Thoughts, Opinions, Gripes, and Grievances


Kian Pfannenstiel, Writer

Interpretation is one of the most important aspects of communication, without a shadow of a doubt. With the structure of communication being the sender, receiver, message, and medium (sometimes the medium is left out), there is always the problem of the sender saying one thing in the message, and the receiver taking something in a completely different way.

If the sender wants to ensure that they convey a specific message to the receiver and that the receiver understands it exactly, the sender should provide complete, concise detail.

I’m confident that you know a plethora of situations where this may apply and highly doubt that I really need to provide examples.

On the other hand, if the sender wants to make sure that the receiver hears what they need to hear, be it what the sender was thinking, they might consider using a more metaphorical type of speech. They could also use anything else, as long as the receiver is free to interpret and understand the message as they please.

While it may seem uncommon, it is a surprisingly frequent occurrence to have a message with no definite meaning. For instance, the popular song “The Trees” by the Canadian rock band Rush has no intended meaning, according to drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. He stated in the April/May 1980 edition of Modern Drummer, “No. It was just a flash. I was working on an entirely different thing when I saw a cartoon picture of these trees carrying on like fools. I thought, ‘What if trees acted like people?’ So I saw it as a cartoon really and wrote it that way. I think that’s the image that it conjures up to a listener or a reader. A very simple statement.”

It also occurs often in rulebooks. Surprising, right? This is, of course, only in certain kinds of rulebooks (particularly to those in games, because codes of conduct should never be vague). With a playing card game, such as blackjack or euchre, there are always set rules, and there is no room for variation in meaning. But, with table-top role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), Pathfinder and Starfinder, or Shadowrun, the rulebooks are often relatively vague on certain matters so that the Game Master or Dungeon Master (GM or DM, respectively) may interpret the rules and run their game in whatever manner fosters the most fun in the party (group playing the GM’s or DM’s game). Because the games are owned, written, and published by different companies (Wizards of the Coast for D&D, Paizo for Pathfinder and Starfinder, and Catalyst Game Labs for Shadowrun) there is variation in the amount left up to interpretation. For instance, D&D is a lot less specific in the rules than Pathfinder, but, without fail, every rulebook will always say that the rules are up to GM or DM interpretation and that they are always free to change, ignore, or add them at the GM’s or DM’s discretion.