EJ – It’s great, and it’s fail
May 12, 2010 12 Comments
My relationship with the Elitist Jerks forums is one very much composed of both love and hate, but which has been increasingly leaning towards the latter as of late (which is a large part of why I started this site, although more on that at another time).
Don’t get me wrong; there’s no denying that EJ’s infamous moderation causes most people to think twice before posting there and leads to the removal of those who don’t care to do so. Generally speaking, this keeps the average level of conversation moderately intelligent and reasonably constructive, which in turn makes for a more mature and knowledgeable community. You don’t have to sift through pages of threads to find ones of value, nor do you have to worry about pointless speculation, trolling, or whining. You don’t have to wonder whether the information presented is to be trusted, nor do you have to be concerned with repeated questions, hand-holding, or walls of text. In other words, you don’t have to deal with many of the flaws of the official WoW forums or other more lax community sites.
EJ is a place where you can get reliable, objective, factual information without having to deal with the “human” side of that information (or of the game as a greater whole). It’s been highly successful in that regard, and I wouldn’t be the player I am today without it.
That said, it has faults – many, many faults. Enough to make me consider the end of my thread there.
To begin with, a single thread for each spec (plus one or two extra devoted to a specific spreadsheet or simulator) is frankly terrible. It prevents any semblance of organization. It makes it extremely difficult to tackle cross-spec issues of a class, and near impossible to compare and contrast the ups and downs of two specs. It ignores the fact that specs don’t live in isolation from each other, and that the current state of one spec directly impacts the performance of another. It leads to near-identical conversations on the same issue to occur in multiple threads. Worst of all, however, is that it leads to pages which are several hundred posts in length…
In no way are these mammoth threads ideal for discussion, no matter how intelligent or constructive that discussion may be. No person new to the site is going to wade through those thousands of posts to get acclimated. No person accustomed to the site is going to wade through those thousands of posts to make sure they know every little point that’s been raised and every little argument that’s been had. It’s just not going to happen, and it’s ludicrous to expect otherwise. Yes, there’s a search function, but that’s no solution when most of these threads have existed for several patches (or several expansions), and thus the majority of their contents aren’t even accurate or relevant. A search on Scourge Strike, for instance, will bring up information about all of its dozen of incarnations, and then you’re left trying to determine what’s discussing the present and what’s discussing the past. Punishing people for asking redundant questions or raising already solved issues is commendable, yes, but not when you make it so incredibly difficult to see what’s been asked or debated. It’s the real life equivalent of being fined for not maintaining the minimum speed on the highway, but then there being a single lane thus impeding your speed! Punish people for not adhering to your rules, of course, but don’t make your environment one which impedes the ability for people to adhere to your rules.
Within those threads, the focus on facts and figures is admirable, but it ignores the undeniable fact that not all facets of the game can be reduced to numbers (see: Improved Unholy Presence). Sometimes, you have to consider that mentioned “human” aspect of the issues to actually be able to discuss them, let alone attempt to come to a conclusion. It’s a fine line to walk between “subjective but informative” and “personal and completely anecdotal”, understandably so, but all too often EJ essentially says “screw the line” and just kills the entire conversation via heavy moderation, which often leads to the debate being permanently abandoned, even if parts of it were legitimately thought-provoking and worth being explored.
The laying down of the law in this form of heavy moderation (which does have its upsides, as I’ve admitted) not only can kill potentially valuable conversation, but it can prevent them from even starting. Humility aside, I’m probably one of the greatest contributors to the DK portion of the site, yet even I am sitting on three infractions. What this means is that one more, and I get banned for a week (which then prevents me from being able to even edit my post for that duration). There’s been many times where I’ve wanted to comment on a subject, or answer a question which is original, but I hold back, all because I don’t want to deal with the potential ramifications if a moderator misinterprets my post or otherwise disagrees. If this is an issue for someone of my stature, I’m sure it’s worse for others. The fact is, not all infractions are necessary or called for and they are given out regardless. This creates a residual effect of even more (often unnecessary and uncalled for) moderation before a post even has a change to be typed. That previously discussed line is simply so blurry (which is ironic for a site which places an emphasis on objectivity from its posters!).
On top of all that, from the perspective of a thread author, there’s a whole host of other issues. Foremost among them: a single post is incredibly limited, no matter what you do with it. There’s only so much information you can put in a single post before it just all rolls together, and there’s only so many tools available in which to properly break up and otherwise organize that information. I would love to add additional sections to my thread, but how could I when it’s already a single post of 10k+ words and takes half a minute to load after an edit? Not just that, but as already stated – specs don’t exist in bubbles. Whether Unholy is viable or not depends heavily on how Frost and Blood are doing (and vice versa), and being unable to tackle more than one spec – partially because of there already being too much on one spec for a single post and partially because of the arbitrary one-spec-one-thread rule – is incredibly frustrating, and gives readers an incomplete picture of the class. Not to mention the fact that there’s been several points in the past where the author of the other threads were doing inadequate jobs, and I can’t even begin to express how aggravating that is to know that I could do better, but have no option to do so.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. The very things which make EJ so great are all too often working against it, and the site just isn’t what it once was, what it’s intended to be, or what it could be. It simply has little serious competition, generally speaking, and thus is all too often considered the only avenue for intelligent talk and theorycrafting.
All of this has lead me to contemplate some intriguing changes to my current association with those forums, and tomorrow expect some more extensive writing delving deeper into the possibilities therein detailed. Emphasis on possibilities, for that’s all they are.
Until then, sleep well.