Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April Fooled: Some Thoughts on Pranking People

Another April Fools has come and gone and with it the good, bad, and frustrating have all transpired in their <insert various emotional responses here> ways. As someone who expected it even on the 31st, I wasn't quite caught off-guard by preemptive pranking due to time zone differences and less so on the day in question. However, there's no question that some pranks affected me in a negative way in particular. This applies in a big way when the pranks affect many people with potentially wide-reaching consequences. I was going to write an analysis article shortly after my terrible, brief April Fools joke, but instead I'm going to take some time to discuss some of the good and bad April Fools Day pranks I saw and close with guidelines for future pranking.

The Bad

Considering the nature of this article effectively coming off as a criticism of pranking practice, it seems appropriate to talk about which pranks I considered to be bad first.

An otherwise excellent World of Warcraft addon that optimizes the otherwise slow, unenjoyable Garrison mission gameplay was under fire prior to April Fools Day due to what I consider to be an annoying, obstructive prank, as one can see here:
Capchas are cool, I guess.
I will admit that at first I had a mixed emotion of amusement and confusion. I soon realized it was due to the Master Plan addon since it's the only one that modifies any interface related to the Garrison and I considered it unlikely Blizzard themselves would do such a prank. After a few random guesses and a search on the WoW subreddit I found the answer was "83," which is hilariously wrong. During my independent research I also found many frustrated Master Plan users and confused WoW players, which eventually resulted in me making a remark on the issue.

My problem with this prank boils down to a few things:
  1. It was blatantly obstructive. Not only does it require the answer of 83 to continue, failing to answer correctly increases the delay that you're allowed to enter another answer. I get that the ultimate end result is one day of lost free money from missions, but considering the addon is meant to optimize Garrison mission management, intentionally breaking that is counterintuitive to the stated function of the addon and is arguably false advertising.
    • I am fully aware the answer could easily be found by independent research. It's still a waste of time regardless at what is effectively the expense of the author's amusement. 
  2. While we're on the topic of it being obstructive, it pops up on other characters even after the capcha has been correctly answered. As someone who's had to put up with such repetitive capchas, I'd be inclined to say it does less at deterring bots and does more in terms of increasing frustration at that point, which is an important aspect of the prank to consider.
  3. There's no indication that Master Plan was the source of the prank, which has caused problems such as posts like this about the Garrison breaking or other addons such as GarrisonCommander getting blamed. To put it another way, this prank likely resulted in time waste from other Garrison-related addon authors and Blizzard staff.
To conclude, the execution of this prank could've been a lot better and not become what is objectively considered a figurative roadblock. Based on the author's statements regarding why he did the prank, it could've done this and not popped up every time you try to use the command table after (adding a remark about the Garrison blowing up on a failed answer would've added extra meme-related amusement). As it is, while I'm not a fan of the excessive anger expressed at the addon author, it's understandable considering this prank seems to do a better job at eliciting annoyance and frustration as opposed to amusement to the point of using other similar addons instead. For the record, I'm still using Master Plan despite this but I hope the author, foxlit, thinks a little harder on the execution of future pranks.

On a side note, I may remark on his little "automation" comment in detail later. All I'll say for now is that making something dull, hampering, and/or time-consuming a tad more convenient is generally a good thing, hence why automation is becoming a big deal IRL.

While on a personal introspection level I wonder why I even visit this subreddit that is often filled to the brim with toxic behavior, browsing the subreddit is part of my daily routine that was rather rudely interrupted due to an April Fools prank:
To be fair, the subreddit style did look pretty nice in terms of nostalgic value.
While initially I rather enjoyed the prank despite it taking up a small portion of my screen, the happy amusement turned to annoyance when basic functionality began to fail to work (unintentionally, I hope). Issues for me included but are not limited to:
  • Scrolling not working sometimes.
  • The comments link going missing.
  • The entire layout having a very limited field of view (at least the font was reasonably large).
I know the answer's as easy as going into Preferences and disabling subreddit styles, but considering I was enjoying certain other subreddit-related April Fools jokes, it was easier to just avoid the subreddit. I think the prank had the right idea, but perhaps it can be functional in the future.

I didn't find about this one later (thankfully) since I don't use Gmail a lot but apparently it was so bad that Google had to remove the prank early. This is no surprise considering that apparently someone accidentally sent a mic drop gif over a professional work email and got fired from their job. While this is amusing and reflective of annoyingly strict work culture that I personally despise, having that happen really sucks at the end of the day. Even if the complaint itself was fake, the mic drop send button is close to the send button and as someone who's experienced professional work environments, I could easily see it happening multiple times in the short time to prank was active.

At least Google responded to feedback related to their error with grace and recognizing how they could've done the prank better instead of doubling down and insisting it was amusing. Also, hopefully that guy got his job back.

The Good

While there were some bad pranks this April Fools, I found many that I considered to be at least neutral to good.

I briefly visited this subreddit to see what it did for April Fools even though I wasn't too sure about getting the game itself. Upon seeing the popup saying "Overwatch is now playable", I had a little moment where I was wondering if I had Overwatch but then I realized it synced too well with the subreddit style. Overall, this prank was rather innocuous even if it screws with people because it only does so briefly.

As a regular to the subreddit, this one caught me by surprise until I realized I couldn't interact with the "banned" page. I also eventually noticed the scrollbar and hints telling me to scroll down. Apparently the prank could've gone one step further, but I'm kind of glad it didn't since I can safely consider this iteration to be not that malicious.

Unlike the subreddit discussing this game, Old School Runescape had a reasonably decent prank that involved skilling up a new skill related to EOC. The players even got items as a result of the event, though partaking in it was optional.

Considering this prank has precedence, it was no surprise Blizzard when released April Fools patch notes for WoW. As usual, it had its numerous jokes and references, though the best part, especially after the sour taste that Master Plan caused, was that nothing about the patch notes was malicious since they were fake.

Much like the fake patch notes, Wowhead's April Fools news is something of a tradition to the point of expectation. It's as benign as ever, though I mostly skimmed it this time around.

I recently found this one and have to applaud the hard work and money put into creating a fake treasure hunt that must've especially been fun for the kids. While the inevitable disappointment after must've sucked, I think the dedication is appreciable and it seems no one was intentionally screwed over by the prank, so overall it seems benign (and awesome).

The Point

My point of listing all these pranks is pointing out where and why pranks went right and wrong this April Fools. Based on this, I've made some guidelines on how to prank without pissing a bunch of people off while still having a laugh:
  • Be as unobstructive as possible. Blocking people from doing something is a pretty easy way to get negative knee-jerk reactions.
  • Ensure you aren't the only one laughing. I don't think anyone's really violated this one since humor can be subjective, but it's worth covering my bases, not to mention there are usually things that are funnier than other things.
  • Consider the consequences of your actions. For (an extreme) example, consider that maybe your prank may be a crime and come with all the consequences of committing said crime. This one probably applies most to the Google Mic Drop prank.
    • On a side note, this is something one should consider at all times anyways. It's just worth emphasizing here.
  • Be thorough if needed. A prank will fall flat if you don't account for unintentional error.
  • If you screwed up on your prank, don't double down on it. Chances are you really did screw up, but even if you "didn't," it's far more professional to apologize, reflect, and move on.
    • This can also be applied to accepting criticism in general.
  • If you use the phrase "it's just a prank, bro" please don't ever prank again, seriously. I could probably do a whole rant on this statement and technically, I already have done so badly (and may do so again). Actions can't be justified by calling them a prank (this essentially is a broader form of point 3).
To close, these guidelines are not mandatory. They are my personal, opinionated thoughts on how pranks should be done, especially after accounting for what's happened this year. The dissent against April Fools Day may have also contributed to writing both this article and specifically, the guidelines. Happy pranking (in 2017), I guess. Next article should be WoW-related.

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