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Reading Comprehension

Jon Wood Posted:
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My writing of yesterday’s World of Darkness article was touched off after having looked around at the various coverage and commentary surrounding the posting of one developer’s notes taken during a fan suggestion period. The only conclusion that I could come to after reading a wide variety of sites was that there was a total and utter failure in reading comprehension, on a massive scale.

Let me explain: A simple read of the first paragraph of Achilli’s blog reveals the following sentence: “One of the panels at the Grand Masquerade offered players a chance to tell the devs what they wanted to see. I took notes like a diligent designer should, and here's the summary:” It is followed immediately by bullet points where the reader’s eye is drawn to the sexier of the player made suggestions, including the suggestion that the designers include permadeath in the game.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of this so far. Man attends panel, man takes notes and posts said notes online with a proper description of exactly what they are. The problem is that this is where what should have been a completely straightforward message somehow got muddled, mixed and turned around to mean (to a large number of people) something completely different. In my various readings across the internet, I saw this list interpreted as a full on list of CCP promises, to the slightly more reasonable but still missing the point insinuation that because an item is on the list, that it should be reported as “being considered” by the company. But in the end, this is an example of one small problem that points to a much larger issue.

The larger of the two issues is that this isn’t the first time that this kind of thing has happened in the MMO space (or any other internet space, really), and it won’t be the last, and I honestly believe it’s because we, as a larger society, just aren’t being taught how to properly read and understand the words that we read in our browsers. We, on the whole, often show ourselves to be illiterate not in terms of not being able to see and recognize words, but in terms of being able to fully understand what those words are trying to communicate.

It’s easy to see how this has happened as our culture has shifted more and more into one that communicates in tiny snippets of the overall message starting, many would argue, with the nightly news soundbite and culminating with the 140 character limit of Twitter.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t value in a shortened, quick, summarized point. There is, but we seem to be forgetting that there is more information available beyond the tweet, or the sexy bullet point and without that information, it’s easy for the communication to get scrambled. This is because it’s the words in between that get cut out in favor of a quick summary that provide context for the overall message.

Let’s look again at the example provided above with World of Darkness. In that example, the small bits of information that were taken away and discussed with such fervor were:

  • The fact that it was a blog written by one of the CCP developers (many of the responses I read indicated that they likely couldn’t have named the source specifically).
  • The fact that there was a bullet list of game features
  • The fact that some of those bullets contained sexy hot buzzwords like permadeath.

Without the proper context, those few snippets of fact can easily lead one to believe that this is legitimate proof that CCP is indeed talking about having permadeath be a part of their upcoming World of Darkness MMO. The problem is though, that the full body of the blog entry, taken in its proper context, clearly designates the list as simple notes taken during a panel that allowed fans to voice their opinions about what they’d like to see in the game.

Don’t believe me that this is a problem? Let’s try a little experiment. If you’ve read all the way down to this paragraph, you’re one of the few who took the time to get all of the information that it had to offer. Now, I predict a decent number of responses to this article, but I am very interested to know how many of those responders actually read this far. So, when you respond, just find a way to work my full name, Jon Wood, into the post.

As we all watch the world unfold around us, it’s important to try as hard as we can to understand the whole context of the information that is presented to us. This means not just reading the bullet points, and understanding the words, but actually reading and understanding the articles that are presented to us. It’s exactly this kind of misunderstanding that has led us to a place in the MMO industry where players believe all developers to be money hungry liars who make false promises only to break them later and developers to be left bewildered, wondering when and how those promises were made in the first place.

Context, properly applied, can lead to honest and valuable communication in any form, whether it be long winded articles like this one, or 140 character twitter posts, we just have to be sure in either case that we fully understand the whole story.


Jon Wood