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Thinking About: I can’t hear your typing’s intent

There’s a nasty trap that people who interact in real-time text-based environments can fall into. Even on a MUSH, where people can spend multiple paragraphs setting the scene for what their character is doing and saying, we don’t always do the best job conveying meaning when we type. It’s particularly nettlesome when people are having an out-of-character, player-to-player conversation without any of the aural or visual cues that are normally available with real face-to-face communication.

You may be the most well-intentioned person in the world, but sometimes what you type might be read a totally different way by someone else. Or, you might read something someone else types, make a joke about how it offends you, and then offend them with your behavior. Or, you might be someone like me: You’ve got a reputation for being snarky and cranky, so any time you type ANYTHING on an out-of-character channel, some people will immediately infer a certain tone from it.

And, no, I’m sorry, but πŸ™‚ and πŸ˜‰ and πŸ˜› don’t help. In fact, they will just make it worse, adding new layers of potential offense for people to puzzle over. Is that a snotty wink? Is the poking tongue dismissing me as irrelevant? Is that regular smiley like the kind you see on the face of the fellow with the knife hidden behind his back and ready to strike?

So, the next time you’re thinking about typing something in a text outlet – MSN, Facebook, Twitter, the MUSH – you might do yourself a favor and think about the words you’re using and the intent behind them, and be sure to make that intent abundantly clear.

I’m not saying you should always be nice and polite, though. Fact is, if you muddy the waters too much when you’re TRYING to be a sarcastic son of a bitch, you might miss the mark entirely. Subtle nuances of tone rarely work in real-time text interactions.

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  1. Rarhamut
    February 26, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I used to find that when I *didn’t* use my signiture :> at the end of something I said, it changed the entire tone of what I’d written and people assumed I was using my “Dad Voice” or something.

    Conversely, I remember when people were taking Norran too seriously on Chiaroscuro and I suggested him using a πŸ™‚ to see what happened and that again changed the entire tone and put stuff in context (even if it was about as ridiculous as we thought it’d be!).

    So, emotives CAN help, depending on both the user and the usage. However, you’re still correct in what you say: they can be used as a “silencer” as well, which is when problems arise.

    Snipe at someone, add a πŸ˜‰ on the end, and it’s like you’re only sticking the dagger in half-way to avoid retribution. Or it can do, at least.

    I’ve always had a problem with :p, for example. No matter how or where people use :p, I have to ask them if they mean it as like a silly face, or if they’re just being a bitch with me, because I always see it negatively.

    That and “heh”. I hate “heh”. I’m never sure if it’s a “heh: I’m amused”, or “heh: you’re an idiot”.

    Text! Not the best medium for communication.

  2. Loki
    February 27, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I find it amusing that you bring up Norran if only because I’ve seen conversations on +pub on OS where people took him too seriously and got upset enough to disconnect. His comment each time I’ve seen this was that he needed to remember to use more smilies.

    For me, I usually use more emoticons if I’m trying to keep the mood light and teasing rather than serious, or if I’m trying to be polite or I’m happy about something I’ll use a smile πŸ™‚ . Serious Loki doesn’t usually use emoticons. I explain this because I’ve actually been accused a couple of times of not taking somebody seriously. Honestly, if it deals with the game and/or is a serious issue…I’m taking it seriously, and you’ll most likely be able to note the lack of emoticons.

    The big thing I’ve noticed more recently is that sometimes turns of phrases in one culture don’t translate to another. I forget what it is I told somebody recently, but they got all upset. When I explained it was something that is just a turn of a phrase and a lot of people where I live use it they said they’d never heard that before and it sounded juvenile and so took it that way. We have plenty of players from other countries and other cultures and so it’s another thing that we need to keep in mind when we communicate with each other. If something doesn’t come across well it could be a good idea to get clarification before getting upset. The person you’re conversing with might have come across as rude when they didn’t mean to and in fact didn’t realize they were.

  3. Rar
    February 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Loki :His comment each time I’ve seen this was that he needed to remember to use more smilies.

    And so it goes. πŸ˜€

  4. Kallyn
    February 28, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    I run into this one a lot – with both a misinterpreted tone and poorly chosen phrasing. The worst part is when I try to apologize for the offense and end up /digging a deeper hole/. :/ It tends to be more complicated than just looking over what you’ve typed to make sure it comes off how you mean it to, because a lot of times you do that and it just sounds right to you – let’s face it, you’re the one who wrote it so your interpretation is biased.

    It’s difficult to balance tones sometimes, especially in discussions that are of a serious nature but where there is no negativity intended. Too serious, you come off harsh, rude, or possibly downright aggressive. Too light, you look like you’re not taking things seriously. Oh, the headaches! x.x

    The worst part, though? The /very worst/ part? No one ever believes you when you try to clarify the tone you were aiming for. 😦 Well, at least not in my experience. I offend someone because I suck at words, and then when I try to explain I get a stream of “NO YOU SAID THIS, SEE???” and eventually it’s not worth trying anymore.

    So, from the other side of things – if someone does offend you, try to at least give them a chance to explain instead of assuming they’re the devil and shooting down every following word from their keyboard. It could very well just be a big misunderstanding.

  5. Amused
    March 7, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    “The worst part, though? The /very worst/ part? No one ever believes you when you try to clarify the tone you were aiming for. Well, at least not in my experience. I offend someone because I suck at words, and then when I try to explain I get a stream of β€œNO YOU SAID THIS, SEE???” and eventually it’s not worth trying anymore.”

    I completely agree with this statement, I’ve had to apologize for things that in the real world would have gotten a laugh and jab in the ribs. Honestly, a lot of this isn’t even the typers fault. Why should one walk on eggshells, forever afraid they’ll type one thing wrong and forever be judged as /that/ guy?

    Face it. People choose how they take things just as much as how people might type wrongly. Mush games like os are /games/, Not “politically correct land where if you say the wrong thing everyone thinks you’re a creep.”

    • March 7, 2010 at 3:19 pm

      I agree that people need to be equally careful about how they read and react to what’s typed at them.

      On the other hand, I disagree that MUSH games are just games. Farmville is just a game: I can play it without the risk of hurting anyone’s feelings – unless I go to the effort to post a sign with a nasty message or send them a hurtful letter via Facebook. World of Warcraft is just a game: I can ignore people or never talk to them if I want.

      MUSH games are much more akin to tabletop games, without the benefit of face-to-face communication of friends around the table, and their entire purpose is to share what we’re seeing, thinking, and feeling with words. If you’re ill-equipped to do that – giving and receiving – then it will be problematic.

  6. Bahamut
    March 7, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Wes Platt :MUSH games are much more akin to tabletop games, without the benefit of face-to-face communication of friends around the table, and their entire purpose is to share what we’re seeing, thinking, and feeling with words. If you’re ill-equipped to do that – giving and receiving – then it will be problematic.

    Aka: You become “That Guy”.

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