Community Leads have the tricky task of maintaining and nurturing large groups of people. For the purpose of this article let us focus on gaming communities and let us further focus on text-based roleplay communities. Now when I say community I mean all interactions between your players related to their experience of your game but I will be focusing primarily on those which take place in a forum setting. When we look at this niche of community development there are some common and less common challenges that our community leads are faced with such as toxic posting, the nature of co-operative storytelling, and the emotional investment players will have towards their characters and your game.
Our first and most destructive aspect of being a community is the issue of toxic posting. This can be summed up very simply as people talking more than they are thinking. This can be spamming, trolling, complaints, or even general conversation. The speed and connectivity of online communication tend to prompt people to respond as quickly as possible and then repeatedly check the forum thread for a response in kind. This often leads to assuming knowledge or facts for the purpose of a faster reply and eventually accusations against a user instead of a focus on the topic. Once this happens it’s normally difficult to stop because simple moderation doesn’t change the fact that the posts were made nor does it change the fact the thoughts were had. Sometimes attempts as tamping down on toxic posting just shifts the toxicity from public discourse into player backchannels were it can fester and lead to large arguments away from the eyes of the community lead who could be doing more to turn the conversation back onto healthier avenues for the community. With that in mind it has often been my personal opinion that moderation should be limited and instead community leads should attempt to guide discourse back to a more civil and content oriented situation. This can be done as simply as posting in the thread where toxic posting has begun, acknowledge the feelings of those involved and point out unconsidered aspects of the situation that may change the assumptions they have made on the issue. Any way you choose to deal with the issue of toxic posting the best defense is being aware of it and the damage it can do.
There is a common cause for toxic posting within our communities can be traced back to the fact we are often centered around co-operative storytelling or roleplaying more smply stated. When you’re dealing with roleplaying you have limited knowledge of the story that is occurring throughout the game. You only know what your character sees and what your friends tell you is happening. This limited knowledge leads to assumptions which we have already noted leads to toxic posting. However were we have cause for concern we also have our communities greatest strength and potential for growth. Your entire community has a common touchstone in the narrative of your game. Your users are players and their characters have more than likely interacted even if they don’t know it and that shared experience is exactly the foundation of a strong and vibrant community with passionate discusisons. So the way you limit the drawback of unsatisfied roleplay with your users is to help them focus on the good roleplay and perhaps even vent their concerns about unknown aspects of the story. I have always been of the opinion that a strict no IC information policy actually promotes distrust on a lot of levels. Sure sharing information can lead to abuse, but with all relationships communication and understanding are required for longevity and your users relationships with one another within your community are no different. Community leads should consider looking into ways to open appropriate dialogue based on their games policies when roleplay concerns are raised and try to guide users through constructively venting, acknowledging, and resolving their complaints with one another.
The core difficulty to building a thriving community for a community lead is also the reason anyone cares about the game or the community and that is emotional investment. It is the key to a compelling narrative, it is the heart of connecting with a character, and it is likely the primary reason people enjoy roleplaying on your game. It is also the source of displeasure about the outcome of roleplay and almost always the drive behind toxic posting. Handle with care community leads because handling the collective emotional investment of players into your game and community is probably the most indivudalized aspect of the job. There are some very good tips though that are generally considered to be safe methods of interaction on this topic. Do not demean your users, do not belittle their passion, and use terminology that implies redirecting focus instead of shutting down discussion. These generally work because the first trick to handling emotional investment is to recognize that all emotional investment in your game is valid. The more your players feel the more they care and the more your game is enjoyable to them. The task of keeping that level of interest from turning into something bad can be as easy as not blaming players for their own unhappiness.
This article is far from comprehensive but it does raise the three aspects of managing a text-based roleplaying community that I think are most important to keep in mind for a community lead. It links them together so everyone can see the potential progression that can occur and provides limited suggestions on addressing them which is often to try and be as considerate as possible and not hostile with your users. What is important is that the community leads and even the users of a community recognize that growing a community and destroying a communtiy stems from the same sources and it is a matter of communication and dialogue which takes us from one to the other. When we stop discussing, we stop listening, and we stop caring about “those people” is when we’re probably ruining our own enjoyment. Hopefully briefly touching on these issues can lead to a broader discussion in our article discussion forum and we can see more comprehensive solutions suggested and explored beyond these simple ones.