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Guide to Considerate and Constructive Criticism on the Forums

tinythinker
tinythinker
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Hello there! As an MMORPG, The Elder Scrolls Online has a heavy social component, including feedback to the developers. So understanding how to offer considerate and constructive criticism and practicing this oft undervalued skill is worth the same investment as time spent with guides on more obvious topics such giving PvP a try, tips on how to play a healer, or advice on giving group dungeons a try.

If you or someone you know might need some help with positive criticism, or you just want to work on improving at it a little, this may help. This post isn't a defense of ZOS or other players against criticism. The game and its community can benefit from a critical perspective.

Criticism done properly it can be very useful. I have criticized decisions by ZOS, such as the move to place players in the starting city of the first normal zone with an option to back to the starter island rather than just keeping new players on the starter island and giving them a chance to skip it and go to the starting city of the first major zone.

Criticism can also be done in a way that only serves to feed insecure egos and cause conflict or negative reactions.

What follows may seem really obvious, like the kind of thing they teach in elementary school, but if you've spent enough time on the internet you know that many people have forgotten or ignored such lessons. It isn't posted to talk down to anyone, but to remind people of things we sometimes neglect that can make our experiences online better. (I frequently have to remind myself of these things before I post, and I don't always take my own advice.)

For a gaming community like ESO there are two types of criticism to consider. On the one hand there is criticism of other players, and on the other hand there is criticism of the developers. The following visualizations may help, or feel free to skip to the Posting Checklist.

Criticism of Other Players

Visualize a classroom or a workplace environment. Now visualize each of the following types of people, one and a time, and what it would be like to spend a part of your day with each of them:
  • the person who brags about themself all day long and talks about how easy and boring all of the assignments are (unless it's something they struggle with in which case the assignment is pointless and stupid) and how the boss/instructor is a joke.
  • the person who constantly gossips, points and laughs at others, and spreads mean rumors or misleading half-truths to cause tension and drama for their own amusement while doing so under the pretense of "telling it like it is".
  • the person who tries to give potentially helpful advice about completing assignments but does so in such a condescending manner that no one really wants to hear what they have to say.
  • the person who patiently explains things and gives an honest appraisal in friendly and encouraging terms.

So, who would you want to spend time with? Who do you think other people would want to spend time with? How would the person you would like to spend time with offer criticism? Would they laugh at/mock others? Would they feel the need to show off at every turn and talk down to people?

If you want to skip the section on criticizing developers, go ahead down to the Posting Checklist for specific suggestions.

Criticism of Developers

Visualize a customer service desk or a check out line at a local business. Now visualize each of the following types of people, one and a time, and what it would be like to encounter each of them as either an employee or as another customer waiting behind them in line:
  • the customer who thinks the whole business exists to serve themself, and who is frequently irate, rude, and demanding. Everything has to be done a certain way and done right now, because this customer's saintly and superhuman patience toward the store is always on its last, precious thread. Everyone in the establishment gets to hear very loudly about how much "good money" this customer spends and how this customer is ready to take said money elsewhere. Every week. For months.
  • the customer who accepts help from employees in finding products, stops to chat with a manager, and frequently calls/visits the service desk, yet who nonetheless feels they have received little or no customer service and wonders very vocally how a business that completely ignores its customers manages to stay in business.
  • the customer who is incensed that the store doesn't have item that it has never claimed to carry or stock, in line with someone whose head is buried in their smartphone who keeps looking up every so often to ask (again) about that same product that is not now and may never be stocked at that particular store. They becomes irate that it isn't available rather than simply shopping elsewhere.
  • the customer who knows what they want, is firm about their expectations, but who sees no need to be rude or take out their disappointment or frustration on others. The customer who is happy to offer non-judgmental feedback but mature enough to realize they will have to either choose a product that doesn't have quite everything just exactly as they might want or go shop somewhere else.

So, who would you want to wait on or wait behind in line? Who do you think other people would want to deal with? How would that person offer feedback to the people working at the store or their supervisors?

Posting Checklist

Why the visualizations?

Because rude behavior often stems from lack of self-awareness. Visualization is a helpful tool for overcoming this. The examples are not all directly connected to types of behavior found on the ESO forums but are intended to highlight certain attitudes and behaviors in familiar contexts that are associated with the broader topic of inconsideration. See the spoiler for some common factors contributing to inconsiderate behavior.
In teenagers and those in their early twenties poor choices and rude behavior have been loosely linked to the still incomplete process of myelinization of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is linked to impulse control and "thinking before you act". In adult it is associated with, among other things, ingrained habits and impairment caused by mood and mind altering substances, in particular the form of intoxication known as the "angry drunk". For all ages, high degrees of stress and psychological displacement (i.e., being upset and taking out on an easy target) can be an underlying factor.

There are many other potential contributors to persistently inconsiderate behavior, including social/emotional immaturity, imitating/conforming to the behavioral standards of a particular community, or being angry when making a statement (i.e. "rage talk"). The examples given are not all equally common nor are they exhaustive. The point is that while there may be many potentially unique combinations for inconsiderate, as well as different degrees of same, a powerful technique for alleviating this state is self-awareness. And no, I'm not a psychologist just someone who finds this topic interesting, so this is not a professional assessment.

People generally seem to agree that being rude or inconsiderate is not a good or helpful thing, but for various reasons it comes easy to many of us (myself most certainly included!). But if we think about how we would like to be viewed and how we would prefer others to behave, it's easier to lessen or avoid this tendency.

Why does it matter?

A few of many good reasons...
  • Because other people respond to us based on how we treat them and vice versa. Do you want more troll/flame threads on the forums or more genuine debates and discussions of differing views?
  • Because many people will avoid others who are rude and places where inconsiderate and boorish behavior is known to be common. If people log on and see the first page of a forum filled with negativity expressed in a tiresome and hyperbolic fashion, they are not as likely to stick around to read or comment.
  • Because the two preceding reasons can actually obscure or trivialize more useful criticism as well as non-critical posts worthy of consideration.
The Checklist

Some things to consider before hitting the Post Discussion/Comment button:
  • What kind of person do I want to be seen as/would I like to see posting more often on the forums? (Remember the visualizations? They aren't necessary but they are good reminders!)
  • Am I angry? Did something just happen to upset me? Do I feel like yelling at someone or hitting something? If so, take time to calm down before you write and post something.
  • Do I really believe the common generic complaints about the developers that get tossed around so readily? If so, why use them? Here are examples:
    • "ZOS doesn't care about the game/customers"/"ZOS is trying to kill its own game." Really? It's a game to you, and you can always quit and play something else. For the devs, it is part of their career and a source of employment. Whether you agree with their choices and despite any mistakes they may make, do you really think they don't care if the game fails?
    • "ZOS breaks everything they patch." So, looking at the extensive patch notes for each major update so far, most or all of those changes or new features are broken? Or is it a few things that happen to be of interest to you.
    • "ZOS doesn't listen to its customers/players." Or do you mean they just don't make the changes (in the way) you want? The Dev Tracker on the forums, the exchanges on sites like Reddit, the features on ESO Live!, and the many changes to the game influenced by player comments demonstrate that this claim is false.
The Excuses

Avoid the excuses for poor forum behavior, which include the following:
  • Other MMORPGs are way worse about such behavior. Maybe, but things here can always be better (and could get a lot worse).
  • It's the only way to get noticed/bring attention to an issue. Not really, just make and comment on posts that offer considerate and constructive criticism. Don't feed the trolls.
  • It's just an affectation/how people talk online. No one takes it seriously. You don't know how others will take it, so if you aren't trying to upset people or are simply not thinking about how your post/comment sounds, why be intentionally rude?
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  • McLukos
    McLukos
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    I can't believe I read the whole thing....

    A bit of LoL... and a bit of nod and smile...
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