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I love online video games. The objectives aren’t the part that really draws me in, but mostly the interaction with other people. That interaction would be a lot less plausible without the in game communities often called “guilds.” Guilds are often easy-to-make, in game communities that allow players to work actively or passively together towards common goals — whether it be to help each other overcome challenging content, team up to compete against other players, or just to socialize with other players while trading tips. Those are just some simple examples; guilds, like offline associations, can have various complex missions and objectives. Getting into them can range from just simply asking, to long-term applications depending on the game and the guild.
Interacting with these online communities was where I first learned about the power of community as a teenager playing World of Warcraft and EVE Online. Like many communities, guilds often have histories, either written down or passed on orally from player to player as times go on. They also have politics. Like many organizations, they have executives who often lead the group and do not always make all the right calls. The same can be said of non-executive players. Being part of various guilds taught me about organizational dynamics two years before I entered college and thanks to what I learned from them, I was a better leader in my fraternity and now a better professional. I’ve seen both horrible, and beautiful examples of leadership and organizational dynamics.
My favorite group is the Warcraft guild I’m in that sends welcome packages to newbies and members who have become active in the game again. One new member was so impressed by the thought of a welcome package, they donated considerable in game funds to the guild. In addition, the guild didn’t start out as it is now — it was originally formed from several other guilds who decided to re-organize under one roof. When times of need occur, I’ve seen members, who haven’t played Warcraft in years, log into the guild’s separate voice chat program and say hello as well as post supportive messages in our forums. I’ve also seen “alumni” players, people who have left the guild on good terms, even assist in times of need.
As a master’s student, I remember discussing virtual culture with my class. I was, and still am, a staunch supporter of it because I know, thanks to my time in guilds, that these virtual communities can be just as interactive and memory-fulfilling as the tangible world.
One memory that stands out greatly took place about two years ago, soon after I joined the guild. Two guild members and I were exploring a haunted forest in one of the beginning areas of the game. We discovered, hidden in the mountain range, a murky pine grove. It was almost inaccessible. If we hadn’t been more experienced players who had riding mounts that could fly, we ourselves would not have been able to reach it. So it wasn’t intended for new players, despite being in a new player area and it wasn’t on the map. We had to check it out.
The pine grove was textured darkly. It was near midnight in the game and despite the moonlight, the place was shadowy. The first thing we spotted were very bizarre elk. They had jagged horns and black fur, but the most disturbing part was their eyes which were a phosphorus green. One of the guild members with us played a hunter-class character which tamed animals. He immediately attempted to tame one of the elk. Not all animals in Warcraft are tameable, but these were. I congratulated him as he caught it and spotted something else among the pines — a blue floating shape about the size of the elk. And then I spotted another blue floating shape right behind my character.
I changed my camera angle to see a large, blue chameleon behind my character hovering above the ground with two large wings on its back. It wasn’t tameable like the elk. In fact, the game didn’t even register it as attackable. It was shown as “friendly” as if it were an ingame shopkeeper or mission-giver. I clicked it. No window popped up, but a name appeared above the creature which labeled it “Fey-Drunk Darter”. It wasn’t the only one. The forest was slowly becoming filled with them, appearing out of nowhere. The model for the creatures wasn’t that unusual (especially when juxtaposed beside demonic elk) but the name was weird. We decided to follow them through the forest.
The Darters led us to an opening in the pines we hadn’t noticed before. In that opening was a ring of mushrooms. We waited. More Darters showed and they began to form a circle around the mushrooms. The server clock struck midnight and the Darters opened their mouths and began to sing. The background music changed to a song we had never heard before. Then the mushrooms began glow and beams of green light began to shoot from them and converge in the center. The music continued. It wasn’t on a loop. As the song’s volume grew, so did the vibrancy of the beams. The song and glowing soundly ended and the Fey-Drunk Darters departed from the circle, fading into the forests.
Most things in a game are constructed by design and then play tested. Little in a game that has lasted a decade is likely left up to chance. A designer, or designers, had set this up on purpose. It was a in game secret. A little smile to those who explore beyond the paths most traveled. In the end those beams didn’t create a gateway into some dimension or give birth to more of those creepy elk, but it had given us a story. And that had made the exploring worth it.
Andy Gilbert recently graduated from New England College’s master's degree program in Higher Education Administration where he was a graduate assistant for the college’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership. His hobbies include video games, tabletop games, card games, reading, relaxing in coffee shops, and taking nature walks. He was raised in Maine where he formerly worked in journalism. Connect with him on Twitter.