Oct 6, 2011

Posted by in Features | 13 Comments

United We Stand: You’re Just Going To End Up Talking About Video Games Anyway

United We Stand is an Ask A Jedi series focusing on guilds, groups, and other communities in Star Wars: The Old Republic. By examining the communities that we form, we can create a stronger game for ourselves, build relationships that will last a lifetime, and perhaps even change the world itself.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about how online relationships are real and how you should never be ashamed of your connection to an online community. These things got me thinking, and I’ve come up with an idea that will be useful to any current or aspiring guild leader. When I started college, I was blessed with two random roommates who both played World of Warcraft. I had quit at this point, but I started over in order to join their guild. Together, we started doing five man dungeons together, building the guild together, and eventually holding consistent 10 man raids with a group of some of the best friends I have ever made online. This offered me a number of unique experiences and internet firsts, for example most of the guild knew one or more other members offline. My roommates and I lived together and there was an extended family crisscrossing most of Virginia. What I found was that I was experiencing something very important to any online community: the state of emergence.

Never The ‘Twain Shall Meet

One day, our dear guildmate Niantae messaged me and my roommates saying that she was going to be in town one weekend and wanted to meet with us. We all froze, for meeting with someone you met over the internet has long been against the great and ancient cardinal rules of the internet. We got over it when we realized this was not a matter of us trusting her, but her extraordinary courage to trust the three of us. Why is this okay? At what point does it become okay for online friends to become offline friends? I’m sure this story is not unique to me, and many others out there have had similar experiences and have asked themselves similar questions. Those questions sound ridiculous now, but you remember the horror stories you hear on the news occasionally when something goes terribly, terribly wrong. Something has fundamentally changed with the internet and it has allowed for this emergence. Our culture is no longer grounded in the need for sharing physical space to validate a social connection, and that statement (if it’s true) is worth a whole book in itself.

Ch-Ch-Change

In particular, three very important things have changed. With the introduction of MMOGs like World of Warcraft, players create avatars to represent themselves in the online world. Niantae spent a long time building up that character, and in that time she found us and came to think of us as her friends. This was not a onetime chance online encounter, but a steady friendship built over many hours of game play together. Second, voice servers now serve as a primary channel of communication instead of keyboard chat. Voice is a lot closer to offline contact then chatting is, making it a smaller leap from hanging out with someone on Ventrilo to going to TGI Friday’s for dinner. Finally, and most importantly, is the development of the guild. With consistent and constant communities requiring players to work together, players get to know each other better and trust in each other more.

Don’t Be Scared

The point is that because of the way communities are set up now in our games, there becomes a point where every community will hit a certain amount of emergence – that’s just how friendships work. Just think about how much a voice server changed your community, and then the first time members met for coffee when passing through another’s city. Also remember how you felt before speaking in a Teamspeak channel for the first time. Again, do not be scared. Remember that the contact you have had with them in Star Wars: The Old Republic is just as real as turning around to talk to your roommate. Remember the story of Niantae and her courage to meet three guys she met online and how it helped a smaller guild grow closer together and develop friendships that will last a lifetime.

Leave comments or tweet me @TwinHits with your thoughts, ideas, and stories about guilds, communities, and leadership in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

  1. pwnttothemax says:

    my roommate and i used to play halo all the time through undergrad. we met this guy known as Sheeen, who ended up being one of the only people we consistently played with. after uncountable half-drunken weekends hanging with sheeen over voicechat, we realized he was one of our best friends, even though we’d never met him in person. we ended up adding him on facebook and texting/calling back and forth to set up halo nights.

    this past winter we ended up going to Vegas with a bunch of our friends and sheeen, being ~3-4 hours away near LA, agreed to meet up with us. we had a freakin blast together! we are still friends and absolutely nothing changed after meeting each other except we have some bomb ass stories about Vegas now!

    • This is a great example of how emergence works. You start meeting them online (pure online medium), then go to go a more familiar medium (voice chat) then a non-offline medium (phone communication) and then a physical medium (LA). Your story is literally a perfect example of the argument.

  2. Love the article Twin! I’m a huge fan of meeting people from online. As I mentioned last time, I currently live with 2 people I met on WoW, one of which is my best friend! I also met a pretty cool chick while dancing naked in Orgrimmar one day, who just happened to live near me and we’ve been together for 5 months ^_^

  3. Grinstone says:

    I’ve met a few people who I got to know through RPing in a MUSH environment. Unfortunately with my frequent moves I haven’t been able to keep in touch.

    I’ll use this opportunity to address something that’s a related issue. In that particular community the idea “real life comes first” (before online commitments) is prevalent. To some extent I understand that, except that these people appear to apply it blindly to everything. Someone might have a commitment to be online to do something, a friend of theirs drops by, and suddenly it’s, “Sorry, friend’s here. I’m gone.” And people accept this readily with that “real life comes first” adage. It’s as if, because they interact through a computer, they’re not real people.

    If I make a commitment to be available at a certain time, I’m not ready to blow that off just because the other person or persons will not be physically present. As TwinHits said, these are also people who can be, or are, real friends.

    • This is a really interesting point, and one that occurred to me while I was writing this. In time, I want to address this more carefully and see what you think.

      Another good example of this is online commitments like meetings are a low priority commitment as opposed to their offline equivalent. As far as we go, we can’t get rid of the importance of sharing physical space (not that I am trying to argue that we should). I think it’s because it’s very hard to just randomly share an online experience with someone who is watching over your shoulder.

      One of the hardest parts about being a guild leader is sometimes you have to sacrifice that difference and take the online experience over offline others. To the best guild leaders, this isn’t a sacrifice and to those who aren’t ready for it, it’s too much.

  4. Rushmanyyz says:

    Met my wife in WoW. Moved 9500 miles away for her. It’s been 4 years since. Nuff said ;)

    • That is absolutely incredible, it’s stories like these that really show that what happens online is actually important. I can make all the arguments in the world about how ‘structures of the mind’ make them real and blah blah blah (last week’s article), but it’s stories like yours and Kray’s that really prove the point.

  5. We’ve had some very mixed experiences with MMO friends, Real Life friends who played with us in MMOs, and people we’ve known for years but never met in person. It is an interesting dynamic. It has turned out great in some instances and very badly in others, leading me to think that human relationships are just complex, period.
    We (my husband and I) were guild members with Real Life friends for a while, and that turned out so badly that in order to stay friends, we walked away from gaming together. As it is, there are still some unresolved tensions between a few of us.
    We’ve had friends whose marriage failed because of relationships made online that went too far. We’ve had other friends who met in an MMO and ended up together when they never would have met otherwise.
    We’ve made friends through a guild that we’d be willing to meet in person if the opportunity ever arises, but we all live very far apart. We enjoy gaming together so much, that even though we stopped playing the MMO we were in before, we stayed in touch and will be grouping up together when SWTOR comes out. However, there are a few members of that guild whose sense of humor makes us wonder, and we’re not really sure we’d want to meet in person, or even let know where we live. :)
    It has been such a mixed bag.

    It was a big, and kind of intimidating, step when I started to post IRL pictures of guild members on our website. Some people were worried about that fine line between joking around and being inappropriate about how someone looked. There is still that possible creepy factor with some online relationships, but I think most of us can tell the ones that put us outside our comfort zone, versus the others that we would trust. I wouldn’t be comfortable letting people I haven’t spent much time getting to know online know much about me in real life. But in face to face relationships, you don’t really have the option of making that choice.

    I agree that voice chat has been a big help in filling in some of the social cues that text just can’t handle. You’d think that we would do a better job with text, something we can re-read and edit, in being clear and saying what we mean; but I find too many other social cues missing from it.

    I’ll be interested to see if our guild ever does make it to a convention to meet up some day.

    • I think your anecdotes are really interesting, but I think that they are things that happen often in friendships offline, online relationships can go badly as well that medium doesn’t really matter in that case.

      I guess one way to think of my argument is that the medium doesn’t actually matter, that relationships and friendships online will behave exactly the way that you expect them to. Some will go bad, some will go good, and some will go great.

      As for pictures, I’ve never been one to think that it’s a good idea. Not for reasons of safety and judgement, but because when we go online we create new identities. I have a real name, but I go by TwinHits and I don’t really want that character to be changed by how I appear. I want absolute control over how others view my character, and my picture would undermine that.

      • Hadn’t thought of that aspect with IRL pictures versus characters.
        I think in the end, you have to give yourself enough time to get to know people, no matter how you met them.

  6. Met my current gf in WoW Beta. We’ve been together for over 6 years now, living together for most of it. Pretty much followed the exact pattern mentioned in this article. We’re completely happy and both looking forward to playing a new game together when SW:TOR comes out!

    Of course, we’ve met some d-bags and jerks in MMOs as well. But it’s just like real life, some decent people and some not-so decent folks. Just gotta use common sense when dealing with people online.

  7. Lovely article. I’m also a big fan of meeting people I’ve met online.
    Some of my current best friends are people I’ve met online =)

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