Monday 4 December 2006

Forums are Scary

There's some debate over forums at the moment. Much of which (in conjunction with several years of related blog archives) serves to remind me that just about anything I vaguely think of in relation to MMOs has already been posted about in vast detail hundreds of times before, usually better than I could put it myself. But still, I might as well shove my tuppence worth in, that's the point of a blog, right?

Web forums, bulletin boards, usenet, I've been around them for a while, subscribed to a fair few over the years on various subjects, and they all develop their own quirks, cliques, personalities, styles, inevitable arguments not helped by the anonymous, textual medium. Even by those standards, official game forums are pretty scary places. This piece nails them perfectly, but doesn't quite capture the deeper horror still...

I develop systems; for a few hundred people, rather than thousands or millions, and about as different from MMOGs as you get. And I take criticism pretty personally, even when it's just about the system as a whole. When someone provides helpful feedback like "this system is stupid and useless", I get pretty annoyed and resolve to change all their records to read "I'm a buffoon and know nothing", for about 30 seconds 'til I get a grip. I get annoyed even though I know I do the same thing myself, I get instructed to use some system or piece of software, and I'll probably swear at it and decry it for being unintuitive and useless. But it's a temporary thing, a little bit of thought, possibly even reading some instructions (as a last resort) usually works things out, and I can appreciate that these things are done with finite time and budget, the designers set out to do the best they could and didn't deliberately plan to ruin my day. I wouldn't ever send them a mail saying "OHMIGOD YUO SUCK", or enter that into some feedback system, there'd be no point. If people make suggestions about my systems, that's great, if they're impractical or whatever, we can discuss it. So long as everyone stays amiable about the whole business, it's fine.

One thing that web forums (of any kind) seldom are is amiable. I'm not sure if The Nice Society Of Nice People Who Are Nice To Each Other have a forum, but if they do I bet there are frequent flamewars over just *how* nice they should be. That's the nature of the beast, but it's more unusual for the actual subjects of the rants to be expected to read and take action on them. There's some forums for a TV series I watch, where one or two writers occasionally post. Not everyone knows they do, and now and again there'll be a ranty post about one of their episodes that they'll reply to. It's often a lovely thing, the writer maybe points out what they were trying to do in a certain scene, and that they appreciate it didn't work for everybody but they value feedback, and the original poster often realises they may have worded their post a bit strongly, and perhaps "I didn't like the way this was handled" would have been better than "whichever fool wrote this has no idea what they're doing".

Official forums, though, give people a target. The company as a whole, the designer of the game, the developer who coded that last tweak which rendered your character USELESS. Everything becomes very personal. People say "the devs are grown ups, they should be able to handle the stuff posted." But come on, how many of you could really work that way? Could objectively come in every day and say "oh look, another twenty seven people called me an incompetent moron, still, never mind eh?"

The false dilemma frequently presented to people saying "be a bit nicer, maybe?" is "oh, so you just want everyone to say good stuff and praise them HUH? HUH?" Of course not. The inevitable righteous defenders, who in their impassioned defence of the game shoot down any criticism at all, often cause the worst strife by being as unreasonable as the people making bizarre demands. Everything gets polarised and cliquey, everyone gets labelled as "fanbois" or "whiners".

What can be done? I don't know. Like DKP systems, there's any number of forum/blog-with-comments/internet based communication systems, and all have strengths and weaknesses and problems of their own. In the meantime, I'm off to found The Nice Society Of Nice People Who Are Nice To Each Other, and if you've got a problem with that, you can bite me, loser.

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