There’s a nasty trap that people who interact in real-time text-based environments can fall into. Even on a MUSH, where people can spend multiple paragraphs setting the scene for what their character is doing and saying, we don’t always do the best job conveying meaning when we type. It’s particularly nettlesome when people are having an out-of-character, player-to-player conversation without any of the aural or visual cues that are normally available with real face-to-face communication.

You may be the most well-intentioned person in the world, but sometimes what you type might be read a totally different way by someone else. Or, you might read something someone else types, make a joke about how it offends you, and then offend them with your behavior. Or, you might be someone like me: You’ve got a reputation for being snarky and cranky, so any time you type ANYTHING on an out-of-character channel, some people will immediately infer a certain tone from it.

And, no, I’m sorry, but :) and ;) and :P don’t help. In fact, they will just make it worse, adding new layers of potential offense for people to puzzle over. Is that a snotty wink? Is the poking tongue dismissing me as irrelevant? Is that regular smiley like the kind you see on the face of the fellow with the knife hidden behind his back and ready to strike?

So, the next time you’re thinking about typing something in a text outlet – MSN, Facebook, Twitter, the MUSH – you might do yourself a favor and think about the words you’re using and the intent behind them, and be sure to make that intent abundantly clear.

I’m not saying you should always be nice and polite, though. Fact is, if you muddy the waters too much when you’re TRYING to be a sarcastic son of a bitch, you might miss the mark entirely. Subtle nuances of tone rarely work in real-time text interactions.