Four years is a long time, relatively speaking, especially about Internet life and events. I figure four years is long enough that I can safely talk about some experiences I had as a guild master or officer that affected me. They left me thinking, were time-consuming, and took a lot of energy to manage at the time.
[Note: After writing, I've realized that I don't really go into much detail, so I probably could've written this stuff down a long time ago, but I wasn't sure what I'd write, so...]
There were two cases that I’ve previously written about or mentioned. First, there’s the two cases of inclusion that I wrote about in “Ethical tensions between the roles I play” where guildies weren’t quite fitting into the social norms of the guild. Second, there’s the case of a guildie who was gkicked due to an argument over loot rules. I wrote about this in “Play my way,” the chapter co-authored with Lisa Galarneau that was originally to appear in a book on the politics of play in virtual worlds. That book never got off the ground, so we recently revised it and submitted it to the Handbook of Research on Improving Learning and Motivation through Educational Games.
Anyway, one case I haven’t really shared before was when a woman in my guild claimed she was going to attempt to commit suicide. An interesting thing to note about this case was that it occurred during the atypical night of raiding that I wrote about in the “Communication, coordination, and camaraderie in WoW” paper in Games and Culture. The timing of her call-out for help significantly contributed to me not paying as much attention to the raid as I normally did, which, in part, added to the “off night” feeling that led to our nigh raid meltdown.
<enter description of suicide attempt here> [Note: maybe some day I'll write about it fully, but I've realized that I don't need to describe it more now...]
All of the above events were ones that I wasn’t expecting to encounter while managing a guild.
There’s a nod-with-a-smile-knowing-better-now-that-I’m-wiser kind of feeling when I think back at the time of our guild formation. There were five of us who were friends outside of the game. The only reason I was the guild master was because I took the time to run over to the guild house and buy the charter. Other than that, my thought was always that us five were a quintumvirate or pentumvirate or whatever word is used with a ruling body composed of five people. When we were naming the guild ranks, I chose Overseer for guild master, mostly trying to stay in character as we were Horde-side on an RP server (with the other ranks being Officer, Veteran, Grunt, and Peon). Yet, the nominal marking of me as the Overseer positioned me in a role that came with additional responsibilities. These were projected onto me from both guild officers (the other four members of the ruling body) and the regular guildies. Often when tension would occur, a couple of the other officers would argue (somewhat jokingly but somewhat seriously) that I should handle the situation because I was the Overseer. Eventually, I came to understand that it was easier for guildies to see one person as the de facto leader, and I began to accept the de jury role as my actual role.
T.L. Taylor suggested I expand on my “Ethical tensions” paper to focus more on the mediating role I found myself in, between officers and regular guildies. Not only did I have to deal with the problem guild members, I also had to figure out a way to reconcile competing opinions among the officers about how to do that management work. And, of course, I had to do this partly because of my title but also partly because I felt obligated to intervene on behalf of the guild members such that they were being treated fairly and responsibly. This compulsion to ethical behavior was in tension with what seemed like the norm (or stereotyped norm) of game group management, which was to just boot the non-socializing guild members and be done with it (AKA just boot the fuckers).
Our guild prided itself on being relatively inclusive and flat, though one officer put it nicely when he pointed out that the emphasis was on the word “relatively,” since we *did* in fact exclude those who clearly did not fit in–mostly people who weren’t articulating and communicating effectively. To be and feel included necessitated a certain level of communication and social awareness. So, when it was suggested by other officers, to just gkick the problem guildies did not seem to me to be in line with our guild credo. It was one thing to not invite someone to be a member of the guild because it was clear he or she didn’t fit in, but to kick someone out once he or she actually was already in needed justification. It needed to be explained and described with specific examples of problem behavior so the non-socializing guildie could present a counterargument.
But those values of negotiation were in full conflict with our notion of what game playing was. We were there to have fun–not to work, not to deal with drama. Again, I can smirk now, knowing what I know and having a better sense of what it means to play in an online game. Play *is* work. Playing with others necessitates negotiations of roles, responsibilities, and social norms. With enough others, there’s going to be conflict or misalignment. That’s a given, and the world won’t get better by refusing to deal with conflict. Refusal to resolve conflict excludes those who need a help-up in participating legitimately in the community. (Are you down with LPP? Yeah, you know me…)
One could argue that it all comes out in the wash, that people who are excluded from one group eventually find another where they fit in. That’s the beauty of a critical mass of people in an online space. But I think this possibly leads to the forming of more and more insular groups, and I consider it a problem that perpetuates the intolerance we have in offline life. That’s not the world I want to play in.
Nick Yee once asked me why I wanted to help the problem guildies become acclimated to the guild and/or find an alternative suitable guild for them to play with. When he asked me this, all I could say was that I felt compelled to help others when I could. Maybe I thought that as someone who valued education, it was hypocritical not to want to help others. (Channeling Malaby) I can now say that acting in social settings is always a contingent move towards the display of cultural capital. And as a person who values diversity, inclusion, and democracy, I sometimes have a strong compulsion to help others learn how to be successful in their contingent acts of play/work. This was especially true when I was positioned within my guild as the Overseer who had accepted certain responsibilities to live up to the guild’s stated values.
(This all sort of speaks to positioning theory… I was positioned by others into the role of someone who is in charge of handling guild conflicts. I (re)positioned myself into a role that compelled me to mediate conflicts in a way that I thought was ethical and fair. Who was doing the positioning? Did I accept or rebel or simply transform my position?)
In case you’re interested in academic references and/or don’t feel like clicking on the in-line links:
- Chen, M. (2009). Communication, coordination, and camaraderie in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 4(1), 47-73. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1555412008325478
- Galarneau, L. & Chen, M. (in review). Play my way: The politics of cooperation in massively multiplayer online games.
- Harre, R., Moghaddam, F. M., Carnie, T. P., Rothbart, D., & Sabat, S. R. (2009). Recent advances in positioning theory. Theory & Psychology, 19(1), 5-31. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959354308101417
- Holland, D. & Leander, K. (2004). Ethnographic studies of positioning and subjectivity: Narcotraffickers, Taiwanese brides, angry loggers, school troublemakers. Ethos, 32(2), 127-139. http://doi.wiley.com/10.1525/eth.2004.32.2.127
- Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.
- Malaby, T. (2009). Making virtual worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life. Cornell University Press.