When I first heard about the lofty concept behind Kind Words, I didn't think it would be able to last more than a few weeks before getting ruined. I love that the internet can bring people together, but too much time on social media has shown me any space used for connection and support online can turn toxic if enough bad people find out about its existence.
While Kind Words is technically a video game, and being sold on the video game distribution service Steam, it's not really a video game at its core. In the vein of mid-2000s phenomenon Six Billion Secrets, Kind Words is a place designed for people to find comfort and solace in sharing their feelings and worries with strangers.
In Kind Words, players are presented with a digital image of a young adult sat at a writing desk, looking out the window, in a void of stars, as relaxing calm background music plays. The energy of the game's main menu will be immediately familiar if you've ever sat working while one of those "lofi beats to study to" livestreams plays on another monitor, it's not too distracting, but gives you something to work alongside, and gives this nice sense that you're not alone while writing.
Once inside the game, players can look through short letters written by anonymous users around the world, responding with a couple of lines reply if they think they might be able to help or offer advice. There's no pressure to answer questions, but they are there if you think you might be able to help brighten someone's day a little.
Players can also write their own short letters asking for help, advice, or simply asking to be told everything will be okay, or write general-purpose positive reassuring messages to throw out into the world on paper airplanes for others to read without responding to.
Kind Words has been out since late last year, and the most impressive thing about it may be that it's still just as much of a heartwarming positive space to interact with other humans as it was the day it launched. This space for reassuring each other and feeling like things will be okay has managed to avoid getting swarmed with trolls, abuse, or hate.
I have a few theories as to how this community has stayed so positive, and I think a couple of them could perhaps be applied to real-world social media platform moderation.
The game opens by introducing you to a really sweet deer who delivers your letters and spends time personifying them, before having you write a practice positive response to them. They're nervous that they might not be able to deliver all the letters people want to send, and you have to reassure him things are going to be OK before you can take part in the game. It's a simple system, and probably one that people could get around easily, but it's an attempt to get people invested in the idea that these letters are going to people in need of support, and there is a right way to respond. It sets the tone for what interactions should be.
Beyond that, the game is then very explicit about its own rules. This is to be a positive and supportive place where people can be looked after and built up, and no interactions that go against that will be acceptable. This is backed up with a robust content reporting and moderation system. You can very easily report content in the game, and a human will look it over, with their perspective leaning towards keeping things positive and helpful and nice. I certainly wish other social media spaces were more like that.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, its price point is low enough to be affordable for those seeking a safe place to talk, while acting as a barrier to people making throwaway accounts if they get banned.
If we look at social networks like Twitter, users who get banned can simply create a new account and jump right back to what they were up to. In Kind Words, if you get banned for a horrible trolling comment, you'd need to make a whole new Steam account, and pay $4.99 to get back in, where you would likely get banned again pretty fast. It's a small financial hurdle, but enough to make people think twice about throwing away their account saying something they know they'll get banned for.
Kind Words may not look like a traditional video game, but it uses its interactivity, the ability to introduce characters and soundtracks in a 3D space, to allow for positive human connection. As much as it may not always seem like it, it's nice to be reminded that people are pretty good, and there are people out there who want to make sure everyone is OK.