What could we do to make Story Games feel more welcoming to new contributors?

This was inspired by the recent thread about whether Story Games is an insular community. Since some folks have felt that it is and were willing to share their experience, I think it would be worth setting some goals as a community to be more inclusive.

I am by no means an expert on this, but I'm interested in contributing to a dialogue about it.

My initial suggestions:
- A few more ongoing threads (or regularly renewed topics) that are welcoming to new posters and allow for low-stakes contributions (like "What did you play this week?").
- A greater commitment to defining terms within a thread and avoiding insider jargon where possible. This could take the form of a regular practice of asking others to define their terms when uncertain. (I tend to leave jargon-y threads rather than ask for clarification).
- Avoiding conversations across threads where possible. I sometimes get confused when regular posters seem to be responding to comments from past conversations that I as I third-party haven't read.

I would love to hear more suggestions or things I can do as a member of the forum to be more welcoming to new folks.

Comments

  • Yes! I think about the jargon, maybe a sticky thread to serve as a sort of dictionary. I think there is one not sticky thred which I found when I joined and tried to use the search function to find out what spicy play was or something like that. In a current thread I’m cueless to the meaning of abreviations like CA or SIS. If there’s be a kind of sticky jargon post to refer to or, of not there ask clarification for a term, I feel that might help.

    In the insular community post there was a mention of women not feeling welcome, but not a mention as to why (that I’ve found), so if some of the wm’en could elaborate on that, that would be nice. I’d like to know when I’m unwittingly chauvinistic so that I can cut it out!
  • Ah, wait, I’m sorry, that last one was a link, the only one I haden’t clicked, because I hadn’t the time to read an entire old thread. Gonna attempt to now. Sorry!
  • moconnor said:

    - A few more ongoing threads (or regularly renewed topics) that are welcoming to new posters and allow for low-stakes contributions (like "What did you play this week?").

    I think this is a good idea. I basically never read or contribute in the casual threads myself, but I'm sure that having a few more of those would do worlds of good for encouraging walk-in participation.

    Your suggestions are generally good (as in, concordant with the stated goal), that one just felt particularly clever - I hadn't thought of it myself before. Consciously picking some evergreen yet casual topic that naturally maintains a thread on top of the pile could indeed make a forum seem different. Just have to think of what such topics could be. Something that wouldn't become a chore. Maybe something creative and gaming-related like "Dream Journaling Together".
  • There often is some kind of that going on : "I have an idea, what if..." cowboy wizards rpg. Game theme of the week, session theme of the week, that sort of things ?
    If so, I would like to see a "mechanic of the week" too. Like, "what can we do with dice ?" pile them, exchange them, roll them, turn them, hide/show them, colour them, etc.
    Also, the experimental games, like The worm turns, A sickly moon hangs. I love these thought experiments. Maybe one start each week.
    Discussions would spring off of these.
    I don't like the jargon idea. Not every term needs defining. Some people don't work this way. I am not against it, but I certainly don't want to be reminded to read the "official lexicon" or that I used a lexicon term improperly. If we're communicating, we can always work something out. Jargon is exclusionary.
  • @DeReel Oh yeah, I think an official lexicon with official definitions of terms is adding to rather than reducing exclusionary culture. I just meant, trying to speak in plain language where possible is useful, and taking care to explain the terms you're using is helpful to others.
  • edited April 27
    We’ve had the “let’s avoid jargon” discussion many times, and I think it has improved quite a lot over the years.

    However, people end up coining useful (to them) terms and using them as a shorthand - that’s the nature of language. A glossary wouldn’t help, since it changes over time and makes a new reader feel like they have to study up on it before they even join a conversation.

    I think we can just keep trying to avoid language we use without definition and ask each other about terms being used.

    I’m an old “regular” here and I often need to do a google search about some word or term someone else is using - especially abbreviations. It’s actually (in my experience) often the newcomers who start using jargon, more so than the regulars, because they haven’t been part of these “hey, let’s try to avoid jargon” discussions we’ve had every few years, so they just jump right in.

    I like all of these suggestions from moconnor, and will try to think of more. (Thanks for mentioning a few of my older threads, DeReel! That’s nice to see. There used to be a poster here named Ry St who started a lot of “hey, jump in with a quick idea” threads in a similar vein; some of those are worth looking up.)

    I’ll go and start an “easy entry” thread right now, to see if I can contribute to this!


    Edit: here’s my attempt at an “easy entry” thread - http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/22044/your-favourite-adventure-module-or-premise?new=1
  • I find the "everything goes to the main page" philosophy of this forum a little bit daunting. I might have some really small question/idea/proposal that may not be of interest for the 90% of the visitors but might fit quite nicely the other 10% niche, but since I'm forced to post them in the main page, two undesired side-effects appear:

    1) The 90% of the people that are not interested in my idea will naturally drive the conversation towards their preferred topic/point of view.

    2) The conversation will get buried quickly because the 90% of the users are talking about other topics.

    I don't blame the users of Story-games of any of these (this is something that will happen even in the most respectful discussion forum) but I do think that we all should ponder the pros & cons of the current structure of this forum.

    I believe that the "everything goes to the main page" philosophy imposes a high entry barrier to new users but I might be wrong and I have to acknowledge that it also has a strong bonding effect (everyone is encouraged to read everything) that we can loose if we switch to a "multiple ghettos" model.
  • That's an interesting point. A rather modern marketing idea occurs to me: one could, should the owner be so inclined, develop a dynamic landing page for the forum with newcomers and casual readers in mind. Basically a more content-oriented replacement for the happy village propaganda poster.

    Regular users go directly to the forum anyway, but a dynamic front page could do wonders for highlighting noteworthy and interesting content.

    A simple approach to making one would be to do a bit of site development for a page that pulls thread titles from the database based on a given instructions, and then assign one or more regular users with editing rights on the page. These users could then maintain the front page as a place where e.g. the ten most current/interesting topics are featured, possibly with little one-sentence introduction hooks. Unlike the main forum view, they could ignore the evergreen no-content threads in favour of highlighting the things they find relevant for somebody who only visits the forum weekly or monthly.

    (There's many ways of doing something like this, of course, I just suggested appointing a couple of editors as the technically and socially simplest way to maintain it. A completely automatic system would involve some sort of thread quality voting, with the front page listing the most voted threads, relying on the users to vote intelligently.)

    Such a page would obviously include links to the forum rules and introduction threads and whatnot - the basic content you'd want a newcomer to see.

    Developed correctly, this could help with the perceived confusion of the Vanilla forum model without the forum getting lost in a categorization ghetto. (I don't really think that the alternative of moving to a traditional forum display structure is a good one; the topics at SG aren't really very separate from each other, and the amount of activity is so sparse that a general view is what you'll want to use most anyway.)
  • (What Eero says is true: there was an attempt to create sub forums like Praxis a few times, and they were all abandoned, as far as I can see. Using a “category” for “new users” could be an option, too, which is already an existing function. Then you’d just need a toggle on the front page: “see only beginner friendly topics”, or “see all topics”, with the former being selected by default.)
  • (...) the topics at SG aren't really very separate from each other (...)

    Perhaps this is a consequence of the current forum organization rather than the original motive behind that design decision...

    Perhaps people who want to discuss different topics don't come here just because they cannot find these topics or just don't understand the current categorization...

    And, again, the current structure may be perfectly OK if the community prefers it that way but might be a problem if the objective is to increase the user base.
  • I wonder if presentation and content is what people are referring to when they say that the community might be “insular”, though? I haven’t seen people complain about the forum structure; the issues seemed more personal and/or political.

    I’d love to hear from someone who feels that way in terms of what might be done to make them and others like them feel more at home.
  • edited April 27
    I'm not sure if hiding the "advanced" topics from new users would be beneficial in attracting new users. The advanced topics are part of what makes this forum stand out! Highlighting specific threads as recommended for new users does sound smart.

    Some thoughts about things that could be helpful in thread presentation:

    Sometimes people use tags in the thread titles, like [minis+] or [RR+]. These serve a useful purpose, but when I started reading this forum I didn't understand what they meant for a long time. It would be helpful to include an explanatory line at the top of the first post, like this:

    [RR+] This thread is for positive discussion of how to run a game in a railroad style. If you would like to discuss how to run a game in a different style, or discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a railroad style, please make a separate thread.

    Another this that is very helpful (and which I have seen in some threads) is to include links to previous threads in the same "series" or on the same topic.
  • edited April 27
    I agree! Good ideas.

    Perhaps adding some kind of “beginner friendly” category and having a way to flag it visually could still be a good idea.

    At the very least, it could serve as a reminder: “hey, Joe: I know you like discussing Creative Agenda, but this is a beginner-friendly topic, so be sure to explain what you’re talking about in plain language, or let’s take it elsewhere.”
  • This is a cross-post from the "insular discussion". I'd like to share it here, too, because I find it important regarding potential new contributors.
    BeePeeGee said:

    I love the Story Games forum for its mix of bright, experienced, friendly and open-minded people.
    If the posts weren't often seemingly unnecessarily long for my taste, I'd be much more engaged.

    What is a great turn-off to a lot of people in my opinion are these lengthy responses & discussions. While this is great on some topics, I think a lot of players & designers would like to get brief & concise answers to their questions.
    Certainly everywhere else on the internet, most expert forums (and in a way this is an expert forum) make an effort to keep their responses as focused as possible.
    On SG, people seem to love to discuss topics as much as possible, not as concise as possible. While this is the accepted modus operandi on SG, I feel this as a certain disrespect of readers" limited time and attention.

    There were many topics that I have discovered on SG. But when I saw the lenghty posts, I didn't feel like catching up and joining the conversation.
    How do you find the time to write & read that much on a forum? Who has so much time in the modern world? I believe this creates a forum with a very limited audience.

  • BeePeeGee,

    That’s a really interesting thought. I say “interesting”, because there is a variety of people here, and some tend to write more (like Eero and Sandra, say, perhaps me as well) and others are very terse (like, say, DeReel).

    Is the depth of discussion “inconsiderate”, or is it a feature of this forum? I consider it a feature, personally. Such a nice contrast to social media twitter, and all the rest. But it’s worth thinking about!

    I also noticed that your post here might be the second or third longest in the whole thread, which is kind of funny.

    Is brevity always a virtue? When engaged in discussions I usually find myself wishing I’d written more, because I try to say something in a short form and then the reader doesn’t understand the idea I’m putting across - the longer posts seem to work better, in that sense.

    But if some people are avoiding the forum because of that, it could be something worth thinking about. Thank you for saying so!
  • Paul_T said:

    Is brevity always a virtue?

    Maybe... ;-)
  • People are avoiding the forum because they don't like Vanilla (and the way it makes posts come to the top). That doesn't mean we should change the software.

    Insofar as the medium and content of the forum do not offend or attack new people, I think we're doing just fine. We don't HAVE to be everything to everyone. Story Games (the forum) is a niche site with a history tied to The Forge, and I think it borrowed some sensibilities about how to run a discussion forum from it. Asking people here to maybe type fewer words feels like a "dumbing-down" that I want no part of.

    For the record, I'm NOT saying we shouldn't make any changes. We probably should. I just think we need not to lose our identity and what makes us special in the process.
  • Something else to consider is that forums as a medium(?) or meetingplace might be dying out. This surely for me is the only one I’m active on. Though once in a while I might wander into reddit and post/read something there.
  • Vanilla présentation is very confusing for me. It also makes searches harder.
  • edited April 29
    I'm a relative newcomer these forums.

    I can still remember some of my impressions when I first started reading and posting.

    First and foremost I thought that the posters are remarkably well behaved, interesting and courteous. IOW the posters themselves were a delight to interact with. Kudos.

    I found that lack of organization off putting. Not terribly, but I was confused as to where to go looking for certain ideas and what not.

    I did note that there is a reasonably consistent use of abbreviations and other means to communicate "commonly" understood ideas quickly and efficiently. Again, nothing wrong with that in and of itself. What I was surprised by was the lack of a gloss. For myself, a gloss is a welcoming effort. It is a readily available bridge from those who have been discussing a certain topic for a while reaching out to newcomers saying, "Welcome to our community. This is what we are thinking currently. Now that you are up to speed please join us!"

    @Adam_Dray was correct in that a site like this cannot be all things to all people. Some posters in this thread have come up with some very compelling suggestions. But the idea that posts must be short because it places an unreasonable/unfair burden on a reader is rather specious. If someone only has time for what are essentially sound bites and not in depth reasoned thought then I don't know what to say. Ideas, especially complex or subtle ideas ones, need space to develop. No one is forcing anyone to be here. If they don't have the time to read lengthy posts or threads then this is exactly what a glossary would help to address. But being told to not think things too deeply is just a little silly especially if that is only a small percentage of what the totality of this site has to offer.

    Yes there are lots of excellent things or changes that could be made to make this site "easier" to newcomers. I don't think dumbing things down is a particularly good option.

    But I'm new here and I don't have the weight that the long timers have and that's alright.

    Best,

    Jay
  • edited April 29
    Paul_T said:

    Is brevity always a virtue?

    It certainly isn't a virtue when people just post "lol" etc on social media. I appreciate our well-reflected valuable discussions on SG.
    That being said whenever I write, I make a conscious effort to communicate what I want to say as accessibly as possible. This includes trying to avoid jargon, acronyms, special knowledge as well as clear & concise communication. I try to write as long as necessary (such as in this post) and as short as possible.

    Please note also that the large part of the world are not native English speakers. So, many knowledgeable international gaming experts might be dicouraged from participating due to the verbose communication style here.
    Paul_T said:

    Is the depth of discussion “inconsiderate”, or is it a feature of this forum?

    On all other forums I use, it is considered sensible to focus on the original post/question.
    On SG, the initial question may be used as a mere invitation into sharing any thoughts we may have vaguely related to the subject.

    My wish is not to discourage conversation, only to make it more accessible.Maybe it would help to have a section for questions (requesting concise answers) and a discussion section?
    Or maybe posts could be marked with tags [question] and [discussion]?
    Sometimes people want to have a specific answer to a practical problem/question and sometimes people want to freely discuss i.e. "game design philosophy" or "what do you think of Critical Role?".

    A few years ago, in my opinion we used to have a good mix of pragmatic answers and open discussions. Sadly, it seems to me that most conversations of the former category have wandered off to other discussion platforms...




  • edited April 29

    Something else to consider is that forums as a medium(?) or meetingplace might be dying out.

    The G+ shutdown has convinced me that long after the latest social media fad has died, my old forums are still going to be alive. This is important for people who want to have valuable discussions and use old posts for future reference.

    I'm fine with the Vanilla user experience. This may be limiting to a lot of mobile users, though.

    I like the idea of a (dynamic) landing page. There may be better ways to engage first-time users on SG.
  • BeePeeGee said:



    My wish is not to discourage conversation, only to make it more accessible.Maybe it would help to have a section for questions (requesting concise answers) and a discussion section?
    Or maybe posts could be marked with tags [question] and [discussion]?
    Sometimes people want to have a specific answer to a practical problem/question and sometimes people want to freely discuss i.e. "game design philosophy" or "what do you think of Critical Role?".

    I really like this suggestion personally, not as a rule but maybe as good practice. Some do this already, you will see stuff like "Started this thread based on this other thread" but we could certainly benefit from a culture of focusing on the OP question vs flying off into discussing amongst ourselves in some cases.
  • BeePeeGee said:


    I'm fine with the Vanilla user experience. This may be limiting to a lot of mobile users, though.

    Yes, I noticed that catagories don't show up on mobile, which several folks mentioned would help. That might be easier to fix than anything else.
  • edited April 29
    A stickied FAQ with a lexicon and abbreviated descriptions of well-regarded storygames.
  • Brevity won't be a consensus, so everyone better keep their style.
    Sticking to OP, stating the intent in the title : those seem solid.
  • DeReel said:

    Sticking to OP, stating the intent in the title : those seem solid.

    Yeah, I think that makes threads easier to follow without a lot of cross-referencing.

  • This sounds pretty good.
    It could be a good practice to focus a thread on OP (unless it is an obvious discussion thread) and branch out into a new, related discussion thread if necessary.
  • edited April 30
    Here's what I want (I've been here for a while but I'm still a novice) and what I think other novices/newbies/etc. would like to see. If you're a veteran here, start a thread called [moving parts] where you take apart a (famous) indie game and examine what makes the game work; what makes it great; what makes it unique in terms of system. Do it from a designer's POV. Identify the necessary moving parts then open the thread up for questions and discussion. Review games from the designer's POV. Use thread titles like:

    [Moving Parts] Sorcerer
    [Moving Parts] Otherkind
    [Moving Parts] Archipelago
    [Moving Parts] Apocalypes World
    [Moving Parts] Fiasco
    [Moving Parts] Ghost/Echo
    etc.

    Then have James add [Moving Parts] to the the side panel on the main page so that new people can see it.
  • edited April 30
    I also think that @komradebob 's (minis+) threads should all be collected and added to the side panel. They were important blue-skying and theory. New people would be interested.
  • edited April 30
    That’s an interesting point: would we benefit from a “guide to story games” thread or something like that? We used to have “the best of story games”, but that hasn’t been added to in many years (it’s still a good read, though!).

    I don’t think we’ll ever agree on what should go in it, but we could anyone link to anything they like that they think is worth checking out.

    On the “moving parts” idea (I’m not sure that’s quite the right title for what you want, but the idea is good - maybe “An Inside Look at ______”?), feel free to start some topics at any time! People will jump in. You don’t have to be the knowledgeable one to start it.

    Over the history of story games we’ve had a few really interesting specialized and long-form, multi-thread discussions, like:

    * Christopher Kubasik’s Sorcerer threads (originally intended to be compiled into a book).

    * Rickard’s “how little we know about our hobby” threads

    * The various “Eero’s primitive D&D” discussions

    * The “minis+” threads, as mentioned

    * JDcorley’s “mystery” threads (already captured in Best of Story Games)

    * some good “how to run ______ as a one-shot/at a convention” threads (especially for Dogs and Apocalypse World)

    * Adam Dray, Sandra (2097), and Deliverator describing how they run 5E

    * not sure if there is a single repository, but I think Emma’s description of her group’s playstyle is really unique and worth reading

    And probably many others - this is just off the top of my head.

  • edited April 30
    That's a great list, Paul.

    While not every topic calls to me (nor should they because we all have our individual interests), I am saddened that I didn't know that these threads even existed as I imagine some very interesting ideas were bandied about. How could I or anyone even know to hunt for them if the very knowledge of their existence was lost to history.

    IMHO such a list would be a treasure and the lack of same a tragedy.

    Best,

    Jay
  • Jay, from the ones mentioned in that list I think you might find this thread especially interesting:
    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/15822/a-cool-thing-happened-in-my-d-d-session/p1

    The ideas from that thread and the ideas from your "semiotic jazz" threads have been rubbing together a lot in my head and producing interesting comparisons that I haven't fully nailed down yet. It is about a sort of bricolage (using whatever comes to hand) with regard to resolution mechanics, even though not with exactly the same kind of world-building goals you have written about.
  • @Paul_T @Silmenume and @Everyone The last time "The Best of Story-Games" was added to was 2013.
  • It could be as simple as having a “what are your favourite story games threads?” thread...

    It wouldn’t be a curated list, but it could be a thread where you can post when you read something cool: “just found this conversation, and it’s really interesting to me because of x, y, and z - here’s the link”.

    That’s a really nice “beginner friendly” topic that’s easy to jump into, as well - just mention a thread you like and why!
  • Actually the best of Story Games thread list would be perfect on a static SG landing page!

    @HW: I like the idea. Maybe it's because I'm not a native speaker, I didn't get the meaning of "moving parts".
  • edited May 2
    The only problem with Best of Story Games is that we have to somehow agree to what goes on the list. (I believe the admins used to add threads to it.)

    A user compilation that’s ever growing would be more interesting and varied, in my opinion. Maybe I’ll go and start that!

    EDIT: I did. Go ahead and post a link to something you really like in there - let’s try to keep it at the “top of the forum” for a little while. ;)

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/22053/welcome-what-to-read-at-story-games-2019#latest
  • edited May 2
    We are making a thread of threads, how meta!

    BRRRRRRRAAAAAWWWWRWRRRMRMRMMRMRMMMMM!!!
  • I think that's because there is a "Forum discussion" category in the first place.
    In an aquariophilia forum I knew, things would go like that : some threads were deemed solid enough that someone would be in charge of gathering all the material about it, and write a synthesis that would be call "an article". There weren't many articles, but they were very good because they profited from the cumulative knowledge on the forum. What is proposed above is something like that, with more links and less redaction.
    I am all for it. The good part being that people just need to do it to do it.
  • I like the lengthy responses in this forum, but let's be honest, most people who get into forum posting have an acquired taste for reading long threads. I do think, though, a tool to stop an individual poster from hogging the spotlight in a post would be fine, and I think such a tool already exists in this forum (slow-down was it called, only one post per poster per day?).

    Regarding the accessibility of the forum to not native English speakers, I think, again, most of us who start reading a forum usually read in English. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to follow the majority of threads that talk about or mention games exclusively in English.

    What I'd like is to encourage posters to use formatting tools to highlight the main ideas or sentences in their posts. It would make reading easier for those in a hurry.
  • I don't think the various negative rules or guidelines can do much. I don't think anybody is going to come to the forum because people are not posting long posts.

    I think there need to be threads and content that are attractive to new folks, rather than a reduction in those that might scare them off.

    Even so, how do the new folks even find this place? Can we even tell which is the bigger problem, that people come in here and then drop off, or that they don't find about here in the first place?
  • I like the idea of using formatting to highlight main ideas.
    Perhaps a TL/DR summary at the end of lenghty posts could be helpful.
    Overall, a distinction between [focused] vs [discussion] threads sounds very goood to me.

    I think new people may be aftracted by
    1. easily accessible user interface (incl. mobile experience)
    2. exchange with great people.
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