One thing that I've seen a lot lately is people questioning the tone rather than the content of questions and answers. Actually, I've seen it a lot period... recalling a few older debates.

One of the great things about sites like this is the breadth of viewpoints and experiences. I've learned a lot about the differences in ways that changes in culture and language alter the experience of games, and the way that they are played. It helps to give new perspective on old games and old ways of playing.

However, when we choose to take offense at something that might be grating, yet not insulting, we alter the character of the answer, and I'm not so sure that's what we're trying to do. Or is it? Are we after a site devoid of the passion behind the hobby... warts and all? The struggles between RAW and homebrew approaches- those are the things that define gaming and bring up good discussions. As long as its not handled in a flame-like manner, should those things even be on the table?

I'm just trying to get a discussion going about the site's direction and purpose beyond what's in the help as it doesn't really address these types of issues.

A mild example:

How do I run a dungeon crawl, communicating how various rooms/passages look?

Look at Sardathrion's answer and the comments. And then look at the history. Is the part that was added a part of the answer? Or a way to explain around the 'meh'?

A more fractious example:

How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?

In this case, mxyzplk didn't budge, and didn't remove the word cretin, though there was a whole meta thread about the use of the word. And I, for one, appreciate that he stood his ground. Look at the conversations and answers generated by the phrasing of the question.

There's a principle that I never thought of that was posted on meta a while ago- how to be more awesome, and generate traffic for the site. And that's by making the site have personality, not just be some dry treatise and resource for answers. But somewhere that people want to come to and participate in; not just when they have a question, but to stay around an participate. This site only works if people participate. It's not a discussion site, for sure... but just mechanically voting down things because they don't sit right with you without any explanation or trying to help the answers be better, or trying to sanitize anything that hit's you wrong seems... wrong. Very much so.

Can't we be civil and ourselves at the same time?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think a distinction needs to be made between meta and mainsite, if the behavior you're talking about is seen more on one or the other there's a big difference in what it means and how it should be responded to. Many meta posts require tonal consideration because they're about quality-of-site-experience issues. On the other hand, it's easy to unintentionally use "loaded language" like normal groups behave thus and good GMs don't indulge in such on the main site; it often is offensive to be told that one's playstyle is abnormal or inappropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jun 20 '13 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW - I'm totally talking about the main site. Meta is by design a different animal, as can be seen by even the inclusion of a discussion tag. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 22 '13 at 14:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay, that could be really useful to make explicit in the question, just to head off confusion like mine and avoid expending energy getting it back on topic. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jun 22 '13 at 14:36

I think we can retain personality and fix the "tone" debates, because I don't think it's actually tone that's the problem as it is a certain kind of meta-message sometimes embedded into advice.

It's very easy for a bunch of separate issues to get all rolled together here. I see a few things often happening all together during these disagreements:

  1. There is disagreement with the proposed advice. That's valid and fine in principle. It's only the explosion of comments when repetition and talking past each other sets in that's the problem (says the pot to the kettle, I know), not the presence of disagreement. We like disagreement, which is why there's downvotes.

  2. There are declarations of how another answer is "wrong" or "right". Such declarations are inappropriate in an answer. That's what votes are for. I oppose all answers that reference others or have elements of "replying", because they are ill-suited to our format and lower the quality of our answers. It also makes the site look like a forum, which is misleading to new users and makes it harder for them to become good users of the site.

  3. There is championing of a playstyle. That's valid in an answer. It's especially useful when the playstyle provides a context that can organically solve the problem at hand. It's also useful simply because the playstyle of the original asker and the next reader who has a similar problem are unlikely to be identical, so the variety of approaches to gaming is just as useful as a variety of solutions normally is.

  4. Writing as if, or outright saying that, other playstyles don't exist or are "badwrongfun" or simply don't work. That's invalid. It's neither true, nor helpful. The worst consequence of this is that inexperienced readers are unable to separate the advice in an answer that's universal from the advice in an answer that is specific to the playstyle goals that the answer is pretending are universal. This can lead to readers taking advice that seems good but is going to conflict with their game and group, potentially disastrously. We are not here to promote playstyle at the expense of clarity.

These four things are often jumbled together, and it's hard to disagree with one and say so in a comment without mixing it up with the rest. Often what seems like disagreements over the advice are over (2) or (4). These are usually called out as "tone" disagreements, but I think it's actually a matter of content: a message about what is the only right way to play, rather than solutions to the problem at hand. It's content that is a meta-level to the advice, but it's still communicated ideas, which is content. We are rarely asked what is the right way to play, and offering that as advice is almost always going to be holding a match to dry tinder.

Drawing a line in the sand and saying "This is the one true way to play", even only by implication, is what makes the rest of the RPG internet-o-sphere so argumentative and low signal-to-noise. We need to not do that here. It's really easy to accidentally do (2) while doing (3), since "not like that over there" is an easy way to differentiate a stance. I think the way to avoid turning "championing" (2) into "this is the one true way" (3) is to avoid normative statements. That takes practice, but is not too hard once you start.

I think we can all agree that not all content belongs here. I assert that if we can be stubbornly pluralistic in how people play games, we will manage to avoid many so-called "tone" disagreements while retaining our personality.

In practical terms, these are the two things that (I think) are productively objected to in a comment:

  • references to other answers (positive or negative; though we don't argue about the positive so it's less an issue)
  • normative statements about how to play

Calling just those things out explicitly, without commenting simultaneously on the advice itself and how you (dis)agree with it, avoids jumbling up a valid objection with a value statement. The less confrontational the objecting comment is, too, the more likely it is to be heard charitably and not mistaken for an attack on the otherwise valid content of the answer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 - very good breakdown of the root problems, and classification of which are problems and which are not. How do we communicate the difference, however? \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 21 '13 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 If we can stick to pointing out "hey, you've got references/normative statements in there" in comments, we might avoid accidentally making comments that can be read as opposing the valid content in the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 21 '13 at 18:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I think perhaps clarifying to negative or disparaging references might be helpful. There are times where referring to an answer to build on it is important (especially if you're adding a more complete answer and have to reference the other answer to stay cool with the license). That said I think you've nailed it here. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 21 '13 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle That might just start an argument about whether it's "really" negative or if someone's just too sensitive, so I wanted to just avoid that entirely by focusing on the neutral fact of a reference. I figure it won't be mentioned if there isn't a problem with the reference? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 22 '13 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will comment here that I find that you read "One True Way-ism" into my answers far more than I think is actually there, and I often find that you accuse me of it when I am attempting to claim that there are objective issues to be considered (mathematical class balance issues). Consideration does not mean you have to care; I recognize that not everyone cares. But you seem to take offense to the idea that I will adamantly stand by my claim that the problem exists, whether or not you care that it does, and you seem to be bothered by that. I don't know what to make of it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 22 '13 at 0:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Objective issues… that are only meaningful after accepting the subjective goodness of a particular playstyle. :) As long as it stands alone without trying to say this is the only right way to view a thing (which implies its premises, i.e. playstyle, are universal), it's fine. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 22 '13 at 0:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie fair enough. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 22 '13 at 0:49

Believe it or not, We value civility very highly

Tuesday and Wednesday a bunch of stuff went down, flame wars in comments, spilling over into chat, old hand users complaining about moderator comment deletions and a few other things. A new user popped into chat who had been genuinely trying to work out some issues, right in the middle of the chaos.

Instead of continuing the back and forth I directed that comment (the civility one there above) at the new user. Because frankly, what was going on in chat and in the comments on the site was not representative of what this site is about or the level of civility I expect from this site.

The fact is, one of the best things about this site is that we keep a civil tone. If we lose that we've lost far more than the character of our members, if allow incivility to reign we become like the rest of the Internets.

Stack Exchange is somewhere where being nice, being civil and keeping a passionate but respectful tone is valued highly and abandoning this standard would be a huge mistake. Reining in brusque users is an important part of maintaining this civility. Passion is great, but incivility is not. When disagreements go beyond differing playstyles and personalities and start spilling across additional questions or get personal then they have gone too far.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Make no mistake- I'm not talking about civility. Especially in answers. No... what I'm talking about is the types of things that spark views of the answer itself. If a person has a point of view towards a specific subject that is not a commonly held one... just because it rubs the wrong way, is that the answer's problem or the reader's problem? \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 20 '13 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 If the answer is worded in such a way that its pushing of the reader's buttons gets in the way of being interpreted as an answer in its own right (for good or for ill), I'd say it is the answer's problem. There are many ways to express color and strong opinions without being inflammatory to the point that that is the focus instead of the quality of the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Lunin Jun 21 '13 at 17:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lunin - how is that the answer's problem though? You choose to take offense (unless someone is outright trying to offend, and I've never seen an answer that does that). You can't please everyone all the time, nor can you know how someone is going to take something that you write. In that way lies madness and self-censorship for censorship's sake. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 21 '13 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 to use real examples, in the second question you cited I see no problem. The "cretins" in question are in regard to mxyzplk's players and not the reader, it adds color and certainly is part of the reason it's gotten so much good attention. However in the first question you cite, I myself play tactical grid style often, but also use lots of good narrative. The implication that you cannot made me focus on that and not want to up-vote it despite being a great answer, thus harming it's visibility. The unintended insult added nothing useful to the answer either. \$\endgroup\$ – Lunin Jun 21 '13 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lunin - there was a lot of conversation around that, even in meta. A lot of that is gone currently. And in the first one, it wasn't an insult. It was his opinion... which only becomes an insult if taken as one. And is a great example of what I was talking about. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 21 '13 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Totally agree with @wax eagle, I think its important to value civility over pure personal expression because thats what separates RPG.SE from just about every other RPG forum and website out there. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 26 '13 at 15:45

I’m going to break one of SevenSidedDie’s guidelines to discuss my rationale for responding directly to another answer in one of my own, and also respond to his a little. Should be a neat little experiment.

The reason why I consider direct response to be important is because while we expect answers to display expertise and authority (either you’ve dealt with the issue before, you know a lot about the circumstances, or you did the appropriate research), we do not have the same expectations for voting.

And so there is the danger of an answer that sounds good but is actually wrong in some fashion – and for the sake of argument, let us assume a hypothetical case where the answer is objectively wrong. In this case, it may be necessary for other users to include information that directly rebuts another answer.

Comments are available for such purposes, but comments may not always be appropriate for this function: they can be ephemeral, they can invite back-and-forth debate, and they are obviously limited in how much room they provide to make the case.

Thus, here I make my case that SevenSidedDie’s claim that such answers are bad is, itself, wrong. Certainly, such a rebuttal is not usually warranted, and I could see cases where it degrades an answer. But I think there are cases where it is appropriate, where we benefit from not having so absolute a view.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the danger in responding to an answer directly is that this is not a discourse, but rather Q&A. Each answer should stand on its own merits. What happens if you respond to an answer with another answer... and the original answer is deleted? Your answer becomes somewhat less than one, and definitely makes less sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 22 '13 at 2:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 I suspect that situation is a risk/responsibility you take when you engage in such practices. And in the case of mutually exclusive answers, part of the merits of one's answer may be the problems you see with the other answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 22 '13 at 2:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do agree that other answers might spur ideas and thoughts for a complete answer; but I don't see where this necessitates responding to another answer. You can reference an idea without referencing an answer; this then lets the answer stand on it's own merits (and has the bonus of not being argumentative with the other answer). \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 22 '13 at 13:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 That strikes me as a little too redundant: you have to basically include the other answer in order to explain what it is you're rebutting, instead of just saying "so-and-so's answer" What is the benefit of that? I suppose it does provide protection against the other answer being edited/deleted, so there is that. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 22 '13 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't have to include the whole answer- that would be redundant, and make what I'm saying pointless. You're not rebutting the answer, but the concept. Distill the ideas/thoughts you received from the other answer down into something that you can rebut, and rebut that, not the other answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 22 '13 at 14:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 I think there is a danger in overly direct responses, but the answer to "What if the original answer is deleted?" is pretty simple: then you or someone else will edit your answer accordingly. I've certainly written several answers that reference another answer (not usually as a rebuttal) on B&CG; it's a really great way to go into a particular important-but-not-the-most-important side cases without compromising a well-written concise primary answer or having to duplicate effort that someone else did better. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 24 '13 at 21:09

Yes. Is that a bad thing though? I thought the whole point of SE sites was to curate answers. Self expression takes a back seat to that.

While I find the discussion here unsatisfying, I have forums for that kind of thing. When I want a solid, well thought out answer instead of some wishy washy opinions, SE delivers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not asking about discussion- nor about the quality of the answers. What I'm asking about is the ability to explain your answer without assaulting people during it, but slaughtering sacred cows wholesale. The grip that people hold onto their notions of what is right in the face of what someone else says, without posting a counter answer that might explain the other view is what I'm referring to. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 20 '13 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808, got an example? \$\endgroup\$ – valadil Jun 21 '13 at 17:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Look at the question- it was updated. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jun 21 '13 at 17:55

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