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Talking with your Audience

Adam Tingle Posted:
Columns Tingle's Touchy Subjects 0

As I initially sat down with my pen and paper (yes I'm that retro) to write notes for this week's Touchy Subject, I imagined a debate about developer and player communication. Given the recent, and dare I say startling, example of Square Enix pillaging forums and feedback pages to create a fantastic face-lift for Final Fantasy XIV, it seemed only relevant and timely to talk about such things.

But then I started to doodle on the paper, and draw myself as a robotic cowboy with a cyber lasso. Hadn't this subject been done before? Haven't we heard how "developers ACTUALLY do care" and that "when they listen, STUFF happens". To be honest reader, I found myself detailing my leather boots and spurs a little more interesting.

And this isn't to say that I don't find these attempts by programmers and publishers to be admirable - it's that we've had this discussion before, and perhaps there's a different type of discourse to be had: namely the one between writer and reader.

About a month ago, Samantha Allen wrote an open letter to various high-profile games media websites.  Within this piece, Samantha implored editors to do more to combat racism, homophobia, and general intolerance that can plague comments boxes and forums.

Now, here at MMORPG.com I feel that we are slightly more privileged than certain other sites. Be it that we attract a more rounded and mature reader because of our genre, or because our acronym seems to ward against savages like a debuff - whatever the case, we seem to have semblance of a civilized discussion going on.

So with that being said, I feel that with a combination of hard-working modulators, and a lovely bunch of readers we rarely have to contend with someone going off at the deep end because they don't "TOTES LOVE Master Chief <3" or instead think that "Mario looks well gay". I optimistically think we're past this.

But that doesn't mean that we have a few issues here and there. I have been writing for this site now for more than three years, and while I spread my time between online, print and an actual real job that doesn't involve pontificating on Cloaks of the Monkey Butler +5 strength, the former is a harder thing to get to grips with.

Because whenever you write anything online, the platform is so immediate and interactive that it's hard not to become totally obsessed by monitoring the page where your opinions are going live.

When I first started scribbling my varied thoughts for MMORPG.com, I wrote a collection of Eve Online journals, detailing my adventures throughout New Eden. Now, coming fresh-faced from college (that's High School to my colonial cousins) there's a sense of pride and great ego that comes with posting to thousands of readers and having a sizable portion tell you exactly what they thought of what you have just written. And, much to my delight, most of it was positive.

So it was then that I decided that I would be like Zorro, a sort of masked MMORPG gonzo figure that would only report and never get involved in the forum nitty-gritty: and this lasted for about 2 weeks. While I decided that I was to be "professional" by not sharing in debate, I felt that I was missing out on a great deal of discussion to either extend my thoughts and feelings, share with other's mindsets, or, as is usually the case, defend misinterpretations.

Because, for everything we do here, the biggest source of contention is when what we write is completely ignored and yet the comment box is aflame with accusations and insults. Whether someone disagrees with what is put down on a Word Document and transferred to HTML is rarely an issue to get upset about, but when someone doesn't take the time to scan the page and instead prepares for an attack on the forum - then things can become strained - because really, whenever we commit anything to be published we try to leave subjectivity at the door.

Rather than immature teenagers with immature opinions, instead on this website we have a delightful, but potent, combination of the enthusiastic. Those people that truly, and loyally, become excited about certain games and online worlds, and wish to enthuse to all and sundry.

So like the above comments about Master Chief and Mario, instead of the stuff that really hurts, the forums are not unfamiliar with more esoteric insults. Little skirmishes are known to flame up, Guild Wars 2 loyalists subtly undermining FFXIV fans, and just about everybody questioning the mental state of World of Warcraft's, controversial, 11 million.

As if to frame this entire phenomenon is the fact that the last article I wrote included reference to EverQuest, Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot, prompting the accusation by one reader "I seriously doubt you played any of those three games you listed when they were in their prime, which was around 1999-2001 for EQ."

Which in reality, is a fantastic, highly evolved sort of discussion. The type where the only stuff to debate furiously amongst each other is which fantasy land is better. Objectively, this is nothing like somebody declaring racist and sexist views, but can contain some of the vitriol and bile just replacing certain words with "elf" and others with "The mystical lands of Azeroth". I myself recently relayed a message that was sent to me from a disgruntled Final Fantasy XIV player when I gave updated impressions of the game back in 2011 - with still some commentators declaring that "that is the Internet deal with it".

And perhaps that is a solid response. Given the level of anonymity and instant retorts, a certainsense of immorality can run rampant. Nobody really has to censor themselves and can say exactly what they mean: but when it has to do with online gaming, surely some degree of control should be exercised?

To many this might sound like a whine, to whom I would profusely apologise. I find that this site is a wonderful place to write, and a place where the collective readership have cheered me on, given me advice, and generally helped develop into a something resembling a journalist.

There is however, something to be said for us as writers, and our relationship with you the reader. Is it right for us to interact and defend our articles, or does it feel unfair for a blue-tinted commentator to swoop down and the right wrongs of what has been said? Does the Internet allow for a better flow of interaction with author and consumer? I feel it does, and it isn't like most of the writers here do not monitor their articles on a comment-by-comment basis feeling pride or desperation with each passing sentence.

Ultimately, both the people that provide content and those that patronise it are the same. We share the same loves, the same hobby, and the same enthusiasm. Let's all live in an MMORPG paradise.

Adam Tingle / Adam Tingle is a columnist and general man-about-town for MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and FPSGuru.com. He enjoys toilet humour, EverQuest-themed nostalgia, and pointing out he's British: bother him at @adamtingle

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Adam Tingle