Imagine, for a moment, that there was a healthier alternative to Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and every other social media service you could ever think of. Yes, even BeReal. Imagine somebody created a new, better social media service from scratch. No doomscrolling. No toxicity. No discourse. This new service would have the power — nay, the responsibility — to free us all from the yoke of Being Online.
Imagine what this service would look like. Imagine that it could solve the myriad problems that are endemic to all social media platforms. Imagine that it could turn the social media experience from a glorified Skinner box into something fun.
What if I told you that this service already exists, and moreover, that it launched in 2015 alongside a hit game for Nintendo Wii U?
For the uninitiated, every iteration of Nintendo’s ink-’em-up shooter Splatoon has shipped with a bare-bones posting feature that allows users to draw a monochrome landscape (or portrait, in Splatoon 3) and have that image appear over the user’s avatar, and even on billboards, posters, and walls.
As somebody who has led entire social media departments in the past, and also gone semi-viral for a tweet about Amelia Bedelia, I consider myself a bona fide expert in this field. I’d like to think I’m qualified to say that Nintendo has accidentally created the only good social media service in existence. Here are a few reasons why.
There is no discourse
The reason Twitter often feels like a toxic dopamine machine is because the service is geared toward “engagement.” In other words, it doesn’t matter whether a post is good, bad, harmful, or helpful. As long as people are talking about it, you’ll see the discourse on your feed, since the Twitter algorithm sees all those replies and retweets and thinks, Oh, people want to see this post. It might feel really good to beat someone’s ass in the QRTs, but at the same time, doing that still boosts the original bad post — which then goes on to create discourse about the discourse until the next Twitter main character shows up, or until you throw your phone into the sea.
Splatoon doesn’t have this problem because there are no replies. You have three ways in which to interact on the Splatoon social media service:
- Reacting “Fresh!” to posts you like
- Reporting harmful posts
This means that there are no hot takes. There are no engagement-farming posts from brands. There are no algorithmic rewards for engagement, and there are no ways in which to start discourse, so there is no discourse.
You can only post once
One of the most subtly brilliant aspects of the Splatoon social media service is that every user can only have one “active” post at a time. If you want to post again, you have to overwrite your previous post. This has an interesting dual effect.
Whereas platforms like Instagram and TikTok reward you with reach for posting a couple times a day, Splatoon’s posting restriction leads users to think about posting differently. Some of the time, this causes people to post amazing, elaborate, high-effort art meant to adorn their profile for days; in other cases, it leads to rapid-fire, zero-effort shitposts (splatposts?). The true masters of the format are somehow able to do both at once.
Paradoxically, the one-post-per-user rule leads players to both value each post (because you only get one!) and also treat them as disposable (because what if you think of something else to post?). It’s all the best elements of Snapchat without any of the bad ones.
It’s full of funny, cool people
Splatoon, at least judging by post tone, seems to be where all the best Tumblr shitposters landed after their great exodus. If you hop into Splatoon 3 right now, you’ll see posts celebrating Sans Undertale’s victory over Mob Psycho’s Reigen Arataka in the Tumblr Sexyman tournament; posts about how easily hackable and moddable the Nintendo 3DS is; and hastily scribbled posts about how Splatoon 3 is the first Nintendo video game Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t around for. The first “viral” Splatoon 3 post came from the Global Testfire event, and it merely read “I LOVE MEN” in block text.
There’s a ton of openly queer content in Splatoon 3, and any hateful or bigoted content almost immediately gets reported into oblivion thanks to moderation from both the player community and from the community managers over at Nintendo. Furthermore, embedding this social network in a game like Splatoon bakes in a kind of user self-selection, where, by necessity, the only people who use this platform are also the people who are playing the game. They’re part of the Splatoon community, which means they’re invested in creating a nontoxic community. They’re also really good at Posting. JFRESH is probably the best-known example — they’ve been consistently posting pixel-perfect splatposts, sometimes in webcomic format, for years — but there are plenty of other well-known posters in the community who consistently get featured in lobbies and stages:
tacticooler please come back i miss you#Splatoon3 #Splatoon2 pic.twitter.com/WDC9NqkZ7d— J Fresh (@JFreshSplat) August 30, 2022
There are no rewards
You can’t follow posters you like on Splatoon, unless you look them up and send them a general friend request, meaning there’s no follower count list on posts or users. What’s more, there’s no visible indication of how many “Fresh!” reactions a given post got. It’s all invisible — there’s no way for people to track their Splatoon posting clout.
This might seem like a minor change, but it flies in the face of every single other posting platform out there. Even BeReal, arguably the healthiest social media platform outside of Splatoon, shows reactions, which subconsciously gives users a drive to chase said reactions. Making likes invisible, and making follows impossible, means that at the end of the day, you’re posting because you want to post. You’re screaming into the void — as you are on any other platform. Only this time, you know you won’t get a response. So, you don’t expect one. Users just put something together and hope it makes someone smile or laugh, and that’s where it ends. It’s the lower-pressure intimacy of BeReal, mixed with the hyper-public nature of Twitter, except without the weird and toxic dopamine cycles of either.
Imagine if this was what we were gifted with whenever we tapped that damn bird: a Poster’s paradise. No brands, no discourse, no replies, and no toxicity because there’s nobody to be toxic toward — just a mountain of aimless posts you can sift through and add to at your own leisure, where “i pooped my pant” lives alongside a hyperrealistic portrait of the Mona Lisa with tentacles for hair. Both are equally valid, and equally appreciated.