As I mentioned in last Friday's game chat, I've been reading The Guild Leader's Handbook , a tome that proffers advice on how to manage a player-based organization in a massively multiplayer online game. It was written by Scott F. Andrews, a seasoned World of Warcraft guild leader and author of an advice column called Officers' Quarters on www.WoW.com.
Regular readers know that I don't play many massively multiplayer online games, but it turns out you don't need to be a fan of the genre to get something out of Mr. Andrews' book. In addition to providing advice on how to forge a guild's identity, offering guidance in recruiting reliable people who are a good match for your guild, and giving tips on how to equitably distribute loot gained from raids, he also delivers insight into the people who invest significant chunks of their lives playing online games and the communities they create for themselves.
The early chapters were most interesting to me. It's in these pages that Mr. Andrews discusses the various types of people who play MMOs, the social dynamics that are created within online communities, and the drama that often takes place in stressful game situations. Indeed, the book is most engaging when the author peppers the discussion with anecdotes taken from both his own experiences and the world of online games in general.
One of the most memorable stories he relates concerns a high ranking guild officer who defected from one faction to another in the game EVE Online. This player belonged to Band of Brothers, the richest and most powerful guild in the game, and when he left he plundered all of his former guild's wealth, taking it with him to a rival group, consequently decimating an organization that people had worked years to build. I can't imagine the anger and betrayal that must have been felt by the people with whom he once played.
He also tells a tale about one of his most level-headed officers who, after becoming frustrated by what he judged to be negligence of game duties during a mission, screamed obscenities at one of his party members. The player turned out to be one of the guild's most liked members, a congenial woman simply having an off day. He felt terribly guilty about his behaviour afterward and apologized profusely.
These stories offer worthwhile behavioural lessons for people who play MMOs. As someone who hasn't spent much time playing these games, I took away something different: That the relationships forged in these games are real, filled with emotion, and charged with powerful motivations.
At the same time, it seems as though the anonymity of online communities makes it easy for some players-either on purpose or through unintentional bursts-to break the (virtual) social contract and mistreat others. The moral, he notes, is that "MMO players respect honesty above all else. We play our games on the Internet, and the Internet is brimming with deceit."
The final chapter, which deals with how game life intersects with real life, is interesting as well. Mr. Andrews believes that "IRL"-a commonly used abbreviation texted in MMOs that stands for "in real life"-can be misleading. He discusses the bonds created in these games and how "just because you can't see people or shake their hands doesn't make your friendship with them any less authentic."
At the same time, he notes that meeting players face-to-face at a gathering of guild members in the real world can be very rewarding and often results in a closer knit community in which players know each other better, are more likely to show tolerance within the game, and communicate more freely online.
Of course, this is essentially a confession that there are some significant limitations to the connections created within games, but it also suggests that friendships made in games are important enough that they justify the time and expense involved in meeting fellow players, who typically don't live in the same neighbourhood or even the same city.
The Guild Leader's Handbook isn't going to make the New York Times bestseller list; its focus on providing advice and instructions for those who run or are thinking about running a guild is too niche for mainstream consumption. Still, Mr. Andrews is a capable writer with a colloquial style and a knack for illustrating his points with interesting real-world examples. It should make a good read not just for people who play MMO games, but anyone with an interest in learning more about the social dynamics of online gaming communities.
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