Rancor in the Ranks

by Tom “20mm” Hayden

Welcome to the first of what we hope will be a series of opinion pieces at SimHQ. We’re going to try and shed some light on what’s on the minds of our Staff (scary in there!) with a wide range of topics. Could be what’s going on here at the site, a new gaming industry development, something particular to multiplayer issues, simulation genre-specific thoughts, almost anything. We hope it will be thought-provoking, informative, perhaps educational even. Most of all, we hope you enjoy hearing some of our insights on this crazy world of computer simulations and the Internet.

Please keep in mind, the opinions stated herein are those of the writer alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of SimHQ. Thanks for reading.

When did I call you stupid? Huh? I did no such thing! Point it out, show me where and when I said that or just shut up. I don’t need any more of your crap!

There you go again, you just told me shut up. I thought this was a forum where we could talk about things, but now I see that you have to stifle anything that doesn’t match up with your little twisted view. Half-wit.

“Half-wit”? Hell, half of my wit doubles what you bring, and a cup leftover. You still haven’t shown me where I called you stupid. Why is that? Perhaps you can’t, because it never happened. No wonder I don’t post much around here. I bring up one little thing that ‘s wrong with this sim and you’d think I just spit on the Mona Lisa. Fine, have it your way, I’m leaving. Stupid.

There, you did it! You just called me stupid. Glad you’re gone. Half-twit.

Sound familiar? Probably does if you’re on Internet discussion forums to any extent. Perhaps you have been involved in some of these verbal fist fights, which I call “head-butting”. For obvious reasons. The combatants most likely do not know each other, would not recognize one another if they passed by in the street, in fact, this may have been the first time they crossed paths on the Internet. So why did this altercation happen?

My name is 20mm and I manage the Forums here at SimHQ. I made up that little head-butting example, but I didn’t have to think very long or hard about it to get the flavor of the rancor that goes on periodically in our forums. It’s why we have Forum Moderators, a Forum Manager and Assistant Manager, and several Administrators whose help we acknowledge and appreciate. I suppose if everyone was well-behaved all the time, I’d be out of a “job”, and I’d have a little more time to do something more enjoyable, like simming. That’s not reality though.

Reality says that in any large group of people from all over the world, there are going to be differences of opinion. OK, so far so good. Just where do we go from a difference of opinion to all-out Internet warfare? As Rodney King once said, “Can’t we all just get along?” That’s what I want to try and explore with you today.

Discussions can take several forms. Might be a polite, civil, perhaps friendly conversation, which I’m sure we would all have no problem with. A chat with friends. Or it might take the form of an argument, and those do happen, even among friends. Little story: My best friend and I used to get into some really heated exchanges, quite loudly, and in front of his family or my family, or other friends of ours. I can remember some of those, and looking at the people in the room while the argument was happening, the look of shock and discomfort on people’s faces. Of course, when we were done my buddy and I would walk out of the room with arms on each others shoulders and started laughing about something totally unrelated. See, we never took it personal. We were passionate about what we were arguing over, damn passionate, but we knew each other well enough not to cross any lines.

Do I mind a heated argument in the forums? No, I don’t. Some of these are actually very interesting and bring out a lot of excellent thoughts and points of view. It’s when someone crosses the line into personal attacks, either direct of insinuated, that we who moderate have to get involved.

People having arguments will sometimes say things that cross the line of behavior (which can be very different for different people), and then someone else has to respond in kind, or worse, because they have just been insulted. When this pattern starts, it is very difficult to break or to stop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen, and rather than just lock the thread, or edit out the posts, I issue a warning, hoping that the combatants will get a clue and stop. Once in a while they will, and I’m always heartened when I see someone decide to be the first to back out. Because you see, it’s tough to do that, it’s almost unmanly (and most of our members are male).

Sometimes it’s a little more subtle than that. Some members have developed a keen sense of the rules of engagement (ROE) around here, and they like to push that envelope, walk the edge, aggravate the living bee-jeezus out of other members, just to get the reaction. If the reaction is strong enough, they then step back and take the “what’s your problem?” position, hands firmly on hips, as though they did absolutely nothing to cause the reaction. This is baiting, a form of trolling, letting a small stink bomb out into the room and then going “wasn’t me!”. It is generally more purposeful than then a happenstance rude comment or two.

Why do people behave like this in a computer simulation web site forum, with mostly like-minded enthusiasts who enjoy the same hobby?

First, the Internet is a contentious environment. The anonymity itself lends itself to behavior that wouldn’t pass muster for 10 seconds in person. I often think that the very same people who hit each other over the heads with verbal bats in the forums, would be polite as pie with each other in the line at the grocery store.

Second, simulation enthusiasts tend to be very passionate about their hobby. They take things like the flight performance envelope of the F-16 Viper very seriously. They study, they are up on details, they’re smart, involved, they care. I always try to keep those things in mind. Simmers care about this hobby. Yes, it’s a game, it’s always just a game in the grand scheme of things, but I love passionate interest, and I do my best not to diminish that spirit. It’s one of the things I love about our hobby. And at the same time, it causes some of our community’s biggest problems.

I asked a SimHQ member whose opinion I trust what he thought about this subject, why was it thus? His response was something I would never would have thought of, because I don’t do much of it. Multiplayer. As he explained it, maybe it doesn’t matter too much to a single player if the enemy AI aircraft is 2 knots quicker in the turning fight than he is, he may not even know it. But you had better believe the multiplayer knows it, and doesn’t like it, because it means he’s going to get a machine gun hosing up the kazoo, and lose the fight. Any and all aspects of the multiplayer environment that may lead to one side having the slightest edge over the other are possible hot-button topics for forum warfare. In this same vein, sometimes people will start up topics or interject posts which they know are going to generate negative responses, just to draw attention to an issue or away from another issue. Many thanks to a fellow SimHQ’er, who shall remain anonymous, for enlightening me on this.

Fourth, is a combination of things. Age and gender. Being young and male tends to lead to more combative behavior. Us old dogs don’t necessarily need to get up off the porch and go 5 rounds with the hound that just walked across the corner of our yard, but the younger pups do. Just the idea that they might be insulted will lead to a pre-emptive strike. Defending their manhood, their honor, all that is holy and worthwhile, wrapped in a little post in a little thread in a little simulation Internet site.

And last is one I hate to bring up, but it is also reality. The simulation community is a great one full of talented people who will help each other, create works of art and give them away, create modifications and enhancements, you name it, for nothing at all, other than to help the community enjoy our mutual hobby.

But there is a darker side. For whatever reason there are those whose primary purpose is not to help, but to hinder, to fight with each other, to aggravate and stir the pot for the sole sake of keeping things agitated. They will walk into a forum, proudly announce that “you guys suck” and then stand back and watch. These people have no business at our site, and we do our best to keep them out. There are plenty of places on the Internet with no moderation at all and when you walk in there, it’s like walking into a street fight. If you know that, your skin is thick enough, and you actually like that kind of thing, by all means go for it. Just not at SimHQ.

I didn’t say I had any solutions for this. If I did, I’d have a lot better house and a new Corvette and my own personal aircraft out in the hangar. I do have a couple quick ideas though.

  • One, there is no such thing as restraint anymore, or very little. Once this combat begins, people will not quit, go outside and get a breath of fresh air, watch TV, whatever. Instead they become consumed with “winning” the Internet fight. And there’s one thing I do know about this: You’re not going to “win” an Internet war, or at least very seldom.
  • Two, people actually seem to find some enjoyment in it. I’m not sure why, but I see it quite often. Once the fight starts and the initial “arguments” given, it then becomes round after mind-numbing round of the same comments, the same insults and pejoratives. I have seen a thread on another site where this literally went on for pages. Same thing, over and over. Who enjoys that? I have to wonder, I really do.

Lastly, a brief word about us poor souls who act as the referees in the ring. What about us, do we ever get involved in the feather-flying, do we get our little egos wounded and respond, say things we don’t mean or wish later we hadn’t said? Yeah, sure we do, sometimes. We’re human, we bleed when stung with Internet arrows that happen to hit us on a bad day or in the wrong spot. We try not to let that happen and at SimHQ, it’s rare when it does. We try to live up to expectations, and our expectations of ourselves are often higher than everyone else’s. Plus we are in a microscope of public opinion and, believe it or not, there are those people out there who would love nothing more than seeing one of us have a human failing. All I can say is that we do our best, and if your definition of a good day includes seeing a Moderator have a bad day, I don’t envy you.

That’s it, all I had to say about that! That’s my two cents, what’s yours?

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