Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Is discussion a dying art?

I was reading some blogs, following some links, and most unpleasantly stumbled upon one of the unofficial WAR forums. While there are heavily moderated, and thus good unoffical WAR forums, there are also virtually unmoderated forums about WAR which manage to be even worse than the already abysmal offical WoW forums. Somebody makes a statement of how he thinks things are, or expresses an opinion; and instead of saying "I disagree" and making a counterargument, people who disagree start various personal attacks, describe the other as being mentally retarded, call him a troll, or try to make him look stupid by correcting his spelling.

Is discussion a dying art on the internet? There is a hilarious video on YouTube about a business meeting in which the participants behave like on an internet message board, and even that is toned down compared to some of the game forums out there. MMORPG discussions tend towards the quasi-religious, with many people only accepting one true god (although that god might have changed by next week). And even in the somewhat more civilized discussion between blog these elements pop up from time to time, one blogger claiming that another hasn't got a clue, or is a fanboi, instead of engaging with his arguments.

There are very few absolute truths in this world. Sometimes the facts of a case are clear, sometimes they are disputed. And very often there are no facts at all, just subjective opinions. Me saying that I prefer WoW to WAR is completely subjective. There are arguments for it, but many of them again are based on personal preference, like me preferring PvE to PvP. Somebody else preferring WAR to WoW is equally valid. A blog is not a newspaper, there isn't even a pretense of neutral and balanced reporting. All I say on this blog is my opinion, or a report of what I've heard and believed, not an absolute truth. It is supposed to make you think, to voice your opinion, to produce counterarguments where you think I'm wrong. If you just dismiss me as and move away, the discussion is over, and nobody gained anything.

And there is enormous value in a more detailed discussion, like saying "I prefer WoW, but the open groups of WAR are really good", or "I like the crafting in WAR, but it suffers from the mail and auction house being not as good as WoW's". If we could all learn to express our preferences in a detailed and intelligent way, devs could read that discussion and improve their games with it. But if we don't use arguments at all in our discussions, and just try to shout down and insult anyone we disagree with, no sane game developer will read that. If we worship our favorite game like a golden calf in its totality, and won't allow anyone saying that maybe this or that feature is better implemented in another game, then we risk that the next game company just makes a clone of the most popular game, instead of trying to combine the best features of all previous games with some new ideas. No game is perfect, the millions of players and huge market share of WoW represent just an overall appreciation of that game; even a small game with much less players can have single features that beat the corresponding feature of WoW. But if we don't discuss, don't argue, don't talk about details, but dismiss anyone who doesn't agree with us 100% with some general statement of his incompetence, then all that information of what exactly we like or dislike is lost. And some guy in a suit will conclude that people want more games exactly like World of Warcraft, because that is all the data he has. We'd all be the poorer for that.
Yes and no. I'd say the main difficulty that comes from these games is the emotional investment people have. It's kind of like the old Commodore v. Atari mindset, but instead of money (mostly, wink), the investment is time. When people put in a lot of time on something, they tend to get attached and become irrational. This is the cause of so much violent backlash when classes are nerfed and investments lost - just focused another direction.

However, I agree with the basic premise that intelligent conversation is becoming more scarce. I don't know if it's just the SMS-speak mentality seeping out into the net or simply the sheer volume of gamers who would otherwise not speak.

Sure is annoying, though.
Not sure if you caught any of the WoW 3.0 patch threads on WAR boards, but those got rather... interesting. I will never understand the motivation to post "I play another game" messages on a specific games forum.
Well, I personally always liked a big and challenging discussion, but forums and blogs are really limited in that regard. You can't understand tones and irony or sarcasm in a forum and sometimes your well meant joke can come across as an insult.
Also the fact that the supposed anonymity of the internet creates the keyboard brawlers, who take on this world and the next...
i see the lack of good discussions on games as hurting the games as well. It's probably a lot harder to sort through a mess of "Nerf warlocks!" "Mythic hates shadow hunters!!!!", etc., to balance a game effectively, than it would be to balance a less obsessed/angry group. In game development it probably also hurts as well, since it will be harder to tell which features people will really want overall, since a lot of opinion will get drowned out by stuff like "You raid, you have no life", "Your just want a reward with no work.", "This would punish ... players!", etc.

When people put in a lot of time on something, they tend to get attached and become irrational. This is the cause of so much violent backlash when classes are nerfed and investments lost - just focused another direction.

Yes, this is a big part of things as well, another side effect of MMO's taking so much time to play effectively the way they are currently made. (though there is still a lot of general internet awfulness that comes in as ell.)
This is quite funny, as it led to a most enlightening time on my blog, where the whole of the blogosphere was one big Russian Communist Bloc.

What it boiled down to is the same thing you describe.

One party makes a comment against a game someone else likes (WAR of course).
The other party then attacks the person, and decides to not argue the subject itself, which leads to offensive comments against said commenter.

Truly was sad...

All I know is it lead to a full deletion of a whole blog.


Because some felt being rude was more acceptable than the actual discussion.

It just showed them as being childish if anything.

You are correct though...discussion is a past art, and attacking is more the norm..

Welcome to the 21st century of the Internet.
I agree with notmercury on the emotional investment of people in mmorpgs and the consequent lack of rational thought about the game itself and others. It's the same thing when it comes to sports, music, or any kind of entertainment. It's something you spend a lot of your precious time on, so you want to prove it's worth it, or at least you don't want to be proved that you might be wasting your time with it.
Discussion is a dying art, I think there's no doubt about it. Why? Well, people are too lazy to think. When you have all the information you need chewed by the media and ready for you to eat it, why would you bother thinking about it?
Anyway, I'm not being pessimistic, I think the Internet helped a lot on this lazyness issue. But don't forget you get all kinds of opinions, including the flamerish brainless ones.
First post is a perfect example of what you're talking about.

It's not just a break down in civilized discourse on the web but in all areas of society and this problem predates the internet boom of the 90s and stretches all the way back to BBS message boards in the 80s.
I gotta say, there are many many more unsavory boards on the net than any unofficial WAR board will ever be. And some people just like it that way.

I figure choice is good, as long as I have somewhere I can go to have an interesting discussion with other games I'm fine.
I think there's little doubt intelligent discussion is dying out. The number of people willing to discuss is probably actually higher than it used to be, but the masses on the internet drown that out extremely fast.

To be honest I barely use game forums anymore - I find those who take the time to blog on a subject are a far more valuable source of opinion and news.

Solutions? I dare say there is none. Game forums have mass appeal, and the mass is, to be frank, quite stupid. It's not emotional investment that's the problem, it's sheer stupidity. Welcome to the world where everyone who prefers one thing over another is a "fanboi".
The issue is not just on the internet. Certainly language itself, and the art of expression, have suffered from the speed in which people communicate now. Text messaging, instant messaging, and even e-mail have all lead to sloppy communication and the proliferation of short form writing. Orwell had some salient points to make about the connection between the complexity of language and the complexity of thought.

Beyond that, the 20th and 21st century has lead to a fundamental change in the way human beings debate. Debate used to actually serve the purpose of putting forth ideas; exchanging them, challenging them, and changing them during the course. In short, they were interested in discovering the truth. Now, ideas are put fourth not so much to discover the truth of the thing, but to "win." We have lost sight of the goal of the battle in our eagerness to perfect the form of fighting itself. Debate is now an unsheathed sword without a cause.

The forums you were speaking of might have contained crude attacks and crude defenses, but the heart of the issue is that none of the folks typing that rubbish were there to discover any sort of truth. They were there to vent, to defend, or to attack. They were there to fight. The heart has been cut out of debate, and the poison that has seeped into language itself is carrying it forward to its inevitable conclusion.
I have always felt that discussions in the days of Usenet and BBS boards were generally more urbane and intelligent, in large part because the Internet was not available to the masses (and the World Wide Web as we know it did not yet exist). With more accessibility come the masses, and with them, we are forced to take the good and the bad, whether we like it or not. I think that with open message boards, intelligent, considerate, thoughtful discussion is, unfortunately, a thing of the past. And while the above-statement is only my opinion, and I do not offer as anything more, an examination of the WoW forums, these comments, or any other public boards on any given day will show that my statement is closer to fact than fiction. Discussion is not only a dying art, but in many places, it is already dead.
No, it has always been like that. You just had less occasion to notice it was going on before. Arguments are soldiers, and the other side is always wrong, evil, and trying to rape your puppy to death.
I agree. It's sad.

And it's more than just WoW and WAR. It's infected just about everything, whether it's sports, politics, finance/investing, or MMORPG's.
The last time I posted on the WoW Forum was after getting my first Flier (not the Epic) and discovering other than the flying, it was actually a Nerf compared to the Epic Ground Mount.

Speed? Level 60 Epic is faster
Viability? 70 Flier can only be used in the Outland. 60 Epic works in Outland, Azeroth, AND the BGs.
Flight? Ok, Level 70 wins this one.

Shouldn't the 70 Mount be an upgrade over the 60? To get that one benefit over the 60 Epic, you give up two others. That's a Nerf, regardless of how you look at it.

I posited that the lvl 70 Flier's speed should match that of the 60 Epic, AND it should be able to be used outside of the Outland but as a ground-only Mount. Why should I be forced to carry 2 Mounts in my Pack, or switch them at the Bank every time I Portal or Hearth? The 70 Mount should be an upgrade, pure and simple.

I was shouted down by all the Fanbois who'd lived with the Nerfed Flier for so long that they preferred to attack someone with an idea that threatens their old way of life, rather than admit to themselves that things could and should be better.
I think maybe you're asking for too much on the internet. People on the internet are full of piss and vinegar and anonymity. It can't help but shape every single discussion.

I don't mind arguing by calling the other person stupid along with your arguments. People do that in real life too.

One thing that could definitely be improved is trolling. Both those trolling and those responding. If someone is an idiot and saying outrageous stuff, your first thought should be, "is this guy just having fun at my expense? Is just posting this to see how I or others will react?"

People are going troll, guaranteed. People love to get reactions from other people. They will do that no matter what. The trick is how handle them. Most message boards general public can't resist responding the ludicrous, no matter how crazy it is.

People take posts on the internet a face value a lot. Which kills the discussion when it devolves in someone responding absolutely ridiculous comments and then arguing about that.

That's what killing internet discussion, not being civilized or not. If we want discussion to be cleaned up and arguing to take be something more meaningful and helpful, we need to take responsibility and start resisting the urge to deal with people obviously just trying to get yoru goat... EVEN WHEN THE OTHER GUY ISN'T.

"The IQ of a mob is the IQ of its dumbest member divided by the number of mobsters."

The internet bears out this old chestnut.

I think you touched on the main problem,'s hard to argue subjective items without the discussion devolve into personal attacks.

"Blue is the best color."

" is so much better than blue!"

"Sorry...I just like blue. Always have."

"U dont kno anyth1ng about col0rs...lrn2paint n00b!!11!!!"

Your favorite color is just as subjective as your favorite MMORPG...the only difference, colors weren't specifically designed to require an emotional investment from anyone using them.

MMOs are.

Unfortunately, my best "internet personal attack" consists of "I say, you seem to be in a spot of bother; might I suggest a more posterior alignment for your cranial space?"

Damn education ruined me for the internet.
Welcome to the Internet, Tobold.

In all seriousness, I don't think that the art of discussion is dying. While the Greater Internet Fuckwad theory certainly has some merit, I think that Internet just makes things more visible, proving Sturgeon's law once and for all. It's always been this bad, you just didn't see all of it.
I believe the faceless realm that is the internet lends people to being more extreme versions of themselves. Your blog is probably my favorite the reason being you post about a wide variety of topics and I can tell with each post you thought before you published it. Most mmo forums show about as much thought as a 3rd grade argument, I half expect to read "I know you are, but what am I?"
I think there are plenty of people online capable of intelligent conversation. I also believe the majority of them have their own blogs and dont post on forums.
Come back to LoTRo - it's terribly well-mannered over here. :)

But seriously, having returned to LoTRo a month or so back, it just reminded me that some titles *generally* seem to attract a better sort of mmorpg player.

I've yet to see any forum slanging matches - with one interesting exception: the PvP forum.

Here, it seems all the venom normally found on mmorpg boards has been condensed into a single spot, while the surrounding LoTRo topics/threads remain blemish-free.

Perhaps it's just the thought of "losing to", or indeed, "winning over" someone else in real-life that brings out the worst in us in terms of cat-calling or bragging.

Or does it say something about *some* of the parties attracted to PvP in the first place...

Keep up the good work!
... bare faced refusal to even acknowledge competition by name makes me laugh when I read WAR forums. They commonly refer to WoW as "that other game" as if by refusing to voice its name aloud, we can pretend it doesn't exist.

The same happened in LotRO, and will undoubtedly happen for years to come with this game or that. the 'bury your head in the sand' mentality is a hoot to behold.
Come back to LoTRo - it's terribly well-mannered over here. :)

Can you make the game fun first?

I'd say the nature of discussions on forums now are exactly the same as discussions were on Usenet 20 years ago.

So either polite discourse was already dead, or it's an awfully slow death.
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