Forum Etiquette: The Art of Playing Nice (Lit)

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The Great Fox
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Forum Etiquette: The Art of Playing Nice (Lit)

Post by RabidFox »

Forum Etiquette: The Art of Playing Nice

Getting Down to the Brass Tacks

Good forum and internet etiquette in general are just as important as having good manners in the world outside the computer. In day to day life offline, as you meet new people, hang out with old friends, and spend time with the family, you are constantly reminded by your better judgement that first impressions are often wrong. We cannot always rely on the initial conclusion that we make in relation to others and their intentions. This is as true in living, breathing flesh as it is in cold, black text. There are real people behind the countless usernames on the net, and these people are just as easily hurt and offended as anyone that you can readily see and touch. Your conscience tells you to treat others with kindness and understanding, and this good will should equally extend to the individuals on forums, chat rooms, and other types of online environments.

We here at Feila are generally a friendly and understanding bunch, but sometimes even our utopia encounters problems and misinterpretations. This is why this tutorial has been written—To help prevent future social dilemmas from occurring and ruining an otherwise fun experience. In the following sections, some common problem areas in communication will be addressed and solutions offered. An open mind should be assumed when reading this text, and a simple, basic fact of all mankind accepted. That is, that we are all only human and therefore none of us are perfect. Each and every one of us have made mistakes and will continue to make countless others as our lives progress and we grow older and wiser.

With these thoughts in mind, let us proceed to the first section of this tutorial, and what better place to begin than the beginning of a forum experience. That is, the first introduction of a person to the rest of the userbase.

Those First Introductions Are Always the Hardest

For many people, one of the most difficult parts of belonging to a forum is the very first introduction to the general userbase. At Feila, user introductions take place in the Entrance Hall. This is where a person will make what is often their first thread on the forum, and where they will be first introduced to the userbase at large. Because of the importance and delicate nature of these introductions, how an individual is treated during this period of transition can largely affect their comfort level in relation to the forum in general. We will address several different scenarios that can occur, why they happen, how they unfold, and the way in which any potential problems can be solved and prevented from reoccurring.

Getting Ignored

If a person's introduction thread doesn't receive much attention, they may assume many different things, and a lot of these assumptions may be wrong. The person may feel that the forum is too inactive, that the people aren't very nice and considerate, that the person himself or herself is disliked or unaccepted, or that the forum's userbase is too clannish and not fond of new users. This feeling may be so strong that they are hesitant to participate in threads, and may abandon the forum all together. The person may shrink into shyness and uncertainty, and even if they don't eventually leave the forum for good, this first impression can have long lasting consequences.

Try to imagine yourself in the following scenario. Pretend that you are joining a forum for the first time, that you have never heard of the forum before now, and that you have no established opinion of the forum and its userbase. Picture yourself creating an introduction thread, taking the time to write up a friendly greeting and a description of yourself and your characters, and then sitting back as you wait for a response. This reply could be from anyone, you don't care who, as long as you're not ignored and are treated with respect and acceptance. You joined this forum for the same reason anyone joins a community. You wish to communicate with others and enjoy their company in a cooperative and friendly environment.

But you wait and wait, and this waiting seemingly goes on forever. No one has replied to your post, and it's been a long time. You begin to wonder any of many different possibilities for the lack of a response. You notice people signing onto the forum, hanging out for a while, maybe making a few posts, but then these people log off without even as much as a hello. No one seems to be paying attention to you, and you're a brand new member without much idea what to do or who to talk to. You feel neglected and ignored. If enough time continues to pass like this, you may start feeling as if you haven't been accepted into the community or that the community simply doesn't care about your existence.

Finally, someone responds, but it's a member of the staff. That's great and all, but you know those guys reply to everyone. You figure it's their job and perhaps that's all there is to it. Unless some more people respond to your thread, you may doubt even the friendliness of the one that has. Finally, a couple of other users reply. But despite that they seem friendly enough, you're aware of how many people visit the forum on a daily basis, and three out of forty makes you feel cheated. After a week and no more posts on your introduction, you understandably assume that no one else will respond.

You've had a poor first experience, and are entering the forum with a negative opinion of it already forming in your mind. You are not very happy with your first impression of the forum, and you wish that the userbase was more open and friendly to new members. You won't integrate into the forum as well as you would've if you'd been met with at least twice as many people. Now that would have been a warm and inviting experience.

The lesson to be learned from this scenario is that even the simplest greeting can make all the difference. Don't simply assume that if you don't greet a new user, someone else will. That kind of thinking can result in an introduction thread being completely ignored, and the person who created it feeling left out and rejected.

Make a point to regularly check the Entrance Hall for new posts or to simply click the New Posts option that shows up by clicking Quick Links, of which you can find at the top of every page. Even saying something as simple as "Welcome to the forum" can make a person feel happy and accepted. Don't be hesitant to greet someone even if many people have already posted in the introduction thread. The more welcomes that a person receives, the better their overall experience will be, and the more likely they are to enjoy the forum and to become a regular user. The happier people are, the more they role-play, and the more that people role-play, the happier everyone is.

I've had many users tell me that one of their fondest memories of the forum is that a lot of people greeted them when they first joined. The result of a first introduction can really mean the difference between a person remaining on the forum or abandoning it all together, not to mention their activity level in general. Be a good forum user. Keep this information in mind, and you can actually help Feila grow and prosper by doing hardly anything at all. If you need anymore reasons to make a habit of greeting, just remember that every post you make raises your post count.

Being Hammered by Critique

While I understand that constructive critique can be a good and useful tool for many people, there are a lot of folks that simply can't handle it, especially in a first introduction. Remember that these guys just joined the forum, and that they are understandably fresh off the farm. Many of them have never role-played before, and most of them will have little idea what the forum is really about and how it and its users function. They've likely not read any of the rules or the FAQ, either. Be gentle and understanding. Always maintain a respectful tone when speaking to these very new people, and always keep in mind that they're only human beings. Nobody's perfect, everybody makes mistakes, and people have feelings.

If the person doesn't appear to have read or understood some information, don't make them feel bad about it. Don't tell them that they're ignorant or hasty, and treat them with patience and kindness. If you decide to critique someone, do so with care. Don't let negatives pile up, and always ensure that you add positives to make the critique easier to handle. Even a comment as simple as "I like this certain thing about your character" or "Nice avatar" can make a lot of advice seem friendlier. Just make sure to let them know that all is not wrong and that you're only trying to help. Perhaps you could even offer to role-play with them or throw up your messenger name for a friendly conversation. If the person states or hints at not desiring critique, don't force it on them. You'll only make them uncomfortable.

Just keep in mind that everyone is at least a little sensitive, even if they don't admit it or act otherwise. No one is completely incapable of getting their feelings hurt from time to time. Therefore, always try as best as you can to not offend or wound someone. Be careful with how you word your critique, as words are very easy to misinterpret when a person has nothing to work with but emotionless text. There are no expressions and tone of voice on the internet, which are what one would normally use to communicate many different emotions and intentions. You have only simplistically presented text that can be taken in countless more ways than a colorful conversation in person. Try to ensure that your exact meaning is clear and easily understood.

Shooting the Breeze

Casual conversation takes place in many different areas of the forum, and not just the Shady Tavern, which is the area for most general conversation. People talk to eachother when playing games in the Carnival, in out-of-character comments during role-plays, within the forum chat room, and in all of the rest of the forums. There is not a place where people don't casually communicate in one way or another.

Because casual conversation is so common and widespread, the character of it is understandably vital in how people perceive each other. What might be a joke to one person could be offensive to another. The opinion that Joe finds harmless may make Fred uncomfortable. It's all the little nuances of communication that can really make a difference in interpretation.

In this section, we're going to single out those small details that can result in friendship or hostility. These dimes and nickels of dialogue may seem insignificant to some, but when all of your communication takes place in faceless text, most people will pay attention to things that may not be as important in person.

But That's Not What I Meant

All too often, someone will say something that, while in reality is truly harmless, another person may misinterpret it as intending offense. The biggest problem that unfolds when these things happen is not about the comment itself, but how the two individuals react to one another. The comment alone may be so trivial that it could be easily explained away and no damage done. But if the accused makes no move to defend his good will, then there's no reason for the prosecutor to see it.

If you notice or suspect that someone may have been offended by your words, make a point to clear the air. Let others realize that you really have no ill intentions, and that you meant nothing harmful by what you said. Sitting back and doing nothing will only breed contempt for you. People respect the man that always takes responsibility for his actions and words, regardless of whether or not he really did anything wrong. Being responsible is not being a doormat—It's simply a mark of maturity and respect for others.

In order to prevent misunderstandings, always make sure that your meaning is clear. Remember, you have no way of showing the expression on your face, letting the other person hear the tone in your voice, and displaying body language. The only tool of communication that is in your possession is written text. Take a moment to notice how cold it is, how colorless it is, and how completely devoid of emotion it is. Any emotion that you sense from these letters is entirely created by your own mind. You cannot possibly understand what I'm truly feeling right now as I type these words, or how they sound in my own head. You have only text to go on, and text alone is a primitive tool if not used effectively. For all you know, I could be cruelly laughing at you as you stumble along trying to make sense of this tutorial. I could be thinking of how stupid you are for not figuring this out yourself.

See what I mean? I don't really think you're a fool, and I'm actually proud of you for reading this far, but how do you really know unless I come out and say it? For all you can tell, this may be just another auto-message.

To get down to the bones of the matter, preventing misunderstandings is as simple as saying exactly what you mean, how you mean it, and why. Don't let others jump to conclusions. Save them the trouble. If you're just joking, let people know. If you're being sarcastic, announce it. If you're tired and not sure what you're typing, tell us that you're about to fall asleep at the keyboard. We'll understand. Just make a point to ensure that your meaning is always clear and easy to interpret. If a person gets offended by nothing, kindly set them straight and say you're sorry—Even if you never really did anything bad to begin with.

And, guys, just don't be so sensitive. None of us can read minds, and that is what I'm trying to hit home here.

Words That Can Save Your Skin

The right words can turn the tables on most situations. Not everyone is going to be willing to hear you out, and many people will simply go on believing whatever they want to believe, but most folks are fairly reasonable. Therefore, saying the right thing at the right time can salvage a relationship. It's not making an effort at all that is more likely to land you on bad terms.

For the sake of clarity and to provide words to those that may not have them, I will demonstrate some examples.

Watch Those Little Nuances

Say, Joe has just made a joke, and it was all in good fun, but Fred interpreted it differently than Joe. Fred took it as offensive, and is now angry with Joe and finds him to be a rather unpleasant person. If Joe doesn't pick up on the bad vibes from Fred, or if Joe just assumes that such a sensitive joke couldn't possibly offend anyone, or if Joe just doesn't care, then Fred will stay pissed off at Joe. This is not good.

Even if Joe doesn't really care about Fred and even if Fred doesn't really care about Joe, the two's shaky relationship may make others that they do care about uncomfortable. Therefore, even if you decide that for some reason you don't like or care about a person, you should make an effort to respect and tolerate them if only for the sake of others.

In order to fix this problem after Fred has already been offended, Joe can try saying one of the following things. These words don't have to be directed solely at Fred, and can be aimed at the general userbase. Doing the latter may be more comfortable for some people.

This is pretty simple and straightforward stuff.

"By the way, I was just joking about 'Insert Subject Here'."

"Just in case anyone found what I said offensive, I was only joking."

If you notice or suspect that someone has been offended, make a post to the thread with the comment in question, and type a message that is something along those lines. If you notice that a particular person has been offended, resolving the issue in a private message may be more comfortable for the both of you. Keeping everybody happy is actually pretty easy, but you have to make a visible effort, otherwise your good will may go unseen.

Now say Fred hasn't been offended yet, because Joe hasn't told the joke yet. There's often ways to prevent a misunderstanding before it occurs. After telling the joke, in the same post, Joe should make sure to say one of the following things.

"Joking." OR "Just joking."

"I'm only kidding."

"By the way, I was just joking about 'Insert Subject Here'."

Now it is a lot less likely that someone will find the joke offensive, unless it's a particularly bad joke, in which case, he should avoid telling it at all. Just because you find something funny, doesn't mean that someone else will, and if you think that a comment has the potential to badly offend someone, you probably should refrain from saying it period.

Running Away All the Time Will Wear Down Your Soles

Say, Bob is role-playing with Paul. The role-play focuses on a fight between their two characters, and a physical battle will make up a significant part of the role-play. The action sequences of this role-play are vital to its enjoyment, and a victory in this case is considered important, as if it were a boxing match or other sporting event. Perhaps it is.

But Bob keeps trying to hit Paul's character, and Paul's character keeps dodging or otherwise avoiding the blow, and not receiving even a little damage. Each role-player has made a few posts, and while Paul is having fun, Bob is becoming annoyed. Paul has no idea that he's doing anything to upset Bob. Bob, for one reason or another, doesn't feel as if he can confront Paul with the issue, and therefore remains frustrated. The problem continues and Bob decides to quit the role-play, as he's not having fun and has become angry with Paul. Paul is still clueless, since Bob never let on that he was unhappy. Bob starts to avoid joining role-plays where Paul is a participant.

In this circumstance, the problem is not really Paul's fault. Paul might be a poor role-player, but he didn't know that he was doing anything to piss off Bob, because Bob never made the effort to tell him. Being a poor role-player doesn't make a person bad. It simply means that they need to work on their role-playing skills. While Bob understandably became impatient, he should have let Paul know that he was doing something to annoy him. There are nice ways to inform someone that their actions are frustrating you.

In order to fix this problem after Bob has already become upset, Bob can try to say one of the following things to Paul. Depending on the people involved, it may be more comfortable for the both of you if the issue is addressed in a private message.

Again, this is pretty simple and straightforward.

"Our characters have been fighting for a while now, but my character hasn't been able to hit your character yet. My character has gotten a bit beat-up, and it would be more exciting if he could do some damage to your character, too."

"The battle has been going on for a while now, but my guy hasn't been able to land any hits on your guy yet. My guy has gotten a bit roughed up, and I think it would be fun if he could lay some hits on your guy, too."

If you stop a small problem from becoming a big problem, it's easier to sort stuff out. If you wait until things get out of hand, you may no longer have the ability or the opportunity to come to good terms. It's always best to deal with issues rather than run away from them, since avoiding problems only makes them worse.

Say, Bob hasn't become irritated yet, because Paul and him haven't started the role-play yet. In order to prevent this kind of issue from happening in the first place, there are some very simple guidelines that Bob can lay out. Once he's finished writing the role-playing text in the first post of the role-play, here are a few things that he can say in an out-of-character comment.

((OOC: No invincible characters please. That is, my character should do damage to your character about as often as your character does damage to mine.))

((OOC: Fair fight please. That is, my character should do damage to your character about as often as your character does damage to mine.))

This is a nice way of telling anyone that joins the role-play that you expect a balanced fight.

If you have an expectation for a particular role-play, make sure to let others know. Not everyone is an experienced role-player, and there are many people on this forum that are fresh off the boat. It is only natural that a learning curve will be present, but you can make that curve a lot shorter if you take the time to explain what you want and how you want it. Also, remember that some people, despite that they may have been role-playing for a long time, may not have done particular kinds of role-playing before. Patience and understanding are vital.

The End of the Road

I hope that this instructional text has been helpful to someone. If you have questions or comments about something in this tutorial, let me know. Critique is equally welcome.
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