rash riposte “Um, you obviously don’t know who I am, otherwise it would make sense why I have this many posts.”

"Do you know who I am?"

"Do you know who I am?" - "I know what you are!"

Not clever, and one wonders if even the toadying Chyla found herself tempted to post one of her facepalms from Brawl Hall in response. There is nothing more likely to turn public opinion against you than saying that Z-list celebrity line “Do you know who I am?” And for someone whose entire baiting campaign against Jix2993 had been on the grounds of her vanity, the sheer hypocrisy of her statement made plenty have second thoughts about ‘nice helpful Aarin’ – who at the end of the day held no position on the board and was still just a member of the rank and file posters, no matter how many help threads she’d had ‘stickied’ by those really in charge.

PceLuvHpexx303 was the first to snap back at the self-styled ‘Guru’ and saying that as far as she was concerned posting copious notes on a computer game was rather pathetic (which it is, but then aren’t all hobbies and pastimes – it’s what makes them so fun!).

One could almost imagine the worldwide cyber ‘ouch’ to that one. Was it any mere coincidence that things turned rapidly a whole lot nastier after this, after Aarin had just been given an almighty kick in the ego?

The Hands On Neck Foundation – Cyber-Bullying Disguised As A Joke

HoNF Signatures - one later came back to haunt them...

HoNF Signatures - one later came back to haunt them...

By then however, the launch of the so-called “Hands On Neck Foundation” (HoNF) specifically to ridicule Jix2993 showed not merely that things had indeed ‘got out of hand’, but had taken a decisively sinister twist.

A series of forum board signatures were run up by Aarin and more specifically GrammarKing and Shadow (the two most active trolls involved in the whole nasty business) and people were encouraged to use them – often with a link back to a pre-created  ‘launch’ page on ‘nice, helpful’ Aarin’s blog. There was also a Vox blog HoNF blog page, but apart from its initial creation, nothing more was done – the capabilities of the people behind proving not up to the task.

This bullying gambit is a classic of its pernicious kind: creating the air of harmless fun in order to get others unaware of the real motives to join in – after all, who wouldn’t want to join in a piece of harmless fun about the Sims hand-on-neck displacement habit the games writers had put into the game code? Especially if Aarin sanctioned it. Nice helpful Aarin, who wouldn’t bully anyone…wouldn’t she?

Some tried to have their cake and eat it

Some tried to have their cake and eat it

For Jix2993, this meant every single thread she visited potentially would have someone’s posts with the baiting signatures on it (as changing your signature on the EA forums changes it for all posts, past and present), leaving her no longer knowing who her friends were – she wouldn’t have been human for failing to lash out about it (which she again did, alienating some that were on her side – which was of course the intended effect). If she did, her detractors could easily lie ‘this isn’t about you, it just shows what a self-obsessed prima-donna you are’ (a line used in particular by one Lipgloss, whose obsession towards Jix2993 remains disturbing in its intensity).

That HONF "announcement" in full

That HONF "announcement" in full

Certainly the ‘symptoms’ of something, though not what Aarin would like us to think…

Comments Page of Aarin's Vox Blog to her HONF post
Comments Page of Aarin’s Vox Blog to her HONF post

One may make a case of ‘she deserved it’ as much as one wants – EA’s Terms of Service (TOS) makes it clear that they will not tolerate people using their boards to specifically harass another individual. And harassment was exactly what was going on. There was – and remains – no excuse for the events of August 2009.

In the real world, a group of teenagers and adults (we are talking in certain cases of people in their 30s) orchestrating a bullying campaign against a young school girl would find themselves looking at a heavily publicised day in court and certain assault whether by the public or in prison courtesy of the usual tabloid hysteria – they might then find a lynch mob isn’t quite so much fun when they are inside its circle rather than out.

A jokey reference to the infamous MyG0t troll clan, where members had to bake a cake or pie with "MyG0t owns me" written on it for entry. No prizes for guessing as to what this implied HoNF's intentions were.

A jokey reference to the infamous MyG0t troll clan, where members baked a cake or pie with "MyG0t owns me" written on it to join. No prizes guessing what this implied HoNF's intentions were.

The Backlash

Whatever else arose from the whole nasty Jix2993 baiting campaign  – and frankly it was a miracle that no one on either side had their accounts terminated for it (although there is one alleged case that was restored on appeal) – the overriding one was a very bad taste in the mouth for the majority of forum members watching, and a good deal of second thoughts as to whether these were the sort of people they wished to spend their precious fun time hours with online after a long day at education or work.

Gossip Girl Sims

Gossip Girl Sims

One player (or is it players?) went so far as run up an anonymous site called Gossip Girl Sims (some suspicion for which has fallen on RockRoleFreak for his heavy promotion of the site within the EA Forum until the thread was deleted – as well as his picture appearing on the site’s ‘Hot List’), which appears to be aimed at baiting both Jix2993 and the Cult of Aarin in equal measures. Was the intention of the creators to draw fire away from the main boards so that the flame war would be held off the main boards and so give everyone else peace? Whatever the initial intent, this pendulum of the Edgar Allan Poe variety appears to have swung decisively in the latter direction, and there is a delicious irony in seeing Aarin’s cohorts being successfully baited by someone called ‘Jix-Hater’.

From EA’s point of view, as the major purpose of a game’s forum board is to reinforce the consumer’s fondness of a product, this was a prime example of Worst Case Scenario. They were equally aware of a thread aimed specifically at one of the moderators – Hydra – attempting to bait them into over-zealousness with their admin functions in order to create ‘martyrs’ to the avaricious EA Games (“Questions for Hydra about teen rating and Piracy” – topics guaranteed to start trouble on any Sims board). Yet again, this thread was again being encouraged by Aarin – from the safety of her blog.

It is not stretching too far a point to surmise that by this time, the Board ‘Gods’ had more than had enough when they discovered what amounted to a series of trolling campaigns on their board being organised from another public one by someone they’d previously trusted and held in enough regard to ‘sticky’ her advice posts at the top of the General Discussion board: those thinking they were being clever in doing so might not be feeling so smart when they learn that there are a large number of ways of discovering others sites posting links to your own without being informed directly. It is a standard defence amongst high profile organisations to use them not only in their war against piracy, but also against ‘undesirable association’ (eg. far-right and ‘militia’ organisations are frequently warned to remove from their web pages direct links to charities for war veterans and other ex-servicemen).

With that in mind, it is likely that they decided to seek an excuse – any excuse – to ban Aarin for good as a very public warning to everyone that it was they who ran the official forum board and not anyone else. A week or so later Aarin – by this time now an infrequent poster – gave them their chance.

Now back in helpful mode (her interest in HoNF rapidly waning when the flame war spilled over onto her own blog comments section), Aarin answered a board user asking about a modification available that allowed people to play the game without needing to have the DVD in the drive (although Aarin said ‘No-CD’, it is – of course – a DVD that Sims3 is on).

It is clearly stated on the EA site that they will not tolerate people discussing game modifications which can aid piracy (remember this was a game which was leaked onto the internet months before its release, creating panic within EA about a calamitous crash in revenue – in the event they needn’t have worried), so Aarin’s foolish post was all they needed to send out the ban notice.

‘Bring Back Aarin’ Proves Counterproductive

Some were upset

Some were upset

Aarin’s ban was greeted initially with shock – even by those who were not enamoured by her recent behaviour, many felt this to be excessive. When a campaign for her ban to be rescinded was started, the board’s administrators and moderators this time showed a far harsher level of judgement than before, suspending a number of accounts and erasing any thread even remotely hinting at the ban. In one case – Makeitwork322 – they even went into her account and forcibly removed a Bring Back Aarin signature – so it is alleged at any rate (this was later shown however to be a lie, but shows the sort of hyperbole doing the rounds at this time).

There is perhaps a small irony in that the explanation for the draconian attitude EA showed to the ‘Bring Back Aarin’ campaign may in fact lie with Aarin’s own blog – with the woman publicly ‘not caring less’ about her ban nevertheless helping in part to fashion a forum signature for her supporters to put on demanding her reinstatement. To the real ‘gurus’ of the Sims3 forum, it possibly all smacked once more of a manipulative troublemaker on another ego trip seeing how many would rush to her call to arms, just as they’d rushed to vilify a young girl still at school for doing nothing more than running a pretend fashion model contest like many others on the Sims Forum already did.

A far large- and bitter – irony that has been lost on many is that two who were banned for their ‘Bring Back Aarin’ threads – Makeitwork322 and Maddy444 – were some of the first two to say that the baiting of Jix2993 had to stop (albeit in Makeitwork322’s case she’d originally been a major protagonist – but then heaven loves a repentant sinner more than EA’s moderators appear to) which may have played no small part in Aarin’s expulsion in the first place.

The Troll Chickens Come Home To Roost?

...some less so, as the troll chickens came home to roost.

There was also a growing number of board users making it clear that they had little sympathy, ranging from those wondering just who this ‘famous’ Aarin was; those stating that she knew the rules and openly flouted them too often; to a smaller distasteful number openly rejoicing – particularly over at Gossip Girl Sims, who showed little decorum in demonstrating their delight at this turn of events.

Whatever else it proved, it was that Aarin was far from being as universally loved as we made out to be: but there will always be the question that were it not for the shameful events with Jix2993, might the clamour for her reinstatement have been more unified? That we will never know.

Demonstrations having failed, those involved then appeared to have turned to deliberately attempting to sabotaging anyone else’s enjoyment of the board, with the usual HoNF linked suspects of Shadow, Lipgloss, Chyla, CoffeFreak4Life and others orchestrating flame wars on a number of threads with any number of unwitting board victims for their own sake.

On the other side of the coin is a number of people – SimsCreator16 and WindsorErick being the two more noticeable – indulging in some counter-terrorism of their own towards those hell-bent on causing trouble – although they’re not too bad at kickstarting trouble themselves, SimsCreator16 in particular.

In an echo of the ‘hands on neck’ pictures used to bait Jix2993 and Chyla’s ‘headpalm’ pics used to bait others, SimsCreator16 uses ‘vomit’ pics they know are highly effective in upsetting Shadow. The pics are usually that of ‘simulated vomit’ – such as the insides of a Halloween pumpkin spread out in front of its ‘mouth’ – so any reports of ‘inappropriate content’ are likely to be dismissed. Clearly some believe in paying the troublemakers back with the same coin.

One highly noticeable absentee of late however has been GrammarKing. As he’d a habit of daily posting, it is taken as read that – for whatever denials he may make – he was in fact serving out a suspension for his earlier behaviour, as was Velcroshoes, who has stated publicly that she’s learned her lesson and has no desire to make any repeat performances. GrammarKing however has reacted differently, resurrecting a dormant second account under the name of Simmiejunkie – so it is claimed anyway.

Anyone familiar with the psychology of forum dynamics will know that it is a foolish user that deliberately antagonises a forum administrator or moderator. On the one hand ban too many, the board dies and they are out of a job. On the other, do too little and the board will equally die as people grow thoroughly fed up and go elsewhere. As such suspensions and bans are very much a last resort. However, there is no denying that an administrator or moderator that has crossed that rubicon to use the ban function will have far less qualms doing so again in the immediate future, and those choosing to stick their heads in a hungry lion’s mouth at that point shouldn’t complain about having their heads bitten off.

The Mentality of a Cyber-Cult

The real question of course is just what drives people to these extremes over a computer game? Everyone is familiar with rival clans for online shoot-em-up games verbally sparring with one another over the net (and of course one notorious troll clan – myGot – specifically created to cause as much aggravation as possible). Such is the nature of competitive games, especially those involving a degree of violence.

But The Sims series could hardly be described as that – it is essentially a game about social interaction and cooperation in order for the character to advance. How on earth could such a fanbase therefore indulge in any sort of flame war, let alone the extremes that have been witnessed over the last three weeks?

The trouble with ‘the Cult of Aarin’ is their failure to adjust their mentality from the Fantasy Role Play, Science Fiction and Anime communities from which the vast majority of them came: whereupon one’s social status is based upon one’s ‘fannishness’: building up from being a ridiculed ‘n00b’ to a snot nosed ‘neo-fan’ to a fully fledged respected member of the community through knowledge seeking and toadying to ‘respected’ long standing members. Something to be earned as if a quest itself – the life mirroring the artform.

It is a world of perfect companions – sometimes flawed, but their virtues override all – to which all others are subordinate as they endure a never-ending conflict against perpetually transmogrifying evil for the greater good. Such a world view is a staple artistic theme within the make-believe worlds of Homer, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. But art is one thing, reality another – it is equally a staple world view of fascism.

A number of pastimes and hobbies have been adopted by FRP/SF/Anime fan bases, often taking their social norms with them, and indeed some fanbases only took off in the first place having sprung from them: eg.  those dedicated to the board game/PC game Diplomacy.

The Sims itself, however, has many of its players being in fact people that may never have regularly played a computer game before, and so having no idea nor tolerance to what seem like the undergraduate pretensions of socially inadequate fan-dorks taking enthusiasm too far. Indeed, they are less likely to take with alacrity being nose-wrinkled by a group that mainstream society regards as Aunt Sallies.

Many years ago, Triumph The Comedy Dog had a moment that encapsulated that culture clash – when a Star Wars fan resplendent in a detail perfect Darth Vader costume attempted ‘in character’ to intimidate the vox-popping rubber canine and was brutally cut down by Triumph asking “And what button on your Command Belt do you press when you want your parents to come and pick you up?”

The ‘storm and strife’ that went through the Harry Potter fan world (in which people ended up in court for hacking down rivals’ websites as ‘flame wars’ spiralled out of control) should serve as a warning to all about the dangers of ‘fannishness’ taken too far at any level. It is the ‘n00bs’ that make up the vast majority of all worlds – real and make-believe – and those taking a computer game forum far too seriously would do well to remember that. Having large numbers of ‘enemies’ may be all rather ‘fannish’ – but again, this is The Sims, not World Of Warcraft or whatever.

Conclusion

Pack up your troubles in your old Troll Box...

Pack up your troubles in your old Troll Box...

The real question to all this is – other than how can they be bothered to be bothered in all this – is what has been achieved, other than a rather public black eye for the game.

Aarin has now abruptly started up a replacement blog site with her own forum board within days of her ban – having shown no prior show of any interest of doing so otherwise (begging the question as to whether EA has now been in touch with Vox over her behaviour on her blog – something a free service provider would perhaps take a dim view of). If there are post-mortem claims about growing increasingly tired of Vox for A, B and C through to X, Y, and Z; then chances are she has decided to jump before she is pushed.

This of course means that if EA chooses at some point to remove her stickied help threads from the Sims 3 forum (even though they have no reason to do so, they banned her for breaking the TOS, not out of spite), there will be a back-up elsewhere…so long as you are a member of the forum. Currently the only way to see the forum is to be a member, an action in itself not likely to inspire confidence with others in the Sims fan world that her intentions are benevolent, smacking more of another cyber-Napoleon Complex recruiting for its Old Guard. All likely to provide more grist to the mill for Gossip Girl Sims, the TSR forums, and everyone else with either a bone to pick or a score to settle.

The fact is that an enormous amount of damage has been done to Aarin’s relationship with the Sims world fanbase – the trust and friendships she had built up with far more people than a handful of lickspittles who seem to be doing an equally splendid job in alienating themselves from as many as possible for no good reason whatsoever.

The saddest part of it all is so it shall remain, until she concedes that she is very much mistaken in her belief that being Aarin means never having to say you’re sorry.