Recently I spent some time on a video game internet forum.
I know, I know. LockOn, you fool! You know better then that.
But, I had recently discovered something that I thought was a bad decision being made by the game developers of said video game. I took to the forums in an attempt to calmly explain why I thought this particular decision they were making was a bad idea, complete with several reasons emphasizing the problem as I saw it. My hope was that I could start a dialog with other interested parties on the forums and engage in a discussion about the pros and cons of the decision and how to go about fixing things.
Wow, what a dumbass.
What I learned in my time there, is that forums are good for several things, but discussion and debate are not among them. I posted my disagreements in the general suggestion box, or essentially the town square of the forums. Sure in my faith in humanity, that everything would be all right. I was even hoping a developer might pop in and help illuminate some unknowns and perhaps help move the direction of the conversation to an even better place then what was originally possible.
WOW, I was such a dumbass.
Once my post had gone up, I found myself assaulted immediately by several different and distinct types of forum posters. Many of these you may be familiar with. Some may be new to you. But with the help of our friendly neighborhood Marvel Comics, I pass this information on to you. Someday, if you find yourself locked in rhetorical battle, fighting for your life just for breathable air, maybe this will help you just a bit with what you’re up against.
The 6 kinds of forum posters to watch out for are:
These are the people who, the moment you post your item to a forum, will immediately respond by talking about anything except your actual post. They strike without warning and can lead the entire thread so far off-topic, it can require a super-heroic effort to pull the thread back. Sometimes, the Derailer might tangentially link their comments back to your thread as an excuse to keep going, but don’t for a second believe they plan to actually engage you on the subject. They can post anything from tiny comments to wild long form essays about bronies, cat videos, their pet iguana, or the color purple. The frequency with which they appear is both sobering and depressing. They are the email spam of forum threads.
The ranter is very angry. Usually not at you specifically, but hey, any port in a storm. They don’t hold your ideas to have any merit. And they will tell you this, usually as loudly and forcefully as possible. Sophisticated ranters will claim your ideas or the values you espouse are insane, ridiculous, broken, and otherwise attempt to bury them (and you) with everything they can throw at you. Unsophisticated ranters will usually just call you ever name in the book. Facts need not apply. Openly female posters are very familiar with this type of forum behavior. Ignoring them can be difficult but responding to them only feeds them. Speaking of feeding…
The troll can be hard to identify because they will sometimes disguise themselves as one of the other types on this list and it can take a few posts to figure out exactly what the troll is doing. Make no mistake though, trolls are just looking to generate a reaction. Usually anger. A key difference between The Ranter and the Troll is that often the Ranter is yelling because he believes in his rant. The Troll believes in nothing. They are here to watch you burn. The only upside is that once a troll is identified, ignoring them is a relatively safe social norm these days, and thank god for that.
The Delegitimizer will attempt to undercut your argument not by arguing with you directly but by impugning your logical process, your character, your ability, or otherwise attempt to delegitimize either you or your post as irrelevant. These are the people who will ask on gaming threads, “So, how many video games have you made?” As though having game making experience is a requirement to criticize them. Some will even go far enough to report you or threaten to report you to the forum moderators for whatever imagined infraction they think might get you to shut up. Again, openly female posters are depressingly familiar with this type of poster. The entire “fake geek girl” meme was created by these guys.
Clingers are some of the most insidious of forum posters, as they disguise themselves as legitimate critics and attempt to engage the discussion. Clingers will tend to cling to an individual part or component of an issue and then do their best to tear that part down and then claim the entire theory was faulty as a result. Unfortunately, clingers are not usually the best at arguing and can cause a poster to spend a great deal of time repeating themselves or otherwise spinning their wheels for very little payout. Sometimes engaging with a clinger can be helpful to dispel incorrect information and help bolster an argument. But use caution as not all clingers are worth the effort. Sadly, clingers will often devolve into ranters if they are pushed and their arguments are exposed as incorrect. Approach with caution.
The True Believers
These are often the most frustrating of forum goers to engage with. In video game forums, they’re the ones who will always side with the developers of that game, even when the developers have been proven to be wrong. Nothing you say, can alter their perception. If you are lucky you’ll get the ones who will simply say, the devs know best and only argue from that standpoint. They are eternally hopeful that good intentions will triumph. When you’re really unlucky, you’ll get a cross between a true believer and a clinger. These people are doubly difficult because not only do you have to shoot down the bad logic, you also have them falling back on their beliefs when it’s done, leaving you exhausted and with nothing to show for it. Nothing besides their rainbows and unicorns.
So beware forum goers. Finding a few of these in any forum threads you go to is a guarantee. As a forum thread gets longer, the more likely it will become that all six of them will be lurking. Managing expectations for what forum threads really are is important. You don’t want to end up with the deck stacked against you.