Aka Ironyca Stood in the Fire – gaming blog
With a bit of a delay (blame school and WoWRoleplayGear.com) we’re at the 7th part. Moving from individual play and activities within the social landscape of the MMOG cities in part 6, we have come to the question of how solo play is situated in this genre which emphasizes collective play and community.
The various activities players engage in individually have varying degrees of connection to other players, or more broadly speaking the community or MMOG atmosphere. I’ve divided the areas of contact into two groups: The immediate circle which I will look at in this part and the community, which will be dealt with in part 8.
The immediate circle consists of the friends online the player has, including guild mates. Players can start up a chat with their friends or converse in guild chat while playing alone for example to alleviate boredom, as Kaeleeyth here explains:
Kaeleeyth: Well grinding rep, experience and long-term goals aren’t all fun.
Kaeleeyth: having a chat is the way to quench it.
As chatting with others can act as a form of entertainment in itself, players also use WoW in parallel to, or perhaps instead of, a social networking service:
Eitrik: it’s kinda like Facebook
Eitrik: or MSN
Eitrik: but better cause there is stuff to do with the other guys
Eitrik points to the gratification of being able to chat with his friends, but also share a platform that facilitates actions and embodiment besides just conversing. Through embodiment achieved by the character, another layer is added to the strictly textual chatting. Avatars are central in producing a sense of presence. Embodied interaction funneled by the character is the difference between playing with someone online and playing online alone while remotely chatting.
Guilds provides another chat channel for a collective of players and this channel can be utilized in much the same way as above, only that the chat is shared by more people and thus the individual player does not need to be active in the guild chat, but can still enjoy other people’s conversations. The guild chat was used by several of the players as they played alone both actively but also passively. Fidell f. ex. was not completely happy with her current guild, which she thought was too quiet. She missed engaging in conversations with guild mates, but also just watching the chatter of other people.
Ironyca: You said they were very quiet. How would you prefer the guild to be?
Fidell: Well, I do still like interaction, so chatting about random things sometimes, or watching others chat about stuff is quite nice.
The guild, but also other public channels, can in that sense provide an experience much like the Third Places described by Oldenburg (1989) – an atmosphere of low chatter in a café or pub. In fact, Constance A. Steinkuehler has written an article called The New Third Place: Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming in American Youth Culture (2005) detailing how MMOG’s (in her case Lineage) fits all the criteria for being a Third Place. Third Places are, unlike First Places (the home) and Second Places (the workplace) characterized by informal social gathering, they are crucial to civic society and engagement. Third Places give a feeling of being a “home away from home”, and home is a description I’ve often heard about MMOG’s, a sense of rootedness and belonging.
Guild membership enhances the social part of the game, and the vast benefits players can get, is a strong incentive to make or become part of one. With achievements that can be earned by the guild as a whole, and a leveling system where the guild levels up by based on the activity of the members, unlocking benefits dependent on the present level, the status of the guild can now be quantified but also become a unified project for the members, creating potential for a stronger guild-cohesion. The higher level the guild is, the more and better benefits the members get. This has made guild-membership almost a necessity and leaves some players joining a guild for the benefits alone. When asked about what type one players’ guild was, he gave me this answer:
Isén: yea 1000 people…
Isén: I joined it today,
Isén: because it’s high level…
Isén: nothing more
The number of members Isén mentions is in stark contrast to the lack of social interaction or even social presence he reports, as no one answers his petitions in guild chat. So while saying that guild memberships gives the player an organization of at least part of their network in the game, for some like Isén, his guild membership was nothing more than getting the perks as he alleged, that to him, being a part of his guild was the same as being without. Isén is basically playing alone while connected to the group framework of a guild, but without getting any social effect from it.
Related to this, Williams et al. (2006) found in their study From Tree House to Barracks: The Social Life of Guilds in World of Warcraft, that despite the network qualities guilds generally encompass, a small group of people never considered other players socially significant, and thought of them as a means to an end.
It is therefore important to note that being part of a guild is not de facto a social enhancer of solo play.
A personal worry of mine is that guilds have now been so quantified that they have also been commodified. A long time ago I wrote a very critical post about a player who tried to sell his guild with the unknowing members still in it. I found this to be highly controversial and very much against the idea of a guild consisting of the members within them, a factor that has no price (and shouldn’t get one either), not the bank tabs, guild-level or how much gold the cash flow generates daily. As of now, my impression is that this has completely changed and is not considered a big deal, if a deal at all. I see guild masters trying to sell guilds left and right and under these circumstances I can only remain skeptical to the social status of (some) guilds and their role within WoW.
Guilds used to be something you joined for the sheer purpose of networking, social atmosphere and friendships. Guild membership today is just as much about the perks, and I wonder if this facilitates more solo players to become enveloped in guilds with a social result – OR if it turns guilds into meaningless buff installations that are just one point to check off on the list of character- optimization – a pro forma guild. What do you think?
I’ve thought about joining one of these “free guild perks” guilds for the sake of finding out if they are just like normal guilds or if the members in them are not interested in the guild per se, but the perks alone. If you have experience with a guild like this, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.