Few things in life are as incredible as the fact that people can hold radically different opinions. It honestly always amazes me. The latest impressive examples were the posts about international politics. But the same phenomenon can be experienced in all parts of life, including of course, MMORPGs.
The most important question in this regard is how to handle the fact itself; the fact that apparently curious, engaged and smart people come to completely different conclusions than oneself.
The first step towards dealing with this reality is accepting that people with different opinions are actually honest. They usually really believe what they say. This may sound obvious, but if you watch yourself very closely you will find out that you often see the other guy more like an unexplainable natural phenomenon than like a real person with a honest opinion.
The next step is trying to be convincing. It's very easy to fall into the trap of trying to convince oneself in a discussion, rather than trying to convince the other party. To that end it is important to distinguish between two kinds of different opinions.
The first one is a matter of taste. For example, some people want to play MMOs for 15min a day, they really care about the money they spend and any amount of unfairness in the payment model massively annoys them. Matters of taste need to be attacked on an emotional level. Rational arguments are mostly useless.
The second one is a matter of truth. How to create a MMO with as few bugs as possible? How to create a large middle class? These are questions with one true answer. There's right and wrong here - even if the 'right' answer might be very complicated.
Most topics, unfortunately, are a mix of the two. For example, the question how important it is that a MMORPG is balanced? Or the question of how important honesty is in politics? These are obviously matters of taste - but there are also universal truths regarding these questions. Few people would like a MMORPG that is not balanced at all - no matter of what they think at any point in time. Few people would like a world where politicians always have to say the truth - no matter of what they think they would like.
And often the most difficult part of any discussion is to actually discover and agree on which of the many possible questions are actually important.
Basically, there are two ways to exchange opinions. The one is to exchange overviews. That is what we have done in the latest posts. Every one of us writes a comment that makes like seven points, but the other party only picks one of the seven points - usually the one that appears weakest - and then adds seven new points. This kind of discussion never leads to a concrete result, but it does offer a chance to understand the other party and where they are “coming from”.
The other way is to focus on one narrow point alone. This is very useful after each party has given each other an overview. But it's usually very hard for people to stay focused on one narrow point. They will usually feel tempted to add a few decoys that distract the other party. Often this is not even in their own interest, but it is very hard to not do this. It is at least as hard, but even more important, to forgive them if they do it and to ignore the distraction.
An example would be a half-sentence like “and, btw, the cold war was inevitable”. If you are a “professional” and don't care so much about the truth and more about winning the argument, you can, of course, always add something that is wrong, highly provocative, but ultimately irrelevant. Especially good are personal attacks.
But, believe it or not, most people aren't professionals; and they are not trolling you; and they don't insult you on purpose. They are actually convinced of what they say. They just fell into the trap of trying to convince themselves rather than you.
After you wrote a comment it is usually a good idea to wait a second before sending it (copy it in case blogger sends it to hell) and to ask yourself whether this comment is actually useful for convincing anybody except for yourself. Sometimes the only purpose of a comment is to make yourself feel good. You can add these comments to the discussion if you want but you shouldn't expect anybody to be impressed.
Even when all people read the same news sources, radically different opinions can emerge. You can see this in this blogosphere. All of us read mostly the same news and blogs - and still we often have radically different opinions about MMOs.
However, this effect becomes dramatically worse if people actually use different sources for news.
A typical example would be economics. If you only read left-leaning media you will be convinced that taking money from the rich and giving it the poor will increase demand, because rich people don't consume all their money, but poor people do. Higher demand will increase supply and this leads to more jobs.
However, if you only read right-leaning media, you will be convinced that rich people own businesses or invest their money in businesses. Since to expand a businessman requires money, giving rich people more money does create jobs.
Both points of view are obviously part of the truth. The real question is what effect in which situation is more powerful. In economics there's always - at least - two sides to each argument. That's why it's so easy to abuse for media. If your media of choice only ever presents the one side, be careful.
In economics, also try to distinguish between what is fair and what is effective. Both aspects are important, but they need to be discussed separately.
Many people in Russia believe that Mr. Putin is good for the country. Almost nobody outside Russia thinks so. Many people in North Korea believe that their 'Leader' actually loves them. The people outside of North Korea think they are crazy. For decades the Japanese were convinced that their leaders make sure that their nuclear reactors are safe. In fact, none of their leaders ultimately felt responsible.
In the first half of the last century millions of Germans believed two times that a world war is in their interest. It's hard for any one of us to even begin to understand these thoughts.
Limited information is a powerful tool. And so is unlimited information as we can see in the Arab world and arguably Russia right now. If you, personally, want to make sure that your points of view resemble reality as closely as possible there are a few things you can do.
1) Try to read as many media from as many different interest groups as you can. Try to read global or at least foreign media. Domestic media has a stake - the outside world usually doesn't; and if it does it's often easy to spot. Nowadays most large news companies have an English version.
2) Try to use media that is honestly critical of itself from time to time. A few months ago a major German newspaper had the top-story: “Was the other side actually right all along?”. It was a genuine analysis of 'the other side”. I try to make sure to read this paper regularly since then.
3) Never, ever, think that it is more difficult to manipulate you than anybody else.
4) Try to be more critical of what you read, than about what you don't read.
5) Don't only try to understand what was written but also try to understand the author.
6) Don't shy away from different opinions. If several million people on the planet have a radically different opinion there's usually some amount of truth to be found there.
7) Try to use common sense. If you, personally, had $10mio in your bank account and intended to invest it to gain some 10% profit, at what tax rate would you not invest it?
8) Always be skeptical of business interests. If there's one thing that makes people manipulate you and even outright lie, it is money. Be aware of the fact that the best manipulation is to employ “journalists” who genuinely believe what one wants the outside world to believe. Remember that nobody changes his opinion if his job depends on it.
9) Always be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true. Examples are reducing taxes to increase tax revenue or spending more to reduce the deficit. These things might contain some parts of the truth but they sure as hell aren't the whole truth.
10) Do you want to believe or do you have reasons to believe? Is what you know actually sufficient to have a strong opinion in the first place?
11) Remember that the ultimate goal of any discussion is being convinced - to learn something. Trying to convince the other party is a favor you offer as a thank-you in return for their efforts.
12) Never give up trying to map reality with your neurons :)