No matter what you’re interested in, chances are, you’re going to often be in a situation where you are discussing that thing with others. We all know that some people are simply more effective communicators than others. Some of those effective communicators are better at using words to manipulate people, and some people are more effective at actually portraying ideas, and most people exhibit some combination of the two. There is one fundamental point regarding our opinions and how we treat them that everyone needs to take to heart. This is not an article that is directly about videogames or games in general. It’s a more broad point that needs to be made regarding general discourse.
When we push air through our lungs or put our fingers down on a keyboard, we should be considerate of the level of usefulness our message will have to others. That’s not to say that there is no value in saying something or writing something to ourselves, but rather, if a message only has usefulness to us, then there is no need to show it to anyone else. In fact, I think that if you are presenting information to others, it must be useful to them. Otherwise, I feel like you’re wasting that person’s time.
This point is probably obvious to most mature adults, but I have noticed that there are a few “exceptions” in how we go about our dialogues – some areas where we feel like we don’t need to be useful to others.
The matter of opinion seems to be one of these. We’ve all been in a social situation where someone says that they liked or disliked Product X, and then each participant waits for his turn to add that they liked or disliked Product X. Most often, none of these “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” type responses could have much utility to any other person. Why do people do this, then? The answer could be based in vanity, or possibly a desire to strengthen some social bonds. The thing is, though, we can do all of that and be clear; it’s not as though being clear and explaining why we think what we think precludes us from “showing off” or making a connection or other such motivating causes.
Now, I am not saying that there would “never ever be any utility whatsoever” in hearing a simple “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” response. Maybe it can have personal value to a friend; now you know what not to get them for their birthday, or whatever. Maybe you just want to get a general sense of how popular a given thing is. Further, it’s of course fine to start a conversation with “I liked it”, so long as it’s followed by something more substantial.
The other side of the coin, though, is that these kind of dull conversations are really a missed opportunity. Because if we are able to build a statement that has a lot of usefulness to others, then we have done a really great thing.
How Can We Be Useful?
Adults have responsibilities. I believe that adults have the responsibility to take care of their own food/shelter needs (so long as they have the physical/mental/practical capacity to do so; I’m not a Libertarian, if that’s what that message portrays about me). I believe that adults who participate in a democracy also have a responsibility to be informed about what is going on in the world around them. Many of us believe these things.
I also believe, though, that adult human beings have the responsibility to develop a philosophy. Most of us do this, if even loosely. Most of us have general guidelines for how we think, what we’ll trust, what judgments we’ll hold off on, and how we intellectually operate. This is what I mean.
So, I don’t mean that people have to compose and publish some grand treatise on how to think. However, when a person is totally or near-totally devoid of such facility, that’s basically a deal-breaker in terms of my ability to have a relationship with that person. I find the idea of an adult mind who is not actively searching for greater truths about how things work offensive. It’s OK if you are sincerely looking for these greater truths, and just can’t find them, but if you aren’t even looking then that’s the quality of an ignorant person.
Beyond this as a philosophical point, though, it’s a practical one. It’s just boring to converse with someone who can’t back up their opinions. For example:
Me: Hey, what did you think of Rodney Yoshi Jimm’s album McGarnagle?
Guy: It’s terrible.
Me: Really? Why?
Guy: It’s just the worst. It’s so bad.
Me: Oh, okay. Well, why did you think that?
Guy: Did you listen to it?! It’s just a really horrible album!
So, while this person is conveying the fact that he did not like the thing to me, he is not conveying why, and so I’m not able to piece together a coherent picture of this person’s point of view.
Hearing that a person likes something and learning about why they like something is kind of like the difference between “knowing” and “understanding”. For example, if I have read a line in a book that said that the USA won its independence in 1776, then that is a bit of information I “know”. However, if I was actually there when it happened, or if I read a detailed account of what happened from several sources, then I have a more holistic, coherent view of what that fact actually means. I would call this latter example “understanding”. Of course, it is a spectrum; understanding is made up of “knowing” lots of little individual facts.
But i’m not just saying “say more points about why you liked something”, necessarily. It’s important for the listener to have some kind of grounds on which to understand your opinion. What they need to know is, what are your standards? What do you look for in such a thing? Here’s another made-up, but could be totally real encounter:
Me: Hey, how did you like the boardgame Farm Homicide?
Gloria: It was good. My friend Terry made some really funny jokes during it.
Me: Oh, that’s cool. Well, is the game good?
Gloria: Yeah, it’s fun – we had a good time, I’d definitely play it again.
So in this situation, I again only know that this person enjoyed the game, and some somewhat tangential information about her friend being funny. Did she like it because of her group?
The missing bit of information here is this: what does Gloria look for in a game? What are her standards for what makes a good game? Once we, as the listener, know this information, it gives us a foundation for understanding the rest of her words.
Take myself for example. I’m always sure to let people know that what I look for in a game is meaningful, interesting decision-making, preferably that allows for some degree of creativity. That is, in my opinion, what makes a game good. So, when I tell you that I think Puzzle Strike is a great game, you can know that those are the standards that I’m using to form that opinion.
Without that kind of a basis, it’s impossible for us to really ever understand what another person is trying to say.
The worst is when you’re in a conversation with someone, and you tell them your opinion. They disagree. Then you explain why you thought what you thought. Now, instead of taking that opportunity to poke at your reasonings, they instead simply re-assert their opinion. Then you, in one last attempt at a fruitful conversation, ask them for their reasoning. And to that, they again re-assert. Example:
Me: Yo, what did you think of the new videogame Mole Wars: Reload?
Jarbo: It’s amazing dude. It’s like the best.
Me: Really? I didn’t like it. I couldn’t stand the fact that after the game was over, you just rolled a dice and you only win if you roll a 6. That’s simply way too random to me and I don’t understand why that rule is even there; it has seemingly no connection to the rest of the game.
Jarbo: No dude, it’s awesome. Seriously, it’s like the perfect game. You should play it more.
Me: Well, yeah I plan to play it more but… out of curiosity, what makes you like it so much?
Jarbo: It’s like perfect, it’s just super fun. It’s the best game ever pretty much.
I find this kind of a conversation not only useless, but incredibly annoying to have. Kind of insulting, maybe even, because it’s as though the person expects me to just take their word as gospel with no understanding whatsoever, and listen to it. I think it unintentionally conveys this message that that person’s opinion is so important that they don’t need to back it up with anything.
Just Be Honest
If someone asks you why you think something, and you legitimately aren’t sure, it is perfectly acceptable to admit that. There is no shame in not knowing something, but you should have the humility to admit it. “I don’t know, I have to think about that”, is a perfectly acceptable answer. Then, just continue to think about it. You may never discover the answer, and that’s OK too. The point is that you should be looking, and until you figure out a reason (it doesn’t have to be the absolutely-correct reason), you should keep searching. In fact, you should always keep searching, even once you have an idea as to “why”.
In general, people need to figure out why they think what they think, at least, if they want to have a productive conversation. Even if they don’t want that, though, having an understanding of how our opinions are working can only help us. We don’t gain anything from being ignorant about why we like what we like; it only slows us down in finding more of it and avoid the things we would hate.