Vague Patch Notes: How to make your points and exit gracefully from online debates

    
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This went over great.

It’s 2019, people. Let’s do this. And by do this I of course mean learn to actually debate things in a way that might wind up changing people’s minds, or at the very least not look like a phenomenal nitwit! It’s just that chanting all of that at once isn’t a very motivational thing to go for.

Being on the old side of millennial means that I’ve seen a whole lot of different… let’s say stages of the internet. And there is some old and deep wisdom to be found in the earlier stages, in the days before likes and social media, when the only sign that you had “won” a debate wasn’t the counter of how many people clicked a heart icon but the sign that people talked to you and solicited your opinion. Since most online communities in those days consisted of five people, it was a little more open to granularity, but the point here is that you can still internalize this wisdom.

So let’s talk about that today. Let’s examine how you can, in fact, make your points and exit gracefully when debating things online. Specifically MMOs, since that’s what we cover here.

Full of sound and fury. Sadly.

Focus on points and substance, not volume

When you were five years old, you probably had one argument technique, and that was screaming. You would do your level best to be as loud as possible, and your parents or guardians would either do something close to what you wanted in order to shut you up, or they would do something else to shut you up. The common technique is to put you in time out or your room forever (or for 10 minutes, one or the other), until you run out of the energy to keep screaming at top volume.

Now, go ahead and ask your parents how often your screeching changed their minds about something. I’m going to bet it’s around never. At best you convinced them that buying you a $5 toy was less annoying than listening to you scream.

You are presumably no longer five years old. So why would you still try to win arguments like a five-year-old?

When debating with people, you should thus be focusing on the points you have to make first and foremost. Brevity and directness matters far more than length. A wall of text isn’t convincing; it’s just dense. Never make a point in four paragraphs when you can make it in one, and never make a point in one paragraph when you can make it in one sentence.

“But all of that is about quality of writing!” Yes, and online that’s what people have to judge you on when it comes to a comment or a forum post or whatever. The more you present yourself as making a reasonable point, the more people are going to focus on what that point actually is instead of the way you present it.

So, on that note…

It is not rude to rebuff rudeness.

Don’t make it about yourself

MMOs are havens for the seniority argument. “I’ve been playing this game since the first expansion!” “Well, I’ve been playing since launch!” “Well, I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since beta!” It’s an argument that doesn’t have a lot of traction anywhere else.

I mean, can you imagine where else it would come up? “Your honor, my client has been not going to jail for the past two decades, clearly he’s an expert at not going to jail. Thus, he’s innocent.”

Aside from the fundamental silliness of that, it also presumes that anyone cares or that it’s germane to the argument at hand. It is entirely possible that you are a loving and attentive father who works a high-powered job at 50 hours a week and still finds the time to be part of a progression raiding group in order to actually see any of a game’s real content. But that fact doesn’t mean that making progression raiding the only way to see that content is a good thing; it just means you’ve found a schedule to perform that task.

Being right is one of those things that’s comfortably separate from your identity. Two plus two is four regardless of any aspect of your personality. Making it about yourself is basically just a reverse ad hominem attack and exactly as convincing.

And if it needs to be said, making it about the other person is just as bad. There are lots of people I don’t like for various reason, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically wrong. If someone’s wrong, you can point out why they’re wrong without resorting to name-calling. See the previous note about not being five any longer.

Of course, part of making a convincing argument is…

This is my surprised face.

Be willing to have your mind changed

This one sounds kind of counter-intuitive until you think about it. At first glance, it feels like if you might be wrong, you shouldn’t even be arguing something in the first place. You know that the Eternal Empire storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic is bad; why would someone convince you otherwise? You just need to convince people who like it that it’s bad!

You know, the people who are convinced that it’s good and just need to convince you that it’s good.

If you don’t think your mind can be changed and you can be proven wrong about things, it’s kind of arrogant to think you can change the minds of other people. For that matter, it means that you’re not really examining points and analyzing them; you’re just refuting them. If someone tells you, for example, that ship combat in Star Trek Online is counter-intuitive, it’s not a refutation to just say “no it isn’t.” You have to understand what the speaker finds counter-intuitive and what they think it should play like.

This doesn’t mean your mind will be changed (it’s quite possible that the problem in the above example is the speaker, not the combat). Nor does it mean that your opinions will do a complete flip (you might acquiesce that the Eternal Empire had some interesting ideas, even if it still feels like too much of a departure for you to like it). But you need to start by approaching this viewpoint, acknowledging that maybe your mind will be changed by good arguments. How else can you expect the same from anyone else?

And last but not least…

AS IN CLOSE YOUR MOUTH AND STOP TALKING!

Shut the heck up

No, seriously. This is the greatest rhetorical tool in existence. The best way to make your point is to follow up by closing your mouth. Not responding to people arguing with you, not getting into long and divergent replies, saying (either outright or in your mind) that you’re done making your point and then actually going quiet.

Why? Because no one changes their mind due to arguments.

People change their minds during debates. You say that PlanetSide 2 is inherently unbalanced, and someone else comes in to say that you have a point about some of the weapons, but the overall factional split is useful and gives identity. You can go into more detail, and both of you can refine, amend, and improve your viewpoints. But arguments? Arguments are just someone coming in to answer your statement about the game being unbalanced to tell you that you’re dumb and balance is fine.

You aren’t going to convince that person of anything. So don’t try. Don’t start slinging mud. Don’t start arguing. You made your point, there’s nothing to respond to, move on.

Yes, that means evaluating whether or not things are worth responses on a case-by-case basis, but it’s always best to err on the side of not responding unless there’s something interesting you want to respond to. Because the people who can’t actually refute your points will usually come around to try to drag you into arguing, saying that you just can’t handle your ideas being put under scrutiny.

The reality is that this is the equivalent of the aforementioned five-year-old daring you to fight them and declaring you’re a chicken if you don’t. Do you care if a five-year-old thinks you’re a chicken? Of course not. They’re not worth engaging.

Learn to walk away and stop talking instead of getting drawn into arguments that won’t go anywhere. Sometimes, silence says more than a 500-word reply.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

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NeoWolf

I don’t know, there is a lot to be said from a good back and forth on a contested subject. It gives you the opportunity to see something from someone elses point of view..EVEN if you do not agree with it.
It honestly never ceases to amaze me just many different ways people can view the same things it si genuinely one of the most fascinating things about people…

BUT as I’ve mentioned before and elsewhere people imo are also far more inclined toward negativity than positivity in general. So with that in mind you tend to find a lot of people look at things in terms of what is wrong with them and not what is right with them..and that can lead to people who don’t view things that way assuming that those opinions are intended as attacks rather than observations or personal opinions and then conflict ensues.

You also have to keep in mind everyone is the Master of thier own opinion too and by that I mean your view is your view, you have it for a reason, experiences etc.. those views are formed for a reason and entirely valid (even if sometimes unfair) to YOU and anyone coming along telling you that in thier opinion you are wrong in YOUR views is going to grate on you and touch a nerve. Afterall they haven’t experienced what you have or formed the opinions you did for the reason you did so how could they know right.. and vice versa.

Keeping an open mind to other views so long as they are not aimed as attacks at your own and merely challenging you to consider other views is where the happy medium lies but nevertheless such conversations are always minefields of potential fallout. So long as insults are kept out and a focus on the point that was originally being made is not lost there is nothing wrong with a healthy back and for of conflicting vies though. I would say.

I know for me I only get triggered when people realise they cannot force you to see thier view or realise they lack the conversational skills to debate a topic of conflicting views without the aim of converting the other person to thier line of thought and then resort to trying to demean you or insult you because you dare not to see things thier way and agree with them.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

It is entirely possible that you are a loving and attentive father who works a high-powered job at 50 hours a week and still finds the time to be part of a progression raiding group in order to actually see any of a game’s real content. But that fact doesn’t mean that making progression raiding the only way to see that content is a good thing

Oh man, if I had a nickel for every time some extremely narrow-minded, selfish person says something similar (“it’s a PvE MMO game, there is only one right way to play PvE MMO or experience the story – do dungeons with forced grouping, if you have different preferences – you’re wrong and you should go play WoW or some sociopathic PvP game”) on Reddit and other forums I’d be a trillionaire now…

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Castagere Shaikura

I try to stay away from this kind of thing on the internet today. 90’s internet was a different thing. You could have long debates in newsgroups because they were moderated to a degree. Today with social media and just about every nut job has youtube or twitch channel it’s not worth it. Some of these people have a god complex because they have a bunch of followers.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

You can still have such debates at Wikipedia’s Talk pages ;-) Of course, there are still idiots trying to push their POV (especially when it comes to topics about American politics during last few years) but they don’t last very long there.

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rafael12104

Ah, but the word “argument” also has another slightly different meaning, Eliot.

Argument (noun): a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.

Argument in its purest form is not irrational, it is the opposite. It is the foundation of discourse which informs and propels all forms of human endeavor.

And that is, for me, what discussions and debates in forums or comment sections should be and are for at least a little while. And the aim is not to convince those entrenched on the other side, but to persuade those standing by and possibly come to a new understanding.

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t happen often in this anonymous internet quagmire. But every once in a while there is a glimmer of consensus and understanding. And on those occasions, there is also the possibility of real live action beyond the forum bullshit.

So, I’m for argument. I think it is great. But how you argue, there is the rub.

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kgptzac

I actually like and adhere to this definition of the word “argument”. Sure if you put the word “argument” with “debate” side by site, the latter appears to have a more level-headed and productive meaning than the former… but in fact both words can be used interchangeably. Irrational debates is a thing, too, though unfortunately.

Cadaver
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Cadaver

And there is some old and deep wisdom to be found in the earlier stages, in the days before likes and social media, when the only sign that you had “won” a debate wasn’t the counter of how many people clicked a heart icon but the sign that people talked to you and solicited your opinion

Well you guys have the power here. I think you’ve been smart to disable any kind of downvoting, but do you think that removing the ability to upvote a comment might also encourage more thoughtful debate? Or do you fear that it would reduce reader engagement?

Mewmew
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Mewmew

“When debating with people, you should thus be focusing on the points you have to make first and foremost. Brevity and directness matters far more than length.”

He says in a drawn out 5-page article :P

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Leiloni

This is a good list! The one thing I’d add that I’ve seen a lot of in the past 24 hours is notice the difference between facts and opinions.

You can say a game factually has certain features, or it’s systems work in certain ways. What becomes opinion is if you say “This game is better because it has X,Y, and Z”. What is better is just a preference and we all know that everyone likes different things. I’ve had a few people try to argue to me that one game is factually better than another because they prefer certain things. At the end of the day, you’re not going to win an argument making points like that. In the above-mentioned example, a person would have to alter the point they’re trying to make in order to get anywhere (and take opinions out of it).

Usually for stuff like that, I try to reply one or two times and if it continues to go nowhere, I give up and just stop responding. I’m confident in what I’ve written and most of the time, the other person’s bad responses speak for themselves. And it saves you the hassle of dealing with a discussion that’s going nowhere.

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McGuffn

Opinions have a time and a place. This always comes up around this time of year because people are looking for steam sale recommendations or are making and comparing top 10 lists. They want a game like X or people recommend a game because of Y and Z.

The great thing is that even if you look at things empirically there still isn’t really a right answer because people simply want different things out of an experience, and there could be some minor and often overlooked feature that elevates it in someone’s eyes.

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Leiloni

Agreed and I actually suggested below in another comment that a poster use a bit of opinion to take a discussion in a better direction.

Personally I enjoy helping people in those “LF MMO” threads on /r/MMORPG. They’re exactly like you mention – someone asking for a game recommendation. I can use my knowledge of MMO’s to steer them in a direction they’d enjoy, even if it’s not my thing. But that’s not necessarily a debate as much as its someone asking for advice.

But in my example that happened to me earlier, that discussion was unfortunately going nowhere. The entire substance of that discussion was “You should play GW2 over WoW because it’s factually better and here’s why”. That’s pure opinion, and that’s essentially the very short comment I left that caused this person to start arguing with me to begin with. I didn’t even state my own opinion, merely that his previous statement was one. When there’s more to a discussion you can certainly use opinion in effective ways. But when the entire discussion is about an opinion, there are no other points to even debate. But I tried at least to find some lol. :(

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athiev

I’m going to say I agree with this, and then I’m going to be picky. There are some preferences that are so nearly universally shared that they’re functionally equivalent to facts. If I said, ” Game A is better than that game B because they are identical except that game B is packed with malware,” that’s a statement of opinion that may as well be a fact.

But, right. I can say, “I like FFXIV more than EvE for reasons 1-2472,” and we could have a conversation about that. If I instead claimed that FFXIV is factually better than EvE, then I’m a conversation-killing jerk. :)

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TomTurtle

As I’ve cut my teeth on discussions so many times over the course of Massively and MOP over the years, I’ve more and more taken to just avoiding getting into the thick of it. It’s often been difficult to realize when to stop arguing and step away. For me at least, it just gets tiring, especially when it’s going over the same topics over and over again.

Even so, I will say I don’t regret all that time commenting. I think it was valuable to do and to learn what worked for me in the process. And really, commenting can be engaging and at times, more interesting than playing a game.

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Leiloni

I would say to this that it’s best to take emotion out of it, although if you can’t do that then it’s best to avoid having those discussions. But personally I enjoy having discussions most of the time. Not only can it be interesting to go back and forth, but I often enjoy the challenge of a good debate. Even as a kid my parents used to joke that I should become an attorney haha (I never did).

I have even on occasion found myself arguing a side in a discussion other than the one I personally agreed with, merely because there were a lot of good arguments to be made that nobody had yet. I get enjoyment out of contributing that and feeling like I made a good point, even more so if I can sway someone. It’s a way of winning when done in a professional way.

What I do find annoying is when the person I’m talking with get emotional or childish, and then I step away. Nobody wants to talk to someone whose about to rage or already is. There’s a line between trading different points about a topic and getting upset about it.

When you have a good debate it can be invigorating and not tiring at all. If it starts to go south, I just walk away before I get tired or annoyed.

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McGuffn

One thing I’ve noticed in videogame/entertainment debates among a certain crowd is they present their arguments in the most offensive and self defeating way possible (“why does this have a female protagonist, this is sjw bs!”) and then when you ask why it’s so offensive they dig in and go on and on before saying stuff like “nobody ever said there’s anything wrong with female characters, we just want them well written.”

It’s very bizarre.

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Baemir

What?

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McGuffn

I’ve been there.

Basically, I’m talking about people that go out of their way to make themselves seem as stupid and offensive as possible when making a first impression (or in the opening salvo of a debate) only to retreat over the course of the discussion.

It’s very noticeable and sad. The first time I debated someone like this (a year or two ago, on Reddit) I was dumbfounded.

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Matt Comstock

This is perfect: “You are presumably no longer five years old. So why would you still try to win arguments like a five-year-old?”

This is well-written and a must-read for, basically, all video game forums. And, probably just all forums discussing anything.