Don't Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Don't Read the Comments

by Eric Smith

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she's playing Reclaim the Sun, the year's hottest online game. Divya -- better known as popular streaming gamer D1V -- regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game's vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she's trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mum pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho's entire life. Much to his mother's frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun -- and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds...and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron's dreams and Divya's actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line...

And she isn't going down without a fight.

Reviewed by Kelly on

5 of 5 stars

Reclaim The Sun is a popular online multiplayer game, players from all over the world board their ships ready to explore the universe, colonise planets and mine for resources. For gamer and streamer Divya Sharma, it's how she earns a living. Through sponsorship and revenue to help her single mother make ends meet while she puts herself through college.

Being a female gamer is hard enough, avoiding trolls and online abuse from arrogant males laying claim to online spaces. Divya has tried to protect her personal information. She doesn't use her real name, location or allow people past the virtual walls she's built around herself, she knows all too well how unsafe the world can be for females after her best friend, gaming buddy and streaming producer Rebekah was attacked in an elevator on her college campus. But when Divya is attacked and ambushed in game by a group of dudebros calling themselves the Vox Populi, the online trolling spills into her real life, comprising her safety.

Any girl gamer who's ever played an online multiplayer can attest to Divya's story. I'm no stranger to online gaming. In my younger years playing Call of Duty online and the amount of assholes who try to intimidate and target females is infuriating. Often console support will suggest you block other users or turn off the in game chat, sure, that solves the issue. I would have thought of that myself but my simple female brain is too occupied with flower arranging and darning socks. The issue is that for so long, they've allowed male gamers to create a toxic environment online where these losers living in their mother's basement get together and drive female gamers from the community. Back then, girls would meet online at a specific time and have female only sessions of online games. Safety in numbers is instilled in us because of men and allowing them to become faceless behind a keyboard only perpetuates their male fragility.

Aaron Jericho is a part time online gamer, his real interest lies in creating games and storyboarding, working for an independent developer who is trying to dodge paying wages for his staff. With no wage and an overbearing mother who refuses to support his dream of becoming a game developer, he's built himself a Frankenstein computer made from dumpster spare parts and pieces found in the neighbours trash. It works and is good enough to run Reclaim The Sun where Divya and her armada has just been attacked.

Aaron is a kindhearted young man and while he's never experienced trolling as Divya is now experiencing, he wholeheartedly supports her and her need for privacy while still checking in to make sure she's doing okay. Aaron's narrative explores the issue of creators not being paid appropriately for their work, taking advantage of because they're afforded experience. Experience doesn't pay the bills. Aaron's blossoming friendship with Divya allows him to escape and seek solace online and although he'd like to meet her, he respects Divya's need for privacy and allows her to set boundaries within their friendship. Never pushing her to meet offline or for her phone number.

The focus of the story is how unsafe online spaces can be for females in particular and like Divya, we can protect ourselves and our personal, sensitive information but online communities whether it be social media or gamer communities, it allows others to have access to us. Streaming her gaming attracts large audiences and although it's wonderful for Divya who can earn money from sponsorship, being a public figure shouldn't mean that her life should be for public consumption. Her private life is her own. These online trolls who are aggressively targeting Divya, her friends and family are dangerous. As soon as your safety is compromised, these faceless assholes become a danger and more needs to be done to be able to persecute those who engage in online targeted harassment and doxxing.

Don't Read The Comments is an incredible narrative of girls fighting back against those who attempt to silence us. Eric Smith is an impeccable author, creating discussion surrounding creating safe online spaces for females and supporting young creators. There's a saying, the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept and we need to be more mindful of one another online. If you see targeted harassment, report harassers. If a young woman is being abused, speak out and if you're a male gamer who doesn't believe in females occupying online spaces, then fuck off.

Last modified on

Reading updates

  • Started reading
  • 17 February, 2020: Finished reading
  • 17 February, 2020: Reviewed