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Can opinions ever be mild, on a forum?


foogledricks
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I express opinions here with the intent of getting responses. So yes I color my comments often times in a manner toward that end.

 

But my opinions (and yours) aren't always that strong, are they? Are you always screaming at the top of your lungs?

 

I think we need a new tag on this forum. A tag that expresses the degree of your opinion. That way if I say "I like Tekken more than Soul Caliber" I can indicate precisely how much I like it better. That way, if I only like it a little better, I won't get raped in the shower by you caliberites.

 

I know sometimes I deserve a good shower rape. But sometimes I don't. Sure I hoped the Wii would be $199. But I don't wish Nintendo impending doom for the $50 discrepency between my expectations and reality. Not a shower rape degree of opinion difference on this topic either.

 

I'm getting the sense that I shouldn't even bother expressing an opinion unless it is shower-rape worthy. Because proportionally that will be the response I get.

 

Anyway. I'm not just talking about this forum. This seems to be true on any hot topic for which people set themselves in the starter blocks, ready to pounce, holding one or two individuals responsible for every fanboy comment across the internet.

 

It's coming right back at you. I have Wiimote with your ass on it Glen.

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I think its pretty normal for people to over-react when speaking about a topic that is near and dear to their heart. For example I enjoy a good racing game/sim. I speak out when one doesn't have a good in car view, doesn't support FF wheels, etc but usually my comments in text form always sound more negative or angry than what is intended or how I'm actually feeling. Hell I was labeled the "force feedback guy" because of past comments (both possitive and negative mind you). In short I think it is just so easy to type anything that comes to mind that it is often done without any thought of consequences and/or how others may interpet your comments.

 

That being said I usually take everyones comments with a grain of salt if they are overly possitive or negative....unless its negative comments regarding EA. We all know that EA is full of greedy bastards that take advantage of the poor gaming tastes of the unwashed masses by continueing to release half assed sequals to gaming franchises every year. ;)

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This is a good question, Keith. I really think that the behavior of people on the internet via any of the various text-based communication systems, would be a great focus of study for a social scientist. The patterns you note are so common, it's not just chance and it's not just imaginary, IMO.

 

My own personal theory, which is based on my own arm-chair social study, but also on some ideas I've read from others, is that it's a combination of anonymity, and the unprecedented type (and amount) of communication that takes place in text on the internet.

 

I've said this before, but IMO the internet has ushered in a new kind of communication, which I call "conversational text," that, AFAIK has never existed before. Linguists who study conversation have deduced a set of rules that are universal to human cultures worldwide (which isn't to say there is no variation, just that the general rules are there). They include things like turn-taking, topic switching, even body language, and more. Also, the size of a conversational group is limited...although I don't remember the number but I think it's about 5 people...more and it will naturally split into 2 or more groups. Of course, the rules shift depending on the relationship of the conversants (boss-employee, parent-child, peers, etc). But they don't go away. When someone violates one of these rules it is quite noticeable. People unconsciously (or even consciously sometimes) signal their discomfort when someone is dragging on, or when they are shocked by what was just said, or happy with it, or whatever all in real-time and usually outside the textual-content of the conversation itself.

 

Many of these rules depend on very subtle behaviors, like a slight rise in pitch to indicate a question, or a decent in pitch to signal the end of your turn (both probably accompanied by shifts in body position, or gaze, or both). In general, a huge amount of information in a conversation is conveyed outside of the information in the text alone. If you've ever seen a word-for-word transcript of a normal conversation, you'll immediately notice how fractured it is, how few sentences are ever completed. A lot of this information is filled in by tone-of-voice (prosody) and body language. A lot of it is assumed by the context of the speakers' environment.

 

But on the internet, very little of this applies, and yet conversation-like communication abounds. This is unlike letter-writing of decades past, or other kinds of writing like novels, or biographies because it's very informal, instantaneous, and yet it covers the same often mundane, everyday issues that spoken conversation covers. There may also be something specific to the delayed-response of forums that make mis-interpretation likely. Chatting is more immediate, usually one sentence at a time, each person taking a turn. But forums demand more than one sentence (witness the monstrosity you're reading now), with no feedback from the 'audience' - other than another long reply written after the fact. So one could argue that forums are further removed from natural conversation than chat. Essentially, internet discussions have none of the natural feedback mechanisms of in-person conversations that keep everyone in check and on the same page. Without the tone of voice, it is easy to mis-read the emotional state.

 

Emoticons are an attempt to bridge this gap, and inject some kind of non-textual emotion into the conversation. And they do help, but are very anemic compared with the emotional feedback of a voice and even a face. Without any kind of body feedback, it allows a conversant to go off the deep end in expressing their opinion, with an equally strong reaction.

 

These factors work together, and can even form a kind of positive feedback system of escalating polarity of opinions, and of unabated vitriol that, were it expressed in a face-to-face conversation, would sound preposterously outrageous (indeed, if the parties could even get to that level of rage, which is unlikely unless they truly despise each other).

 

Each person you converse with on the internet is reduced to a block of text, or in the case of a forum like LCVG, thousands of blocks of text over several years. You may believe that you really know a person by reading their posts over years, and you do to some extent. But in no way near how you would know them if you had spent even half that time conversing in person, it's a qualitative difference, not just quantitative. On some level they just aren't as real as friends you see every week. It's this quality of a text-only knowledge of someone that makes it easy to fall into the trap of over reacting to what they post, and entering into the feedback loop of anger that is so common.

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Well first off, the answer is yes...but only if you've managed to get soaped up throughly first.

 

As for the topic, I never get worked up over something on the Internet. I'm a laid back guy to begin with so it takes quite a bit to get me upset in person. I'm just here for fun, and if it stops being that I don't stick around long enough to get upset.

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tendril,

 

I would agree but add that message boards also tend to be polarized in opinion due to an omission of moderates by their very nature. Meaning that if you don't care at least somewhat about a subject, you would likely never click through to the discussion in the first place. So many of the 'meh' moderates are immediately missing from the discourse and what you are left with are more pro/con opinions straight out of the gate. ie - if I click on a thread about the PS3 I probably like or dislike Sony already. If I couldn't care a lick about the PS3 or Sony, I would be less likely to enter the thread at all.

 

Compare this to chat rooms where it is harder to avoid subjects and is more like a natural conversation. There are of course still asshats hiding behind anonymity to grief everyone else, but really there is a lot more give and take in chat room and a more moderate vibe. ie - if other people in the chat room want to talk about the PS3, I'm more likely to discuss my views even if I don't really care about the subject. If it gets too bad you might leave the room, but likely you'll put up with some unpopular discussion hoping to get to a better subject later.

 

I don't know, in the end message boards are what they are...

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tendril,

 

I would agree but add that message boards also tend to be polarized in opinion due to an omission of moderates by their very nature. Meaning that if you don't care at least somewhat about a subject, you would likely never click through to the discussion in the first place. So many of the 'meh' moderates are immediately missing from the discourse and what you are left with are more pro/con opinions straight out of the gate. ie - if I click on a thread about the PS3 I probably like or dislike Sony already. If I couldn't care a lick about the PS3 or Sony, I would be less likely to enter the thread at all.

 

Yeah, I agree. It's somewhat like looking at forums to find out about how good a given products is. You will find people who hate the product and people who swear by it, but little in the middle...and the two opposites (depending on the product and the participants) feed off of each other's unrealistic opinions, unless it's a rare case of something truly great or something truly awful. The two sides escalate things by painting each other into their respective corners. Anyone in the middle, if they dare post at all, will likely get branded by the extremists as being a friend of the other side. Ironically opinions of the 'meh' variety can end up pissing everyone off because they can come off as dismissive...and sometimes they are. It's a great strategy if you want to piss off people who are passionate about something (either negatively or positively) to drop a 'meh' into the middle of it, which serves to undercut the their passion, as if the 'meh'-er is above the level of caring one way or the other.

 

This isn't how thing always are, some forums are able to keep a high level of honest discussion, but often this is how things degenerate if they do.

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And to that, Ed, the "meh'ers" (nice term, btw) are often chided for not adding to the conversation. Jumping in and saying "meh" usually results in a lot of sarcastic "Gee, thanks for adding to the conversation."

 

Given the structure of forums, conversations become debates in that they are formed by points and counterpoints. It's interesting that the taxonomy of a forum can actually inform social politics much like physical spaces do. Put people in a circle in real life and they'll have a conversation. Put two people in front of a crowd and they'll debate. Given that it's impossible for two people to post at the same time (at least in terms of the ultimate manifestation of those posts), you'll never have a true conversation in a linear forum format; you'll only have point/counterpoint.

 

What's more, the online social norm of "staying on topic" keeps people from freely conversing. There's an entire argot dedicated to the act of "threadjacking," "speaking off topic," "threadfarting," "in the weeds," etc. I would even venture to say that most forum moderators spend the bulk of their time herding rather than moderating in a Lincoln-Douglass sense.

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Put people in a circle in real life and they'll have a conversation. Put two people in front of a crowd and they'll debate.

 

Brilliantly put. Invariably what starts out as an honest debate almost instantly becomes a matter of "protecting your honor", scoring points, and pointing out flaws in the other person's argument. Even here. I have been red-faced and sputtering at times in my responses here, and it is almost never because someone disagreed with me, but rather because I felt I have been slighted or put down in front of my peers and friends here. I may be right, I may be wrong, but god forbid someone scores a "point" on me.

 

Take the conversation offline, though, and I am as laid-back a guy as you'll find. It's all about saving face, and it has derailed countless internet arguments and headed off many a potentially interesting topic before it even got going. I have been trying to stifle the urge to immediately jump in with a hot-blooded response when I perceive some digital slight and I think for the most part I do all right, but some days....

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I'm rarely angry or polarized on a forum. I guess I generally see both sides and sympathize in most cases.

 

Except for Sony. They can take their $500-$600 PS3, bend over, and ...well...we already commented about Wiimotes being shoved places they don't belong...or do they? Nintendo is trying to bring creativity to gaming...maybe it's all part of the plan...

 

What was I saying again? I forgot. Meh.

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