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Playing the game of navigating American democracy

Grace Ann Alexander

If you’re a fan of esports or video games at the Ole Miss, chances are you know Jimmy Palmer.

Palmer is an Information Technology and Esports coordinator who has worked with the university for over a decade. He’s lived in a lot of places, but he calls North Mississippi home.

He doesn’t hold back when it comes to how he feels about the future of democracy, and a wealth of other topics, including gaming. “I’m very opinionated,” Palmer admits. “I will share those anytime anyone wants to sit and talk with me.”

He shares his love for gaming and its community, his disdain for social media, and his outlook on the future of our democracy.

Palmer is intelligent and articulate, and he says that America is in a precarious situation, thanks to the division and misinformation social media fostered, and presidents like Donald Trump.

He ditched his Facebook account years ago, relying on his love of gaming as his preferred way of maintaining healthy communities.

Palmer started gaming in the late ’70s, back in the early days of Telstar and Atari, which makes it pretty easy to give him the title of lifelong gamer.

Back then, he thought gaming simply incredible, its color alone, back when not every TV was in color. He recalled one of his first experiences seeing an interactive old-school pong game. “I saw it at Sears when we went shopping one day, and I fell in love,” he recalled.

That was 40 years ago, he said, as he sat in the E. F. Yerby Conference Center, soon to be renamed the Payne Esports Facility.

The esports facility came about through a donation from the Payne family, Jennifer and Abb Payne, who also donated funds to build the Hill Drive entrance to the UM Pavilion.

Since Palmer began gaming nearly four decades ago, he has seen it grow into not only a multi-billion-dollar industry, but also into a culture and community. For him and many others, gaming is a community builder and a form of expression.

“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when you started being able to actually play games online, you started having communities of people,” Palmer said.

Palmer believes that gaming and its communities are better than communities focused on social media. “By comparison, games are way more positive. Because in most games, you need to work together to accomplish things,” Palmer explained.

“Even if you are competing against someone, you agree to a basic set of rules. In social media, it’s, let me find my niche of people, and everyone else can go away.”

Niches make no sense in gaming, and in many other places – takes away the fun, Palmer said.

“I do not have a Facebook account, and I do not have an Instagram account. The reason for that is several years ago I came to the opinion that social media was very bad for American democracy and discourse,” Palmer said. “If Facebook went belly up tomorrow, we, as a nation, would be better off.”

When Palmer had a Facebook account earlier on, he noticed a shift in the platform around President Obama’s second term. He recalls a lot of misinformation being shared.

“I could spend half an hour typing out a response to misinformation, and it would just be ignored,” Palmer said. “But the misinformation would get shared a thousand times, and my response to it would die.”

A younger Palmer would scroll through a Facebook feed once filled with pictures of family vacations and friends’ children, but now, he sees nothing but hate. Even back then, he felt Facebook was doing little to take down all of the hate and lies he saw on their platform.

One day, he realized he didn’t like the way social media was affecting society. “And so, I pulled all of my social media accounts, except for Twitter.”

Palmer grew up in various parts of the United States, but he considers Mississippi home, where his roots run the deepest. He lived in Chicago at one point, but most of his formative years were spent in North Mississippi.

His biological father, Jim, whom he is named after, was one of 17  children, and his mother, one of 11. Palmer has 26 aunts and uncles, who then went on to have their own families. This makes his generation within his family very large. He has approximately 100 first cousins.

It was difficult to keep track of such a large number of cousins, but to Palmer’s knowledge, he’s the first of his generation to attend college. He can remember being old enough to begin to understand politics, when Ronald Regan became president.

“I would have definitely been considered a young Republican at the time,” Palmer said.

“When I started getting an education, when I started actually reading, I think I realized that my opinion about most of my family and most of what was widely believed and said in this area was horribly wrong.”

Palmer credits his education and its influence in shaping his current beliefs. He believes in seeking new ideas, just to keep yourself thinking.

“Most people don’t read enough, and I think most people aren’t exposed to enough different people in the world,” Palmer said. “I have people in my family, I really wish I could suck them out of their little community and throw them into another community for about a month, and force them to live there just to change their views on the world.”

People live in insulted political bubbles, said Palmer. He disagrees with only getting your news from the same sources, especially when those sources aren’t telling you the truth. He blames not just the people, but also the media for creating these news bubbles.

“People tell me, do your own research. I have done my own research. Here’s the proof of why you’re wrong, and they won’t read it,” Palmer said, frustrated. “People would rather believe the false stuff than the true stuff. I think, from a political standpoint, we’re in a very precarious situation.”

The nation is headed for a downfall if things don’t change soon, he predicted. “The biggest immediate threat is that in Donald Trump, you have someone who makes no bones about wanting to be America’s Putin,” Palmer said. “And we have a very large portion of the population OK with that.”

Palmer believes there are two conservative parties in this country, one ultra, and one mainstream conservative, with left-leaning members.

“When you hear people say that mainstream media is liberal, my response is generally, ‘Well, I guess honesty has a liberal-leaning,” Palmer said. “Because, on the other side of the media, there is so little factual information. And this is from someone who, when I was younger, listened to Rush Limbaugh and thought he was smart.”

The cracks in democracy’s surface fork along two specific lines, he explained.

The first is the threat of a group of people willing to accept Donald Trump, or someone like him, as president for life. “The second is the infrastructure that has convinced that group of people that that’s OK,” Palmer said. “And that is the media and the misinformation.”

“I wish I had a brighter outlook on our democracy than that,” Palmer said.

One thing he knows for sure – he’s scared for the future. “I don’t know exactly what it would look like, but it really concerns me that we’re going to have a fracture in this country with a constitutional crisis, the likes we’ve never seen,” Palmer said.

“Part of me is afraid that we may be facing, if not an outright civil war, some sort of cult civil war,” Palmer said. He believes this will begin soon, maybe within the next four years. “I don’t know what the solution is.”

Grace Ann Alexander, from Monticello, Mississippi, is an Integrated Marketing Communications major, minoring in Computer Science, and a part of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Grace Ann works for an esports website, Champria, and is on the executive board for Ole Miss Esports.



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