21 March, 2008
Over on Broken Toys, there’s a post about an article criticizing Richard Bartle. It’s a post that spawned more than 400 comments!
But, I don’t want to talk about capitalism or RMT or any of that this time. No, the more important lesson is how easy it is for someone to forget that there are real human beings on the other side of the network. It’s easy to throw around words intended to insult like “intrinsic Marxist” when you don’t acknowledge that the other person has feelings, too. This seems especially common when the target of criticism is considered a developer.
Now, I have to admit that I’m a big fan of Richard. I think Richard is perhaps the wisest and one of the smartest of the online developers. Richard also doesn’t clamor for the spotlight like some of the rest of us do; not to say he shies away from attention, but he’s mostly known for his work instead of for his ability at self-promotion. So, a post that is critical of his work or insight is likely to make me cranky.
But, let me share an anecdote to show the more human side of someone that Prokofy Neva is all too happy to tear into in an online forum. Richard did me the tremendous favor of going to London to meet and have dinner with me while I was there. My flights to the Eastern Hemisphere are usually defined by massive amounts of jet lag, and visiting with Richard helped me stay up a bit longer to get me on the “right” sleep schedule for the time zone. Having dinner and a throughly stimulating conversation about online games did help me stay awake longer and I experienced hardly any jet lag.
When I was leaving the U.K., Richard visited me in London for dinner again. I had another wonderful meal and conversation with him before flying back to the U.S. One interesting thing to note is that the accusation of being a Marxist really did irritate Richard; he’s had some bad experiences in his past with people claiming “property is oppression”. Richard is educated enough to know what Marxists are, knowing that it is not just a word to be thrown around at people that present an alternative viewpoint.
Of course, Richard took this whole situation in stride with his usual even temper and a touch of British stoicism. You can’t be an online game administrator without developing a thick skin as a purely defensive measure; people will be very insulting and will forget that it’s a human being with feelings on the other side of the internet reading their vitriolic diatribe.
So, the lesson here is twofold. Developers: understand that people are going to attack you savagely if you don’t agree with them. Your public position makes you a tempting target. Players: understand that we’re still human. Insults might get temporary attention from those of us developers that have short tempers, but it won’t convince us that you’re right and we’re wrong. So, try to keep it civil instead of attacking other people. Those that engage in personal attacks may be able to generate over 400 comments on a developer’s blog, but few people are going to take those arguments seriously.