Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sunday Sermon: to comminucate or not to communicate...

Communication isn't always straight forward

This Sunday Sermon is actually brought to you courtesy of a wonderfully cohesive rant from James S over at the Warp Signal Blog. I think the reason I like that rant so much is because it is cohesive. You see, rambling rants are normally the product of a momentary spike in anger or annoyance. Meanwhile cohesive rants are the byproduct of time, lots of time. They are normally a slow build up of lots of little niggles that form and crystallise deep in somebodies psyche into a diamond hard crystal nugget of pure unadulterated rage or hatred. Call me a sick puppy if you will, but I'm fascinated and drawn to such powerful expressions of opinion. Mainly because they're contagious and seem to infect those that stand too close to them with part of that particular malady. I like the inspiration such things can often breed in others and indeed myself, as long as it doesn't become adversarial.

So James got me to thinking about communication in our hobby. In comments section of his article though you'll see a comment by me about convincing some poor schmuck a couple of years ago that 'donkey-flop las-spam' was an actual thing. There were other 'made up' names, but that was the most ridiculous one I could actually remember that actually worked. He didn't sadly, however, buy into the premise that the only way to make Eldar work was to take the 'Burger King List' with plenty of 'Flame Grilled whoppers'. Perhaps I pushed it a bit too far, but I actually thought the idea of Fire Dragons in wave serpents being called 'Flame Grilled Whoppers' and therefore a spam list of them being called the 'Burger King List', was actually far more plausible than some of the crap I did come out with. It does though touch on part of what James was getting at in his article over at Warp Signal. That as a hobby we are moving into some pretty cringe worthy territory with the language we use. But it also has different and more worrying implication.

Sorry. I can't understand you, could you please make sense?

All hobbies, no matter what they are, develop their own 'language', 'secret code' or jargon. It's almost an inevitability it seems. We will try to reduce complex yet standard concepts, which would take an age to explain using 'standard' language, into a far  simpler collection of words. To name things I suppose. The assumption being that these things are such standard or common ideas within a field or hobby, that if they were named people would grasp their meaning instantly. It's not just hobbies either, science does it, as does law and pretty much any specialist field you care to mention. But here's the crux of the problem as I see it. Language is meant to communicate ideas to others. Its very essence should be to include others within its reach and range. It should certainly not be used as a tool for ostracising others, or for total exclusion. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for using the right word, I'm just not sure there's a need to invent new ones, as we have plenty. But, we have to accept that in any specialist area that naming or concept simplification is important to the broader aims of furthering understanding by rapid communication of ideas. Yes it still presents a barrier to the uninitiated, but the rewards for those within the given field are greater than the exclusion of others it often brings.

What does it mean!!!
Is this the case for our hobby though? Yes, possibly more so that others. At the core of our hobby is a tacit agreement, normally between two people, sometimes more, that they will play a certain game in a set way. Communication is the life blood of our hobby, without discourse and conversation our hobby would surely die. But seriously, I often revert to talking about ARO's or LoS on my Blog. Hell sometimes even in my daily communication. Have we gone too far? Maybe. Does it make it easier on me to type? Yes. Does it make it easier on informed readers? Possibly. But what about those poor souls who are uninitiated? What do they feel when they are met with a wall of daunting text, filled to the brim with jargon and abbreviations? Honestly, it must be baffling and unwelcoming. The exact opposite of what my Blog is hopefully about, and what our hobby should be like. So is there an acceptable level of jargon to use? Is there a convention whereby some jargon or abbreviations are so important to the wider hobby or specific product that they become necessary? I'm going to say yes. But at some point we have to draw the line. I'm going to make a concerted effort in all my articles from here on out to use the English language not to just communicate but also to educate as well. Where possible I will always explain terms within articles or even include a glossary at the end, if it is required.

Ever feel like some rulebooks need this?
But communication in our hobby goes past the language and terminology used by those actively within the hobby. We have at our core of our online community the vagaries of disconnected communication to deal with. Whether it is on message boards or Blogs, and the odd smiley face doesn't make up for it either. Miscommunication is a very real possibility with the written word. Subtle nuances can often be misconstrued or totally misread. So we should always try to be as specific as we can be. It's not just our communication though that is open to such problems is it? Our hobby is actually quite rare in some respects, insofar as disconnected communication has been at it's heart, in many respects, since its inception. I'm talking about rulebooks! We all know that many religious texts are 'interpreted' in many interesting and divergent ways. Often ideas springing from the same text can bear little or no resemblance to each other. So if the word of 'God' can be so difficult to grasp what bloody chance have we got? Well for one we can at least answer questions our work raises, whereas God it seems isn't listening. Or just can't be bothered to respond! Our games designers though can at least offer us Errata's or Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), much maligned though these documents are, they are a form of open dialogue that is vital to our hobby.

If only...

I wrote last weeks Sundays Sermon on the topic of ownership of the rules. I guess like all things in this hobby though it's all intertwined into one huge topic of never ending massiveness. But, ownership of the rules and their communication is vitally important, whoever it is that owns them. None of us ever really like to stop mid game and work out just what the hell is going on in 'that' situation and what happens next. Now sometimes this is down to us not knowing the rules. However, all too often it is down to poor communication of the concept in the rules. Sometimes these concept aren't just badly worded or communicated, they just seem counter-intuitive to the function of the rest of the game. Or we just don't agree with it. For instance I have had long discussions with various people about the cover rules in Infinity. And how they don't make 'sense' in the broader aspects of the hobby and what most games will do. I've had similar discussions around various rules in HoMachine (it's what I call Warmachine and Hordes), MoFaux (it's what I call Malifaux), Flames of War and many others. These aren't issues with the rules, these are issues with how we think rules should work, which is entirely different to badly worded rules. In the case of rules you don't like, well whether it's a deal breaker for that game, or you put up with it, or develop house rules is totally up to you.

Yeah... I... erm... WTF!

Yes it'd be nice if things were perfect first time round. But where language and rules are concerned it's highly unlikely that we're ever going to be able to communicate quite complex ideas, and messages right first time to everybody who reads them. Or that everyone will like them. So we have to accept that maybe some of us will have to debvelop our own 'house' rules, or that FAQs and their like are here to stay, and possibly embrace that fact. They do at least give us clarity where before there was none. Well hopefully they do. It doesn't however mean that we should give free reign to those producing rules or articles to write any old badly worded crap. Only to amend it later on, possibly many times over when a backlash hits. FAQs shouldn't be used as an excuse for lazy communication the first time round, besides:

'Efficiency is intelligent laziness.'  - David Dunham

So if you really want to be lazy in your communication, be intelligent about it. Because communications in all it's forms is vitally important to our hobby's future. So we should take it seriously and try to say what we mean and be as specific as we can, and avoid needless jargon and certainly 'donkey-flop las-spam'... Jesus wept. Peace out!


  1. Holy books have FAQ's?!?!

    For the record, a 'donkey flop las spam' IG list came in 3rd at 'Ard Boyz last year.
    :P pics ever, btw.

    1. No. Holy books should have FAQs and errata's!!! lol.

      I don't believe 'Donkey Flop las spam' is a thing because I made it up! Although I do get sick of hearing about various forms of spam or 'wings'. Maybe I'm just getting too old for this crap now but sometimes it winds me up. In case you hadn't noticed. But my main point about communication still rings true. As long as we all know what is what before we put toy soldiers on the board and there's constant dialogue between gamers during the game 'arm we saying these craters give hard cover?' I don't think we should have any problems. The fact that we do just goes to show on the whole just how piss poor us gamers are at communicating. It's something we could all do with getting better at.

    2. Blame the Dark Angels! It's all their fault.

      Personally, I love the stupid names people come up with for their lists. "Dick Wing", "Canned Spam", "RoflWing", "Troll Wing" and "CANS" are all lists that I've seen touted among my friends. It may not tell me anything about the list itself (except CANS - Close Assault Necron Style), but it communicates the feeling of the list in a funny way.

      Top of my list are still "Five Twats and a Land Raider" and "Planet of the Apes", but those don't have "Wing" in the title.

    3. Ant, it's not people naming their armies I'm opposed too. I call my army list names. I have an 'inverse ninja' list for example in Infinity. lol. And it really does live up to the inverse rule of ninjas... it's fecking rubbish. PMSL.

      But I do take issue with 'naming' things that actually can't be communicated by name alone. If I say to my friends I'm going to take my 'inverse ninja list' then they know to pack in as many MSV's as they can. If I say that to somebody who doesn't know me and my lists it means nothing. Names without meaning are pointless and serve no useful purpose other than to confuse and confound people and quite frankly make you look a bit like a pompous dick in front of people. lol....

      I still so wish that Flame Grilled Whoppers and the Burger King list had actually caught on as 'things'. lol. Hey maybe it still can!!!

  2. "When it's done with being graceful and poetic, language is meant to communicate, after all."

    If you're talking to (or writing for) newbies, then you should drop the lingo as much as possible. If you're talking to experienced players then use the language for what it's meant for - efficient and accurate communication. If I say "Draigo Wing" the person knows what I mean without having to say "An army chosen from the Grey Knights codex, using Kaldor Draigo as your HQ choice and taking a large proportion of Paladins along with Dreadnought support armed with two twin-linked autocannons and psybolt ammunition". Similarly an experienced player knows what to expect if I say "Space Wolf Las-Plas Spam".

    As always with any form of communication, tailor it to the expected audience. I wouldn't talk about the Hardware Abstraction Layer works when installing a user's printer, but I might mention the Hypervisor to a developer working on a virtual server.

    1. Here you go Ant, a quote direct from the article making that very point:

      "But, we have to accept that in any specialist area that naming or concept simplification is important to the broader aims of furthering understanding by rapid communication of ideas. Yes it still presents a barrier to the uninitiated, but the rewards for those within the given field are greater than the exclusion of others it often brings."

      I should just add that just because the specialist naming or language used does exclude, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to teach others. As you say, communication should always be tailored to it's audience. It's just sometimes difficult to work out who your audience is and pitch things accordingly. This is I guess part of the problem with those poor sods who have to write our rulebooks. Where do you pitch it? I guess having worked in field where you actually have to communicate quite complex policy decisions to people who aren't expert, or knowledgeable in that field I have a tendency to believe that using plain, uncluttered language is always best. And then introduce those concepts slowly with full explanation. I mean in my previous comment too you I was guilty of an abbreviation again... MSV, or Multi-Spectoral Visor... actually that isn't all that more helpful to non-Infinity players is it? lol. Things that allow you too shot hard to see things!!! :P

    2. I would say that using excessive lingo around the uninitiated is a useful tool. If I see a player spouting lingo at a complete newbie who only just showed up looking bewildered by it all, I know I don't want to play against that player - he's obviously either socially inept or a bit of a dick!

      On a serious note, rulebook writing should avoid all complex language. You have as many words as you need to spell concepts out - even the experienced often need to check the exact wording of a rule. Without any judgement on the "quality" of the rules themselves, I find that the writing of the books varies a lot amongst the games I play:

      Firestorm Armada's book was written by a bunch of retarded apes who desperately need an editor. Infinity's books would be awful if it wasn't for a great wiki and rules forum. The 40k rulebook is good, the codex books less so. Warmachine writes the way I want - even the grammatical structure of a rule enforces the meaning. It's just a shame the layout of the Warmachine book isn't particularly friendly.

      I'm not sure how people keep getting rulebooks wrong. You print a draft, find somebody who doesn't play these games and see how long it takes for them to grasp it. If they can play within a few hours, it's probably ok.

    3. Yeah the issue with the Infinity book is that it was translated obviously from its native Spanish by somebody who I believe wasn't fully aware of the game system. So some of the wording is actually not as clear as it could be. I know there is a petition from the person responsible for the initial translation to be able to do a newer more appropriate translation. I also know there is an exceptional fan created re-translation that is doing the rounds somewhere. With all the explanations from the Wiki and some of the FAQ's in there from Corvus Belli.

      I actually agree with you about most rulebooks. They are actually quite badly written and constructed. I think the biggest criticism you could level at Spartan Games is how badly written and constructed their rulebooks are. I'd love to have the opportunity to sit down with them and Edit their rules and re-write some things so as to make them easier to understand. Because their rulebooks have done an amazing job of making their games seem more complex than they actually are.

      I too actually liked the 5th Ed 40k rulebook and also quite like the language and layout actually of Privateer Presses rulebooks... although a better indexing system could've been used. Worst rulebook I've seen in a long time though was the original MoFaux rulebook. They shoved long stories and bits of fluff in between rules and totally broke the flow of that book. Terribly organised book. The pocket rulebook thingy though is brilliant. Like you though, I do wander how so many people still seem to get it so wrong after all this time!

    4. Aye, it's a good point about using the right language for the right audience. I often feel that way about Shakespeare! :-D Incidentally, I think holy books often do have FAQs, but they don't sell so well. I don't think we have more than a single tome of St Augustine in the house, whereas we've got at least a dozen Bibles - not because we're remarkably religious, but because we're a repository for the left-behind books of deceased relations!

    5. lol. I just love the thought of you having a private stash of Bibles. I must have a shelf for of the various world religions sacred tomes. Had a religious friend over (didn't realise he was very devout) and they asked why I'd got all of the books, because I couldn't be a follower of every religion. My response 'oh that! That's my comedy shelf. I need a good laugh every now and then.' He was not happy.

    6. Ooh, you'll get smitten, mate! ;-) You a fan of Terry Pratchett? The first thing I read by him was Small Gods, which is his main "organised religion is bad" book. Very amusing fella - damned shame that he's slowly losing his faculties, but his last one, Snuff, was his funniest in a while. I bought the Koran a few years ago, but I couldn't get into it. I've never managed to read the whole of the Bible, either. In retrospect, it was silly to try to read another religion's book if I can't finish my own! On another literary note, the book Life of Pi is about a chap who decides to follow Hinduism, Islam and Christianity (I forget which branch), and one scene has the three preachers he has been seeing separately getting very annoyed when they all simultaneously run into him and find out that he hasn't been, er, exclusive. ;-)

    7. Not a Huge Pratchett fan actually. It's not that I dislike him, I just don't like him. I'm more ambivalent really. Some of his books I've enjoyed, others I've found a bit of a grind. As for the Life of Pi I'm sure that rings a bell. Never read it, but I feel like somebody might have suggested it too me before. Of course it could just be deja vu. Of course it could just be deja vu.