Oct 29, 2011

Posted by in Features | 6 Comments

United We Stand: Too Young to Takeover, Too Old to Ignore

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.

I don’t think that we can possibly hammer the point home enough: guilds are actually important and you find evidence for this in the most surprising places. Awhile ago for a class, we had to read a book by Henry Brady, Sidney Verba, and Kay Schlozman called Voice and Equality. Apparently it’s a really important book in political science, but I don’t care. I only read one chapter on their Civic Volunteerism Model and how non-political groups can teach civic participation skills. Immediately, I thought to myself, “Gee, I wonder if this happens in guilds too?”

Idea is that “the institutional affiliations of adults -on the job, in non-political organizations, and in religious institutions – provide additional opportunities for the acquisition of politically relevant resources and the enhancement of a sense of psychological engagement with politics.” If this is true, then I think that we can expect these effects from guilds too, particularly because guilds are organizations with structures, hierarchies, and governing systems.  Furthermore, this is particularly important because the populations of guilds are on average younger and they encounter these “institutional affiliations” earlier.

Guilds provide members with the opportunity for both acquisition of “politically relevant resources and a psychological engagement with politics” through its day to day activities. The guild’s officers have to exercise leadership skills, both in terms of game play and in terms of organizational management. The guild leader is using all the same skills that a manager might use in an office, but instead of focusing on getting TPS reports in on time, he is focusing on making sure that there are enough members online tonight for their latest attempt to clear the Eternity Vault. Just like churches, unions, and other voluntary associations can teach civic skills through participation, so can guilds by giving members opportunities to aid in complicated coordinated action.

According to Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, invitation through a voluntary association is one of the most common ways that someone is invited to participate politically by volunteering, giving money, or voting. Guilds can also serve this function, since they operate entirely the same way. “Not only are these institutions the training ground for civic skills, but they also function as a site for political recruitment and nurture political engagement.” An awesome survey was administered by Joesph Kahne, Ellen Middaugh, and Chris Evans and they found that “simulations of civic and political activities and learning how government, political, economic, and legal systems work provide young people with knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the political system.” More fascinatingly, they found that “youth who reported organizing or managing a guild group were more civically and politically engaged in their offline lives.”

Leading and participating in guilds in online games teaches political skills like leadership and civic participation. This is a really big deal, it means that there is more to guilds then just loot and DKP, more then just a group of friends gathering online. They actually have an effect; they are actually teaching valuable lessons to those that play these games. On whom are they having the most effect on? Well, people like you and I who had our first experiences with guilds at a young age, and now we’re much older and have learned so much. Now the question is what kind of effect is this going to have on society as a whole.

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

  1. Grinstone says:

    An interesting thought. I haven’t read the book and this isn’t my field, so I can’t pretend to speak intelligently on it. Far be it from me not to share my thoughts, however. I’ll apologize in advance if it sounds overly pessimistic.

    Guilds that achieve this are going to be very rare. People have ideas and expectations about what guilds are about and for, and these don’t jive with the idea of social responsibility or civic duty. People who do hold such opinions were most likely exposed to them long before joining any guilds.

    In fact, I think it’s fair to say that people will shy away from such ideas if they are presented in any obvious manner. The view that social responsibility is work, uncool, boring, etc. will clash with the whole mindset of being on a game and wanting to relax.

    On the practical front, in order for people to feel socially or politically engaged they must be encourage to, and able to, participate. This means guilds must offer opportunities beyond merely signing up for and joining flashpoints, operations, etc. Moreover, when the people do engage themselves and participate in the guild, they must feel or see that their engagement has an effect.

    Failure to do so will generate the sentiment that often plagues modern democracy: “I have only one vote, what difference can I possibly make?”

    And that’s my take on it based on my limited experience.

    • Now that I read back over the article, there’s a point that I didn’t stress enough. I am not saying, nor are any of the people I referenced, that guilds literally sit you down and teach you civic skills, but rather provide you with a venue in which to practice them.

      They give leaders the opportunities to lead, members the opportunity to participate in a political system, and for everyone to see what you refer to as “I have only one vote, what difference I can I possibly make?” In a small organization like a guild, it becomes very clear very quickly what kind of difference you can make.

      • Grinstone says:

        My question is, will the interactions in a guild really translate to the kind of civic skills and responsibility that they’re talking about in the books? I have my doubts about that because the interaction is very direct and informal, and feedback is fast or instantaneous.

        I don’t doubt that it is possible; stranger things have happened, and all that. If it does happen I imagine it’s very much a hen’s tooth kind of thing.

      • Lady Republic says:

        It helps to place the work in a bit of context, as well – there’s a larger body of literature examining the ways in which individuals find roles within civic participation in society, and how this fosters greater respect for decision-making and concepts like equality or democracy. There’s another very famous piece by Robert Putnam called Making Democracy Work that breaks this down further – and in easier language than BVS.

        What they’re all trying to do is to show how participating in social groups – even apolitical ones – causes you to be linked as a part of greater society and thus have both more respect for others as well as an increasing likelihood of becoming involved in other ways. So that soccer league may not *seem* political, but by getting involved in it, it can have political consequences. Does that help?

        I actually think it would be interesting to apply some of their models to the virtual world – not just guilds, but even places like Second Life or Facebook – to see how well it holds up in a non-physical world. Interesting!

        • That does help, yes. Thank you.

          When put in the perspective of baby steps and acclimatizing someone to being involved with groups I can certainly see how guilds would have a positive influence. However, as you say, I don’t know that one could successfully separate the impact of guilds from the combined Internet experience.

          It would certainly behoove us to give more thought to our guild interactions and for making it the kind of experience we’d like to have. It certainly needn’t be High School Rebooted.

          • Lady Republic (kickass name) put it excellently, that is exactly the point: groups that don’t have political aims teach civic skills

            “I don’t know that one could successfully separate the impact of guilds from the combined Internet experience.” This is a great observation. The difference is that there aren’t many communities on the internet that have the same structured hierarchical system that guilds do and must work together at all levels to achieve collective action.

            I guess one could argue that moderating can do this too, but I don’t think it’s nearly as strong.

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