Making Assumptions about the Reader

I have heard a creator recently say “gamers are stupid.” And I have a real problem with that sort of contempt. That’s not where I come from, and maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t assume that my audience is stupid or otherwise beneath me.

Here’s what I do assume, and this goes into everything I write or edit:

Assume the reader is intelligent enough to get things you’ll explain. Don’t treat the reader as a moron — they will pick up on that, and you’ll have a harder time as a writer to communicate ideas they’re now hostile to.

Assume the reader isn’t an expert on your subject. You need to explain things. Here’s where this gets sticky: this and the above point aren’t contradictory, but the neophyte writer thinks they are.

Rules writing is about covering multiple social dynamics. Do not assume a single dynamic. When it comes to rules, people will attempt to read them in different ways as different social situations occur. We typically call this “rules lawyering,” which is a phrase of contempt, but there are various reasons that people will try to twist meaning, including:

  • A player is suddenly put into an uncomfortable-to-him social situation because of a rules adjudication, so he looks for a loophole. This totally happens when character death or agency is on the line, but not just then.
  • A player is looking to fulfill a psychological reward cycle by winning, and so will look into alternate interpretations of rules in order to fulfill that trigger. This isn’t because someone is a bad person (contrary to the popular shitting on “rules laywers”), but because the brain really, really hates having a reward trigger lingering.
  • A player suddenly has rule confidence shaken due to another person at the table questioning a reading, and ends up overthinking a rule’s wording into toxicity. Getting your confidence shaken is a mindkiller.

Assume the reader wants to understand what you’re trying to convey. This means treat the reader as an ally and not some enemy to conquer. And that means not treating them like they deserve contempt. After all, they’re the people you’re making something for.

– Ryan