Sometimes the problem in a discussion is that one or more of the speakers do not know what they are talking about and apparently do not know what they do not know. There are polite ways to inform someone of this, but the message is rarely well received by the passionately ignorant. With a constant influx of new participants, this becomes a constant that varies only in volume, and communities respond somewhere along a continuum of friendly assimilation to gatekeeping.
Ignorance is normal. We all start in a state of ignorance. Willful ignorance is culpable, but it is normal to enter a subject matter area knowing little about it. That is kind of what “enter” means in this context. When you first join a community of inquiry or practice, you know neither the finer points of the content under discussion nor the discourse norms of the community.
Some people know this when entering and approach it with a mix of active learning, epistemic humility, and either open inquiry or reservation. For example, some people will read everything before commenting on anything, whether that means the founding text of a religion or the actual manual for a video game. Those are often your introverts, while more extroverted newbies will learn by talking to others. These people will come up again later, but they are really not today’s topic. Friendly, well adjusted people do not call for much more conversation than “why can’t more people be like them?”
Many communities implicitly assume that most people will be like that, or at least can be nudged in that direction, or at least it’s not our fault if someone should be like that and refuses to read the FAQ. Some veteran community members respond to even friendly and humble extroverts with some form of “RTFM,” because they but together a long FAQ after getting tired of answering the same questions every week. Others are more polite about explaining that or will even do a bit of spoon-feeding by quoting the FAQ in response to questions. Some people manage to do both, being explicitly helpful with strong overtones of “you should have looked this up yourself,” which can come across as parental and/or top tier passive-aggressiveness.
The enduring feature of Eternal September is that it is eternal. The influx of new people never stops. It takes some mental energy to deal with new people and keep answering the same questions. And those same questions keep trying to intrude on the main discussion, even if there are attempts to create a new players’ forum or something. And the newcomers in question are not the sort to click back two screens of posts to see that someone started exactly the same discussion last week, and the week before that, and…
It is about this point in typing that I am getting insight into people who say they hate children. Children are born every few seconds, every one completely ignorant, and it will take years before they have the brain development to understand that the entire universe does not center on them. If you are a stodgy adult trying to have an in-depth conversation, you may grow annoyed at insistent voices asking and saying things that would take hours to explain, for which neither you nor they have the patience. Witness also jaded professors, talking with yet another class where someone will confidently make the exact statements someone does every semester.
It is not necessarily the case that freshmen are ignorant and overconfident, sure that they already understand the world better than their jaded elders. It is almost certainly the case that someone in the freshman class is exactly the stereotype, and there is a very good chance they will be one of the loudest voices. One of the reason that friendly, humble voices do not need much discussion is that they tend to be quiet voices until they have justified confidence. People who are proudly wrong are often loudly wrong.
Long-established communities have means for dealing with an influx of new members. Indeed, they would not survive to be long-established without those means. Universities have orientation, religious groups have welcoming committees and initiation rituals, major MMOs have newbie areas and forums and helpers, etc.
Game communities are often ephemeral. They come into existence with a game and fade as the game fades in popularity. They were never meant to be “long-established.” They are rarely “meant,” not so much a community as a procedurally created message board that becomes a temporary community. They have no means to deal with newbie influx apart from what is built on the fly or adapted from previous experiences of the same. There are often few to no long-standing members to adopt those sorts of duties.
And this is the internet, where new people just appear. There is not a front door they walk in. There is not much of a registration desk, and indeed one of the functions of online registration is to discourage people from talking unless they are willing to invest minimal effort. Even in physical communities, some people walk past signs to ask people questions written on the signs; online, the sidebar lists the FAQ and basic community guidelines, and some people type out questions that would have an instant answer if they just typed it into a search bar rather than a forum post.
I rarely see “RTFM” these days. The current incarnation is “git gud.” “Git gud” covers several different messages, often leaving off any context that could help you distinguish between them.
“Git gud” sometimes means, “I am a jerk. I am going to be dismissive of you and insulting in the process. I can do that safely on the internet. I am from a species of social primates, and I like to fling poo at primates who look like outsiders or people lower in the social hierarchy, or really anyone when I can get away with it.”
“Git gud” sometimes means, “There is a degree of skill and experience involved here. You lack those, so your opinion is misguided and of little value. Once you better yourself, you will find that the problem you are complaining about is no longer a problem. The real problem is that you are inexperienced.”
“Git gud” sometimes means, “RTFM.”
“Git gud” is sometimes used ironically. In the normal course of memetic mutation, that will gradually flow from ironic use with scare quotes, to dropping the scare quotes, to ironic use under a slightly altered meaning, to unironic use that mixes the original meaning with the altered meaning. I know, right?
A different phrasing of the same concept is “classic rookie mistake.” That seems a politer phrase, as longer phrases often are, because it includes implications that the mistake is born of ignorance and is common, rather than someone particularly wrong with the target, while still allowing the speaker to feel superior. An even politer phrasing would be, “Yes, that is a common difficulty for new players.”
One part of the insulting nature of “git gud” is its brevity. It is not just insulting of your ability, it is dismissive and blatantly so in that you are worth neither proper spelling nor capitalization. No explanation, just six letters. For extra insult, there are places that require a minimum number of characters to post, so you see something like:
The response is not just dismissive; it went to extra effort to point out how little effort they thought you were worth in replying to.
And here is the dark secret: sometimes, that’s fair.
The person entering a serious conversation without 101 knowledge should be dismissed, and you should not stop the serious discussion for a remedial lesson because there will be another newbie on the next bus. You just point to the 101 course, and if they are loudly indignant about being dismissed, that says more about someone who will not take the time to educate himself but expects you to take the time to educate him. And remember, they think they’re right, so they’re not angry that you won’t educate them, but rather angry both that you think they need to be educated but smugly refuse to explain why. To most people, the personal slight is greater than the factual dispute.
The person asking a question that was just answered, either on a forum or in a meeting where they were distracted by their phone, should be pointed back to the previous discussion. It wastes everyone else’s time to go over it again when there are notes readily available.
The white belt expecting to immediately be treated on par with the black belts should be punched in the face.
Kill Ten Rats was founded as an MMO blog before gradually drifting into online gaming then “online” and “gaming” more generally. In an MMO, it makes perfect sense to say, “You’re not high enough level to do that yet.” Skill-based games may not have that explicit level, but it can still very much be the case that you’re not high enough level to do that yet. The hard fight is hard, and you are not ready for it yet.
And then some people are just jerks.
Just like we mentioned and then set aside people who are polite and considerate, because they tend to take care of themselves without causing noise or trouble, there are also people who respond politely and considerately. They do not cause much noise either. There are people who take reasonable advice and go apply it. There are people with whom you can have reasonable discussions across wide gaps in knowledge and across very differing lived experiences.
It takes some serious community tools and norms to make those people more prominent. Most often, the angriest voices are the loudest ones. Agreement happens quickly and quietly. Arguments are loud and lasting. People who are there to learn learn. People who are there to complain keep complaining. People who are there to help newcomers point them in the right direction. People who are there to mock newcomers want to keep them as ignorant and prominent targets.
For some people, being aggrieved and giving others grief is the goal, not a problem. We have a term for that in gaming. And I just spent 1714 words discussing that conflict, while it takes 4 words to say, “nice people are nice.”