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Forums » RP Discussion » An Argument Against "Literate"

(I'm being silly and typing this while sleepy. May try to fix it up later, since this is bound to come out messy.)

Over the years that I've been playing, I've seen the term "literate" crop up to describe not someone's ability to read and write (especially reading), but specifically the manner in which they write. I didn't used to see it on RPR, but it gets used plenty seemingly everywhere else. Evolution of language is inescapable - but this is one of the terms that I find to be problematic.

1. It alters the meaning. I already mentioned this, but still... Literacy refers to the ability to read and write. Outside of roleplay, we typically consider anyone who can read to be literate. Literacy can further be pushed to the ability to read and understand. I can read other languages so long as I recognize the letters; I can read Spanish out loud pretty much perfectly; I can only understand text in English.

In the context of RP, the focus is shifted to writing. Assumably, one who can write can also read, and I'm going to skip the philosophical flaws with that idea. That's fine, then, except it doesn't refer to the ability to write intelligibly, but rather to write a particular way.

2. It focuses on quantity over quality. A good handle of spelling and grammar is expected when someone says "literate." In practice, though, the term is used more to describe how much someone writes. The more they write, the more "literate" they are. The more a community uses the term, the more it gets broken down - semi-lit, hyper-lit, and illiterate (the last of which is implicitly the counter of literate). All of these end up getting measured by how long a person's average post length is. It encourages purple prose, redundant narration, time warping (this, that, and the other thing all happen in a single post, and the next person has to respond to each item in time), excessive description, and poor flow (especially for action sequences).

3. As a measure of length, it is unclear. Do you mean 3-5 sentences? 3-5 paragraphs? 7+ paragraphs? This is why terms like semi-lit and hyper-lit come up, but that doesn't mean that people will agree. It is far more clear to state your expectations.

4. It has toxic implications and effects. I first came across "literate" in this context in a toxic cesspool GaiaOnline, and, well... the way it was used is a major contributor to why I included that bit of struck text. I have heard that nice pockets exist/ed, but what I always saw was remiscent of the nasty popularity politics in teen movies, and a great deal of it revolved around how "literate" a person was (also how badass and/or sexy their character was). A "literate" person was considered generally superior.

Further, using "literate" implies that others are "illiterate" - in a culture that directly ties literacy to intellect. Play-by-post culture has a bad habit of additionally connecting literacy to creativity. You see the problem, right?

If you're here, of course you're literate.

So what to do instead? Honestly, this is another thing I think Kim has taken an excellent approach on. Look at the settings for RP requests. "Concise" - vague on its own, but without implied insult, and contextualized by the other options. "Adjustable length" - self explanatory. "Paragraphs required" - also self-explanatory, as well as likely to make someone think "how many?"

Just state your expectations.

"Short, rapid-fire."
"1-5 paragraphs with honest effort on grammar."
"Let's write books at each other."
"I like pretty language with a lot of metaphor."
"State it clearly."

Et cetera.

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Sanne Moderator

I approve of this 100%!

I have used 'literate' in the past in this context, but only because I was still learning and went by examples online. With English not being my first language, I can also safely say that misusing words in this manner and altering their meaning contributes directly to communication issues with non-native English speakers.

Anyone who can read and write any coherent sentence is a literate roleplayer. If you have specific expectations, just describe them - if you are demanding literacy from others in the context of a certain amount of words, quality or style, then surely you're capable of writing that down?
I have come across times where I mean literate to aim towards my own understanding and gotten problems. I post match, but sometimes there isn't much to match and I've lost partners over going below "literate" when I have mentioned high literacy. I used to use it in that context because I actually have a lot of trouble understanding text speak and other short forms. If things aren't in the right formats I can often be confused and completely misread something. That isn't to say that I don't value people who use such language, it just means that my brain does not like adding new rules, which is unfortunate because I think the evolution of language is amazing.

However: I completely agree. We shouldn't imply illiteracy on people who like something short and fast. Hell, I that is my main form of RP with my main partner. We've gotten past all the fancy prose and gotten into the good stuff and we know each other well enough to not need it anymore. I got called out for being pretty illiterate just a few days ago because my posting wasn't up to snuff on Furcadia, with a person I had role-played with for roughly two years. I haven't seen him or spoken to him in about three years, but honestly? After the way he treated me over post length, I don't think I'm going to be speaking to him again.

Length does not dictate intelligence. I'm not going to knock it if you like it, but I like to keep my posts in smaller doses because I don't like to be waiting around forever for a post.

I agree with this. I seen way too many people use the literate vs illiterate deal all over.

I see more of this behaviour on Facebook and other places. I once seen a person use "Pro Rper and Common RPer". Which was very silly.

I perfer the quality post from my partner than the quantity.
I’ve been on both sides of this story, I’ve used the word literate in this context quite often previously((though I’m usually abut more specific about what I’m looking for.)) and yet I can also understand that it may com off as rude as it does to me some times when I can’t write a proper post because I’m on the road or in class.

Over all I think the term is mostly used because generally shorter posts get a bad wrap because they fear that the other person won’t give enough details for them to bounce more of the story off . After all it’s a bit hard to reply when all you get is a solid sentence or two. I also blame instant messaging as the messages are usually short and have poor grammar and spelling, and that’s becoming the type of content people expect,
Kim Site Admin

Very well stated! I've always found the term "literate" to be loaded with a whole lot of unnecessary social freight. I personally don't think that a particular length of RP is better or worse than any other length, and prefer relatively speedy, snappy responses to long slow ones.
Asroc wrote:
I see more of this behaviour on Facebook and other places. I once seen a person use "Pro Rper and Common RPer". Which was very silly.

I've seen this kind of thing on Tumblr and in other RP communities. It's a toxic kind of gate-keeping elitist mentality that breeds in pretty much any sector in which there is an 'experienced' or 'inexperienced' designation. It happens in the art and gaming communities, too!

Always better to elaborate on your preferences for experience and taste rather than boiling it down to an infuriatingly opaque term like 'literate' or 'pro'.

I never use the word. I always just say "detailed" "good grammar" and then what I'd prefer the min post length be which is usually about 2/3 paragraphs or 300 words. I often write at least 500 and I sometimes write up to 800 words but I don't expect that as a minimum.

And I have ended rps with people who said they read all the forum post, which clearly stated post length minimum, but then reply to my 5 paragraph post with three sentences. But I've never called them illiterate. They're not. ^-^

As someone who used to struggle hard core with literacy, I definitely loathe the term used when I see it on this site especially.
Umbrie Aniri (played by Ilina_Young)

i honestly don't care whether you post 2 lines or 2 paragraphs as long as you get the intended message across and don't try to confuse your partner. not everyone can be bothered to filter through a thesaurus for purple prose to add to thier post. i found you can easily have a 12 paragraph post that could easily be condensed into 2 or 3 lines once you cut out the filler.

i know a lot of people like myself get redundant with the filler. but my 2-3 line posts have better quality than my 2-3 paragraph posts. if you play exalted, go for the 1 point stunt whenever you need an easy bonus, it is unfair to your companions to keep piling on 2-3 point stunts that set the bell curve.

people on AniRP also measure thier "Wealth" in how many paragraphs they can post and compare it like kindergarteners saying "my dog is bigger" "nuh uh! mine is" "my dog is so big he must be a million tons"

Umbrie Aniri wrote:

people on AniRP also measure thier "Wealth" in how many paragraphs they can post and compare it like kindergarteners saying "my dog is bigger" "nuh uh! mine is" "my dog is so big he must be a million tons"

AniRP was a nightmare. I left that place. There are allot of snobs and people who claim they are good but do nothing. Same with FB Rpers. They are all "TELL!" and "NO SHOW!"

AniVid/AniSpace (Which is now closed/dead???) was full of former YT RPers who placed the snooty game of "MAH POST IS BIGGER!" There were allot of whining over people claiming characters for themselves and bullying others who were the same.

I see way too many people belittle RPers who are learning to get better. Calling them illiterate and all. I had a friend who use to make fun of people who were learning when his own style was really janky and used the same repetitive words.
I absolutely HATE minimum post lengths. In my honest opinion all it does is encourage purple prose and a lot of paid by word filler that adds absolutely nothing.
Sometimes a very short sentence can have extra PUNCH.
sometimes you need lots of words, lots of dialogue, lots of exposition and description and sometimes you don't. You look at any piece of writing there's a lot of variation sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph and that variety is natural. Having enforced writing lengths doesn't do anything except force a writer to add padding. Sooo much padding.

I remember this one rp I was in years ago that I think summed up why I hate this style of rp so much.
So the setting was your standard medieval fantasy tavern, the scene had been set, there were only two characters involved and the other player's character was sitting across a table from mine having this rather intense conversation about a job she wanted doing.
So, I replied a few times, my character asking questions, sipping his drink, watching her speak with a slight smirk on his smug face (he's not a pleasant person) and I thought it was getting interesting, you know, the girl is getting agitated, he's slowly coming around to the idea of helping her on this silly little quest, I thought "hey we're getting somewhere" when the other player suddenly stops replying and instead goes ooc and tells me "can you give me more to work with?"
more? I thought I had given her plenty. Lots of dialogue, lots of intrigue and little hints that this guy wasn't in the adventure game for altruistic reasons, I even padded posts with what he was doing with his hands or how he gesticulated or whatever for added ambiance.
So I asked "oh, i'm sorry, what would you like me to add?"
You know, so I knew what I was doing wrong.
"background!" she tells me. "what's the barmaid doing? What are the other people in the tavern doing?"

And i'm sitting there absolutely floored because honestly, WHO CARES? Have you ever watched a movie or a tv show and focused on the extras? Have you ever actually watched them? they're usually slightly soft focus and blurry because they're not important, they're there to fill space. They aren't characters, they're extras! They're as interesting as the bloody furniture!
Unless the background people are acting in a manner the player characters could respond to (like "the people in the bar are watching them out the corner of their eye, suspicious of these two people", because you'd set up that these characters were somehow known to authorities or anything other than just random people) but otherwise, they are random people in the background and the conversation between the two main characters surely was more interesting that a bar maid scrubbing a bar with a dishcloth?

I didn't get it, at all. I left the game because I clearly couldn't provide what this player wanted. She wanted tedious background that I felt served no narrative purpose, so we called it quits.
But it's a baffling experience that I still think about. What did she want? Why did she care about what the barmaid was doing and if she cared so much, why didn't SHE write about the barmaid?
SO confusing.

but that's where I realized that "literacy" carries with it a great deal of extra baggage and a lot of expectation for a style of writing I simply don't enjoy. Now i'm verbose as heck, but goodness me I cannot see the point of padding and panicking about word count when you're supposed to be having FUN.

As far as i'm concerned, as long as I get SOMETHING to respond to, i'm good. As long as I get interaction, i'm good. As long as you give me something, anything, anything at all, and it's legible, then it's AOK by me.

Literate is a dumb term anyway, loaded with pretentious waffle and elitism. No thanks, I always preferred to hang with the "semi-lits" as they called themselves. The people who cared more about actual story and interaction and having fun and who could quite easily have a great time with the noobiest of players because sometimes, sometimes terrible rp is actually really dang fun okay? Sometimes brainless silliness posted in *action* format is actually really entertaining.
You don't always want to watch a masterpiece of cinema right? Sometimes you're in the mood for a dumb Adam Sandler movie.

I will say though, that I really do wish some people would proof read their posts before sending them. I don't mean like common spelling mistakes, those are fine so long as I can tell what word it was supposed to be, I mean the people who's tenses change mid sentence or who use these very strange mangled turns of phrase that make no sense and leave me utterly confused. Also the mistyping constantly do and don't, can and can't etc. it changes the ENTIRE meaning of your post to mix these things up and it becomes extremely awkward trying to figure out if you mean "can" or in fact just failed to add the t. "I can do that" vs "I can't do that"
See how that could be really really difficult to deal with on a regular basis? Please just read it over before you press send! It's all I ask!

In one of the long term rps i'm currently in we average about a paragraph, maybe 2 each post unless we're megaposting or things are getting all emotional. Megaposts? those can be really really long because they tend to be setting up plot points or fleshing out a character arc or something important like that. But they come up only every so often and that makes them fine to read through. If every post was the length of some of my megaposts, I think we'd all go crosseyed and have to lie down hahaha. Too much work for everyone to wade through that much text in one go.
Umbrie Aniri (played by Ilina_Young)

i agree on the point about extras. extras generally shouldn't have much focus and who cares what the barmaid is conversing about? i even change the priority of most of my characters from scene to scene. and Umbrie is usually my most focused and most loved of my characters.
Sasha Antonova (played anonymously)

I would consider 'literate' to mean basic typing skills. People who write posts without using spaces and-or pargraph line breaks on occasion makes for a lot of eyestrain on my part trying to read what is sent me.
Zelphyr Topic Starter

I just felt like popping this back up. Been thinking about it again for some reason.
Very well said, Zelphyr! Thank you for bringing this back up. I'd like to give my two cents as well. :)

I admit I've had some confusions over the term too, especially when I was younger. In my head, "literate" meant someone who's learned the ability to read and write—understanding a language basically. But more often than not we see the word associated with post length and used outside its actual meaning which, for 15-year-old me, was the acceptable use of the word back then. I thought it was jargon and I may have used it in the same altered context twice or more times on different platforms when I was announcing that I was a proud "literate" roleplayer.

However, growing up and running across the term again on a person's profile who vaguely used "literate" than stating their preferences? It felt strange since reiterating the true meaning of the word yet again, if we know how to read and write, then aren't we all literate here?

The second I grew doubtful of using the word, I dropped using the word completely then and there. I changed my rules & preferences as clear and as concise as possible without having to use any terms I was unsure of, mainly to (1) avoid any cause of misunderstanding for actual native speakers and (2) to stop the altered context idea/use for those who are also non-native English speakers. I honestly hope more people come to realize this like I have!
Just giving this a little bump as it feels needed lately. I fully agree, I get very frustrated at the use of the word in the RP community.
I have my doubts anything will change though.
I agree with all points you've made. As a player I didn't exactly know how to categorize myself when it comes to this word. Before I used to think that 'being literate' means to have rich vocabulary, amazing grammar and being able to describe things in an interesting way. Whenever I stumbled upon an ad that caught my eye and saw that the person is looking for 'literate' players (whether semi or advanced etc.), it discouraged me from reaching out to the person due to not knowing whether I'm 'literate' enough or not (I'm still learning to write and english isn't my native language, so mistakes are bound to happen). But yeah, in my opinion it can also be confusing what people mean by 'literate' if they mention it, considering the meaning of it is taken out of context a lot (not sure if I expressed well what I wanted to say >.<) + from my experience 'literate' can be a discouraging word for people who are still learning to rp and write overall.
I kinda feel bad considering that for the past month, I've been using these terms after learning about them. Because, well, they seemed easier based on how I understood it, I guess? :( But now that I see that it can also be interpreted in these ways (even if I do include a link of where I got the definitions of these terms to make clarifications and for people to understand what I mean), I've decided to stop using it. I don't like discouraging people and making them think that they are not good enough writers. Thanks for sharing these points. I'm going back to the usual terminologies. :D
Bump. I just think more people should read this. Hihi. 😁

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