Given the recent “misunderstanding” that a new user had about tone when posting, it started me thinking about online perceptions. Obviously, tone of voice, face movements, hand gestures and a thousand other subtle cues help to convey meaning when we talk to another person. Obviously, in a digital format, all of this is lost, and we become increasingly reliant on trying to interpret meaning behind the words that people use and how they use them. This is entertaining for two reasons.
One is that people take what you say at face value, and are often immune to sarcasm or jokes. This makes it hard to have some discussions because they take everything you say as it appears, and so subtle meanings are often lost on them.
The polar opposite are those people who constantly read between the lines, those users who seem to suffer from a bit of paranoia. They find hints of people potentially insulting them or degrading them in every post, and so when someone offers a contradictory stance or opinion, they immediately get defensive or lash out in retaliation. This is frustrating because they often say things that ruin whatever point they were initially trying to make, as people are blinded by the fact that they have now been rude, insulting or obnoxious.
What entertains me most about all of this is how seriously people take such posts at times. They tell other people to back off or lighten up, and miss the irony in their statement as they were usually the sole person that was tensing up until they pissed off other people. You have to take posts with a grain of salt. In a community such as Wesnoth that is very grounded, everything is viewed in a practical manner. We shy away from the attitude of spending pages discussing an idea because it’s “cool” and would rather quickly establish the feasibility of said idea. If it is possible and simple, often times a developer or artist might take it on, but often it is not. If the user is interested in working on it themselves, often they will receive offers of help from a developer or artist, or advice on how they can best go about making their idea a reality.
I understand that new users are not used to the type of forum that Wesnoth runs. Being founded with development purposes held in mind first, the forum is not quite as open as other forums are to pretty much letting users do as they please as long as they don’t flame. This is not to say that we have not provided outlets for the users. It’s a long-known fact among the developers that certain forums are pretty much trash bins, providing outlets for the users while actually collecting little of worth. (No, I’m not going to name them for you, where’s the fun in that?) Suffice to say it lets the users feel as if there are places for them to express themselves without getting in the way of actual work that the developers would like to see done.
One of the major issues that users complained of (using other words at times) was that they felt there was a mentality of us vs them, of the community being users versus developers. This was partially due to a previously hostile moderating style, and partially due to the fact that there was no buffer between the two. A developer who has just spent the past couple hours working on a bit of code for the game or an artist who has spent the same time touching up a portrait or tweaking that last sprite does not want to log into the forum for a break to see another user telling them what they should be doing, what they are doing wrong, and how they should listen to the user. Alternatively, this turns those same people off from helping users as they really have no desire to venture into a number of threads. Who wants to help someone solve an issue in Technical Support when the person acts as if they paid for the game and thus their problem should be addressed immediately?
I have worked hard to rectify the above situation by providing a bit of a buffer. For one, I noticed from the beginning the lack of a clear and distinct moderating style, so that users were never sure how something would be dealt with, what constituted behavior that would be moderated, etc. I have done my best to not only moderate, but provide my reasons for doing so over the past months. While unnecessary and some have advised that it may make me too buddy-buddy with the users, I want them to understand where I am coming from in moderation. Above all, the users should know the standards for behavior and postings, so that the community can be self-policing. I have seen this happen a great deal in the past month or two, with numerous instances of one user warning another that they need to tone back their behavior, that they should not do this or that according to the Posting Guidelines, etc. That was one of my initial goals I set for myself (yes, I’m that organized, I keep a goal list and timeline), but I honestly had not expected it so soon.
The community reacted well to consistency and the sense that I would do my best to help them to the utmost of their ability. I frequently would hunt down old threads or posts to find answers they needed, point new users in the right direction, or find the right developers on IRC to point to their issues so that they could be rectified as quickly as possible. When I was first made a moderator, I was warned that not establishing strict boundaries with the users might lead to them not listening to me, and it happened, users felt that since I posted like them that they could stretch the rules with me. I nipped that one in the bud, but without going to the other extreme and willfully demonstrating that I had this great power I could use at any time. I generally post in a thread until it starts to get too opinionated, and then I will bow out so that I can retain a non-biased view if I need to moderate. Sometimes escalation happens too fast, but I still approach each issue with as little bias as I possibly can. I am human after all.
Despite the warning, I did work to become buddy-buddy with the users, but with a clear understanding of the set roles. It’s similar to how I function in my unit. As an officer, the men treat me with respect at all times, but I maintain an open door policy and try to get to know them the best that I can, even the ones I may not be fond of in the slightest. So I applied the same principles and make myself available to the users to answer questions, handle issues, or deal with complaints. I have received more PMs in the past months than I ever expected to get, but I have helped a number of people, as well as shown them that I am not a moderating figure who thinks he is above mere users. I’m as much as part of the user base as they are, but I have greater responsibilities and duties that will invariably set me apart. The key is showing them that you are making the effort to be as much a part of them as you can be without compromising what you have to do (speaking as much to principles of leadership as forum moderation here I suppose). I know I’m rambling, but hey, 5am stream of consciousness right?
To a point mentioned previously, you often find yourself dealing with people you don’t particularly care for in life, and, on a forum that tends to be the trolls. Good-willed or not, these users are generally regarded as obnoxious users who have nothing better to do with their time but post needlessly or fan arguments. While I may be called upon to moderate them in some fashion more than others, I try to keep the same open door policy as well. I even managed to reform a couple by showing them that working with the community benefitted them more than going against it, though such successes are dubious at best. Still, I have talked with a number of them to the point that we have an understanding, and they troll less as they know that I will generally leave their inaneness alone if they behave. Compromise does work occasionally.
In a lovely circuitous path, this ties somewhat into the beginning point of this whole post with the idea of getting to know the person behind the poster. Even though I have never met any of these people, frequent communication through PMs, IRC, Facebook, or whatever means allows me to get an inkling of their character, who they are, and what makes them tick. This is beneficial, as some of the cues that are lost in a digital interaction can be grasped if you understand the person behind the text, and what their motivation is for saying what they said. This makes it a great deal easier to have a discussion with someone if you know how to respond accordingly, and this can be seen in long-term members of the community when they go back and forth with each other. Issues crop up when new users try to take their own interpretation to what is being said without keeping an open mind that they are entering a new community. They have not had the time to learn the personalities of some of the members, and so they tend to read too much into what is being said without understanding why it is being said.
Sometimes that initial clash that a new user might have over an issue of tone does not come for even a month or two after they have joined, but it’s mostly due to the fact that they want to be a part of the community without really understanding the community. People give away a great deal about themselves every time that they post something, and you have to be willing to read what a person writes with an open mind, though that can be hard to do at times.
As I write this, I see by checking the forums that a user who made a ranting post about how he thinks people should act has decided that I am a snob for not taking him seriously and agreeing that people should be bloodthirsty and rude when playing other people. This will be fun.