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There is one querent, intentionally not identified here, who likely needs a "you may want to reconsider how you go about gaming."

While any individual question from this querent isn't horrible, the pattern of questions paints a picture of someone who isn't actually having that much fun dealing with their group's foibles.

What do we do?

  • Nothing, and simply continue to answer the querent's questions on face value.
  • Discuss a proper meta-response to the pattern of questions on meta and suggest a solution on meta.

Note very well that this question is not posted with my "moderator's hat" on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't the platform-appropriate thing to do be to formulate a question based on the scenarios involved and gather answers? \$\endgroup\$ – Smithers Oct 30 '14 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I confess that I would like to take part on this discussion, I don't even imagine who you are talking about. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Oct 30 '14 at 23:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThalesSarczuk Mission accomplished then! :) We don't want to publicly call anyone out, so if you can't guess, then we've successfully avoided it. The intention isn't to exclude anyone from the conversation. But it kind of makes sense that only those who have had enough direct contact to know without naming them, are those who can most directly contribute. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 31 '14 at 6:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate denoting that the mod hat is off. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Nov 4 '14 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this my meta thread? *Chuckles* \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Nov 6 '14 at 1:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the (not particularly famous) words of Continuum: Further information is not available here. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 6 '14 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This entire discussion (though I have no idea of the subject user) gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. That you guys care about this user having fun gaming (and discuss it in a way that is not even the slightest bit derogatory) says a lot about the community. \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Nov 8 '14 at 17:11
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We have a Help Vampire. But we have effective garlic too.

I've chewed on this quite a bit. (Some of you might have noticed my uneven attempts to productively engage with the user in comments — sometimes they were productive, but more often they came out harsh and showing my frustration.) The conclusion I came to is that they are a help vampire. This realisation has helped me a lot, and I think can help the site too.

SE's philosophy about help vampires is that the system deals with them far better than other sites, in that the biggest threat of a help vampire — they suck the life out of online communities — is something SE's system prevents them from doing. So help vampires are mostly de-fanged here. They're not an existential threat to the site.

But they're still irritating.

Along those lines, I've come to the conclusion that an intervention is not necessary, so long as the system is allowed to work properly. To that end, I decided that the best response was to apply SE's voting mechanisms unforgivingly to this user's questions.

In theory this seemed like it would be unfair, but I've found in practice that it is:

  1. Fair.

    Their questions are frequently unclear, amounting to vague pleas for some kind of help that give the impression that even they don't quite know what's wrong. (Sometimes we can help such people, but only when their question reveals to us the problem that they can't see themself — this user's questions often don't do that.) Their questions continue to be poor too. Their play appear to be unchanged by previous questions asking for help changing it, so they continue to have the same problems, or problems that are knock-on effects of things they didn't fix despite the prior help, and sometimes even ask duplicates of their own past questions. Not only do their problems appear to remain unsolved, but the questions themselves never improve in clarity or specificity (or grammar) despite ample opportunities to learn and a literal site full of examples for how it's done.

    Overall, I get the impression that their real problem is that they are impervious to help. Since asking questions is not helping them solve their problems, the best we can do is vote "this question is not useful" when they ask vague questions that represent hapless, un-helpable flailing.

  2. Liberating.

    I don't have to care much about the questions, just vote and move on. I often leave one or two comments trying to Socratically prompt the user to improve their question, but I don't fuss myself too much (anymore) if they don't get the hint. I don't wait for them to answer and then try myself to fix their question (much) anymore, just offer them some clues and the chance to fix it themselves, and leave them to it. They've been here long enough to have picked up how the system works, and voting unforgivingly on their (lack of) performance as a question-asker lets me wash my hands of it.

    This is the main feature of the SE system that makes help vampires mostly harmless: you can penalise their behavior and then ignore them, preventing them from driving you away from the site directly, or indirectly driving you away by driving away the other people who generate the material that keeps you engaged.

What to do: Vote Early and Often, Fairly and without Mercy

We have a help vampire. Our community is well-protected from their fangs though, because the SE system deals well with help vampires. They only add a bit of noise to the site — which SE is, again, well-protected against. They add a bit of frustration too, but putting trust in the system means you can disengage, saving yourself from the destructive effects that frustration can have on your own use of a site.

But only if we vote honestly on the questions, with neither unwarranted mercy nor unwarranted spite:

  • Vote the bad ones down, pushing the majority — the bad un-helpable ones — down out of sight.

  • Vote the good ones up. They do sometimes ask a decent question that improves our site's signal-to-noise ratio instead of degrading it, because these accidentally-good questions benefit other users even if it seems that they don't ever benefit the asker. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and so we should not vote viciously because of who is asking, which would be voting dishonestly and inappropriately on the question's own merits.

Vote early, because bad questions will frustrate other users who are tempted by the vampire's siren calls for help that can never be delivered to them. Push those questions down fairly but mercilessly, for the good of the site.

Vote often, because the bad questions come often.

And don't be tempted to vote gently. A help vampire is, after all, a help vampire because they don't implement the solutions we give them when they ask, they just go through the motions of asking for help hoping that the act of asking will itself solve everything. They haven't learned to use the help, and so keep returning to the well and asking again, vainly hoping that this time the ritual will solve the problem all by itself.

A help vampire cries out for help that is impossible — so the most merciful thing to do is not to feed its hunger with food that can never fill its belly. The merciful thing to do is to be merciless with the harmful things it does: asking terrible questions. Have no mercy when voting on the questions, and that is the most merciful thing that you can do for the user.

After all, maybe they will learn eventually. But they'll only learn if the system punishes being a vampire, as intended. By not enabling their learned helplessness and the ritual asking that goes with it, the system's bloodless rejection of the ritual has a chance to teach them to use the help they have already been offered, instead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know anything about the specifics of the situation but this is very sound advice in general, and I think covers the question-as-asked very well. It also demonstrates a good understanding of RAW and RAI of stack exchange in general and our site in particular and is well formatted. +1, but I'd give you more +'s if I could. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Oct 31 '14 at 2:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ automatic question banning is not in play here. It is only turned on for a few sites (trilogy + prog.se and maybe 1 or 2 others, it has to be explicitly turned on for your site). Answer banning is in place network wide though the threshold is quite high. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Nov 4 '14 at 13:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Really?! I can't ever imagine a reason for it not not be the default, let alone not turned on. The threshold for question-bans is quite high too, so it only kicks in when there's no doubt that it has become necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '14 at 18:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie the expectation is that on small sites, moderators will step in and warn/suspend problem users before a qban would hit \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Nov 4 '14 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle I suppose. It seems unnecessary to ever have it set "off" even there, though. Either it never triggers and its default setting doesn't matter, or it catches a case or two and the SE principle of self-moderation via voting behaviour is upheld. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '14 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie it's not a particularly user friendly thing (whether we want users who would trip it notwithstanding). It's a "big city" type tool. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Nov 4 '14 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Based on that and the responses to the meta I posted about it, I've removed the coda about question bans. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '14 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle There is a new network-wide thing that seems to imply that automatic question-bans are (or are now?) network-wide too. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '14 at 2:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie The question rate limit feature isn't related to question bans. A while ago, we had a couple of users who were also new D&D players ask a series of questions about the basic rules, and the answer to all of which was 'RTFM', which it was obvious they weren't doing. Their questions started getting downvoted and closed. The rate limit is for these people. In the future, people doing this will hit the rate limit after 2-3(?) questions and be unable to ask questions for a day or several, so that they don't ask a dozen bad questions before learning what was wrong with the first ones. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 13 '14 at 2:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener It is though. The rate limiter exists to be a "soft landing" before the question ban kicks in, to teach the teachable and separate them from the bannable; they appear to be integrally tied together in design and purpose. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '14 at 2:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to discuss the situation where individual questions may not entirely suck (or at least aren't poorly regarded by the community) and occur on a longer frequency (every few weeks) but a very worrying trend exists. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 13 '14 at 3:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie They don't actually describe it in those terms at all, or even mention question bans. I do not think the systems are integrally tied together at all. However, I have asked about it here. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 13 '14 at 7:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Ah, so it looks like they invented the algorithm to work in tandem with auto bans (first link in the announcement), but found the limiter useful enough to enable network-wide all on its own. Ok. That's possibly even better for this situation than the auto-banner anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '14 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton I think it's covered best in this answer by its exclusion: i.e., "the site can already take care of it if and as necessary (and that's all we need be concerned about)". For the human-community intervention argument, that's a competing proposal that shouldn't be mixed, and is covered well by kadu already. If there's a worrying trend that impacts something other than the site or the individual in question's happiness, I'm not clear on what that is specifically. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '14 at 18:41
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My answer is admittedly too long (as most of my answers are), so I put in a TL;DR at the end. Feel free to jump to that.

What is really being asked?

Let me start by saying that I agree with SevenSidedDie on this one, as far as the engine is concerned. SE has sufficient mechanisms to deal with the situation with minor consequences only.

However, I'm sure that Brian, as a mod, knows already that the engine that is SE is well equipped to deal with this. Let's look instead at the way the question was phrased (emphases mine):

  • "stage an intervention"
  • "someone who isn't actually having that much fun dealing with their group's foibles."
  • "[someone] who likely needs a "you may want to reconsider how you go about gaming."

I don't think that Brian asked this question because he's worried that this user is going to ruin RPG.SE. It seems to be asked more out of worry for the user than for the tool. Maybe he feels (rightly, in my opinion) that we are a community of gamers, and we should care for each other.

I don't have the time to be as participative as I would like to, so I don't know who is the querent. But I "lurk" enough to know we have a set of regulars who are always around, be it asking/answering questions or commenting or in the chat.

So my best guess is that Brian is really asking:

  1. Are we merely a Q/A website or an actual community composed of real people?
  2. If we're the latter, should we care that our members might not be having fun?
  3. If we should, what can we do about it?

In fact, if that is right and if we were to take SevenSidedDie's answer at face value, the appropriate response would be to flag this tag as "out of scope" or whatever, since Meta—at least as far as I know—is to discuss SE as an engine, not as a group of people.

I know that SE disencourages the latter interpretation, and has constant reminders that we're simply a Q/A forum, and features designed to minimise social interaction in the website. The idea, I presume, is to put aside subjectivity (e.g. "I'll vote this up because I like SevenSidedDie"), and, a priori, I'm fine with that.

But fact is, RPG.SE is much, much smaller than other communities in the SE family. If somebody who participates frequently gives an opinion I disagree with, I'm more likely to give it a second thought than if "user31915876" does the same. Unless every user changes their name to "JohnSmith", uses a black square as avatar and a standard profile (so all that matters is the reputation), it's just too hard to ignore that there are people behind the users, and that I value some opinions more than others.

At this point, my answer becomes subjective. I'd answer my own questions by saying that (1) we're a community, therefore (2) yes, we should care—especially if it comes to a point where a mod is concerned enough to ask a question on Meta—and (3) maybe we should talk to them about our concerns.

TL;DR

So answering Brian's original question, as formulated by him, I think that:

Yes, I think we should care, as a community, if one of our members seems like he is struggling to enjoy gaming, which is the very thing that brings us together, and "stage an intervention" of sorts.

I'll admit I don't have a clear answer regarding how to do it. I'd recommend creating a chat room with other regular users who feel that (1) they care about this person and (2) have any suggestions they think this person could use and inviting the person in for a friendly chat. Dopelgreener has a longer, more elaborated and thoughtful response to the "how" part of the question, so I won't repeat him.

No, I don't think the person is at risk of endangering the community, for the reasons SevenSidedDie listed. And I don't think that banning the person from asking questions in this community—which is what is going to happen if we don't do anything about it—is constructive. Not for us, as a community, and not for the person. I'll concede only that maybe it'd make us more streamlined, as a Q/A website.

That said, "intervention" is a strong word—I don't think anybody should have to go out of their ways to do so. It's not a "let's come to this person's house and bring them in to get help". They are not a threat, neither to the website nor to themselves nor to others around them, they're merely not having fun by playing games. If they don't want to participate in the chat, let the engine deal with it, and that's that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ These are all really good points... \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '14 at 19:05
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I think it would be valuable to do this, and figure out a tactful way to handle this situation when it comes up again in the future (it probably will).

It's in tune with the basic reason most of us are probably here: we enjoy helping people! It's also in tune with why they're here: they want these problems sorted out.

This is kind of like a larger scale version of a kind of answer that's often helpful when something's going very wrong: the kind that says "well, here's the solution to the individual problems you brought up, but there's something deeper going on here, so let's talk about that instead."

.... However, this hinges on finding a tactful way to do this. There's risks: members of the community with less than benevolent intentions may take the opportunity to make personal attacks, and the individual in question may find the situation overly confronting or overly personal or uncomfortable in other ways, or they may take the thing personally.

It also hinges on this not being an issue of "you are doing it wrong!!" — it has to be decently well-founded, like "the problems you are experiencing are a natural result of factors X, Y and Z. As you've noticed these have an unhealthy influence. Instead of those, successful games tend to feature A, B and C."

That all depends on the individual (you haven't named them, and I only have guesses) and how we handle it. So we have to handle it well. I'm still thinking on that, but... this is a possibility worth exploring.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So what would a useful framework be? Those concerns are why I phrased it this way in the first place? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Oct 30 '14 at 7:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm still thinking about that. For now, I wanted to respond that someone in the community supports the idea of bullet point #2: do something. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 30 '14 at 7:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cool well, worst case we can iterate on "do something" \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Oct 30 '14 at 7:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ The first crucial step is figuring out if the people in his group are unhappy. If they're all happy, then any intervention really WILL be "wrongbadfunsplaining." \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Oct 30 '14 at 10:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps a good framework would be a private chatroom? This prevents the risk of personal attacks. \$\endgroup\$ – Smurfton Oct 30 '14 at 19:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Smurfton that's not currently supported by site policy, but if the mandate from here is "have a private, quiet, chat with the user in question" it... is less forbidden. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Oct 31 '14 at 1:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton I think site policy, which seems to be designed to avoid "personalising" the answers (i.e., giving them more or less credit because of the people involved), is not very effective for small communities like this one, where active users are so few that I know several by name, and many can be seen participating in almost every question. Therefore, I don't think we have much (or anything at all) to profit by sticking blindly to the RAW anyways. \$\endgroup\$ – kadu Nov 4 '14 at 7:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kadu Site policy is designed for a lot of things - and I'm not sure what you mean by saying it isn't very effective for small communities like this one. Rigorous application of site policy has lead to this community working very smoothly in a lot of respects, compared to communities that do not enforce the same policies. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 4 '14 at 8:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I'm referring specifically to the efficacy of restricting of social interaction among users, aiming (as perceived by me) for questions and answers to be judged by their content, rather than the person behind them. If this is in fact a purpose, it works in SO because of the numbers involved, but in here, the smaller number of users makes several of them recognisable and negates this effect. I know that's not the only purpose of site policy, I'm not bashing it, I'm just pointing out something that might not work as intended because of the different scales in different communities. \$\endgroup\$ – kadu Nov 4 '14 at 12:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kadu we can all be tempted to look at the messenger and not the message but that is acting in bad faith as rational members of SE's community if we do so. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Nov 4 '14 at 13:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaAslanSmith I wouldn't say it's bad faith, but I agree with you. However, would you deny that when you interact with the same dozen of users everyday and notice it it almost inevitably happens? \$\endgroup\$ – kadu Nov 4 '14 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kadu that's true (it does have an effect, and we socialise quite a bit here and there even outside chat), though I suspect there's been a miscommunication, in that I think the policy Brian was referring to was the SE staff's policy: they don't implement private communication mechanisms, and (almost) all communication methods are public, so private chat rooms do not exist - in other words, they are not supported. (Mods have some means to have a private chat, though I'm not sure what method Brian was alluding to.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 4 '14 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton Is that accurate? ^ \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 4 '14 at 13:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that's accurate. We have ways of private communication, but they're very restricted. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 4 '14 at 20:54
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No, we shouldn't.

I'm posting this mainly to have a voting answer on inactivity. Speaking as a devil's advocate, it would probably be: "There is no fair and tactful way to approach this as a community, and the entire exercise would be toxic to everyone involved."

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    \$\begingroup\$ The only problem I see with this is that (assuming my guess of the querent is correct) they are going to continue posting these questions, potentially ad infinitum. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Oct 30 '14 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman No, they won't. See SSD's answer related to the question ban. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Oct 30 '14 at 23:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross Ah, in that case I'm probably thinking of the wrong user. The one I'm thinking of tends to get plenty of upvotes, it's only the pattern of questions that shows a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Oct 30 '14 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross Actually, it seems that automatic question-bans are turned off here. Still not ad infinitum though, because at some point one of you mods would step in to implement a ban manually, if one was necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 4 '14 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Yes, yes we would. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Nov 4 '14 at 20:20
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Not a full-blown answer, but given the detailed, well-articulated responses so far, I'd just add this: how to criticise with kindness. My thought is that one can "go into" the other's gaming mindset (by acknowledging where they are and how they feel, giving merit to any laudable approach or stance they're taking), and from there, try to "walk them out" into a more fun, enjoyable experience.

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Users should continue to interact at the post level. Issues of systemic issues with users is a moderation issue and not one ordinary users should concern themselves with.

The problem your pointing to is one that you and the moderation team need to discuss. Is this something that is in need of moderator intervention. If is is, then great! do something about it (might I suggest the low quality questions over time template?). If it isn't then it's best to simply leave it alone and let the system keep working as it is. (A private chat might also be appropriate, though that is rather cumbersome at times)

IF a user chooses to involve themself with this, their tools are quite limited (much more limited than a moderators). Their best tool is to try to goad the user into a chat conversation and talk it out there.

Ultimately though, we're here to help people with the problems they present us. If we can occasionally get at a deeper issue, that's great. But much like our meta discussion about reframing a user's question, we have to address the surface issue first.

If a user is asking a lot of questions that indicate a deeper issue, it's not the user's job to address that. The user's mandate is to address the individual posts without regard to poster

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