Don’t we all like torturing ourselves a little now and then? The most immediate answer will likely be a firm handshake. But when it comes to a tragedy we witness on our morning commute or news of violence on social media, we suddenly feel compelled by a strong, unexplainable pull to stare at the sight.
Scientists have been investigating why we can’t look away from disasters and some have suggested it’s the preventative mechanism that gives us crucial information about the possible danger. Another study even found that we react to and learn more from negative experiences than we do positive ones.
Given those strange workings of the human psyche, it’s only fair that a subreddit like Make Me Suffer exists on Reddit, and that it’s home to a solid 1 million members. The community’s description keeps it simple, yet harrowingly effective: “If it hurts to look at, post it.” Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Scroll down for our interview with the amazing moderator team of the Make Me Suffer subreddit, who were happy to share some insights about their intriguing community.
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Bored Panda spoke to the moderators, u/hwhouston517, u/LovelyAGQ, u/DeathAngel11, and u/MattShea of the subreddit. Turns out, the subreddit was created by MattShea, a popular gaming YouTuber with over 2 million subscribers.
“It was originally intended for his YouTube series titled 'Make Me Suffer' for a place for his subscribers to submit posts that would 'hurt' to look at. The subreddit gained thousands of subscribers in the days after its creation, mainly being a place for memes and comics intended to make you disgusted or in shock (but not too extreme),” the mods told us.
The creator of the subreddit, MattShea, recounted: “One day I decided to make a video on an old flash game called 'Duck Life' which for some reason ended up being a very popular video. For obvious reasons, I followed it up with some more videos on the sequels, and made some jokes about how I was only doing it for the viewers. One of them said they were happy to 'make Matt suffer' so one day I decided to invite my viewers to post links and images in my Discord server of things that would 'make me suffer.' After a while, using Discord for the series become impractical, and I wanted to see how things would go if I gave people the opportunity to vote on what they deemed 'sufferworthy' or things they wanted to see me react to.”
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This is when MattShea realized it’d be great to create something to reach people outside his niche, so the subreddit was born. “I designed the subreddit to be largely independent of myself, so people wouldn't say 'hmm, I don't know this person so I don't want to be a part of this' when coming across the sub. After my viewers got things moving, the rest was history,” he told us.
As time went on, the subreddit strayed from its original purpose and users started posting irrelevant content. The mod u/LovelyAGQ recounted: “At the time, I had noticed that a lot of posts that didn't really fit had started popping up, and a lot of posts from fellow users poking fun at and complaining about how often repetitive, ill-fitting memes would get posted.”
At the same time, the subreddit was starting to explode with popularity, and Matt, not having enough time to manage the subreddit by himself due to his YouTuber career, added more mods to help the subreddit maintain its quality. “As the sub grew even more popular and as Matt focused less and less on the subreddit, the subreddit slowly strayed from being about him and his YouTube channel, to being about the users and posting what makes you suffer the most,” u/hwhouston517 remembered.
The mod u/hwhouston517 was added as a sub moderator along with a batch of others. In 2019, the subreddit had around 300,000 members then, and was exploding in popularity, gaining 50k new members every month. In comparison, today Make Me Suffer has a solid 1M members and is a constantly growing community with a lot of exciting—meaning compelling, but hard to look at—content.
The moderator team is a close-knit community with great and devoted people, u/hwhouston517 said. “As a moderator of some other large subreddits, I can definitely say I am closer to no other mod team than this one, everyone here is great and I love all of them, the mod said and added that: “We've had our ups and downs of course, but this is by far the most chill mod team I'm part of. We're also part of a very diverse team, more than half our active mods being LGBT+ and even having a couple transgender mods on board.”
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Most importantly, we tried to figure out just why, according to the moderators themselves, so many people feel that unexplainable pull to look at unsettling pictures. The creator of Make Me Suffer subreddit, MattShea, said that humans are a bunch of weirdos. “We seem to enjoy being uncomfortable when it's something that we choose. Scary/gory movies are a great example of that. And as the origins suggest, people also like seeing other people being uncomfortable. We've also seen time and time again that nothing seems to foster engagement on the internet quite like negative emotions,” he said and added that it’s perhaps that's what made the subreddit so popular.
Meanwhile, another mod, u/DeathAngel11, believes that an answer to the question may forever remain a mystery. “But one thing will never change—Uncomfortable situations are a daily part of life that we all face. Sometimes a little bit of laughter and an appreciation for our morbid curiosity in a healthy way is just what we need.”
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The mod u/LovelyAGQ shared another illuminating explanation. “I personally think it is down to human nature. We have a natural inclination toward the morbid in one way or another, and while everyone has different limits, everyone gets some enjoyment out of satiating our morbid curiosity in that sense. Without having to put ourselves in danger or worry about someone else's safety, we can view 'morbid' or unsettling content online.”
The mod continued: “It's like that saying about 'watching a car crash, you want to look away but you can't'; We have effectively been able to replicate that feeling on this subreddit in the most fun and enjoyable way possible. We are all happy to continue doing this, and happy to keep people entertained!”
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On the other hand, the Make Me Suffer subreddit is a lot less extreme than some others: “even our neighbors at r/MakeMeSufferMore are a lot more... well... unsettling than ours,” u/hwhouston517 told Bored Panda. “Since gore is banned here, it helps us keep the focus that this subreddit, as MattShea put it himself, was originally meant for 'fun suffering.' The subreddit was never meant to be too extreme, instead as a place where you could suffer and laugh at the same time. Though it's evolved a lot since the subreddit was focused about him, we are glad that it's kept its purpose of appeasing the people who like fun situations and moderate gore at the same time, as weird as it may sound.”
The moderator team also wants to thank their subreddit users, amazing subscribers and the readers of this article. “We are so grateful that they regularly provide such stellar and amazing content. We appreciate your time and the readers' time in taking an interest in us,” they said and added: “Happy suffering!”
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Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand, has been researching what happens to our brains when we see destruction and he identified that a particular process in our brains is the one to blame. “A disaster enters into our awareness—this can be from a live source such as driving by a traffic accident or from watching a news report about a hurricane, a plane crash or any disaster," he explained to NBC News.
"This data from our perceptual system then stimulates the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival tactics and memory). The amygdala then sends signals to the regions of the frontal cortex that are involved in analyzing and interpreting data. Next, the brain evaluates whether this data (awareness of the disaster) is a threat to you, thus judgment gets involved. As a result, the 'fight or flight' response is evoked."
Incredibly, "Witnessing violence and destruction, whether it is in a novel, a movie, on TV or a real life scene playing out in front of us in real time, gives us the opportunity to confront our fears of death, pain, despair, degradation and annihilation while still feeling some level of safety."
This phenomenon is also experienced in other situations, like standing at the edge of the cliff or when looking through the glass at a lion at the zoo. “We watch because we are allowed to ask ourselves ultimate questions with an intensity of emotion that is uncoupled from the true reality of the disaster.”