Nov 2, 2011

Posted by in Features | 24 Comments

United We Stand: Here Comes Democracy

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.

An issue once came up when I was a clan leader in Star Wars: Jedi Academy, and the council didn’t really know what to do. So, we put it to a vote for the whole clan. This may seem like a really simple statement, but there is actually a lot of meaning behind it. Why does it immediately occur to us to put the issue to a vote?  We are the council, tasked with protecting the clan and making its decisions. We should just be making a decision on behalf of the clan and moving on, there’s no need for the voice of the members in this process. Yet, for some reason, in our online communities we always wedge the vote into our system, even when it doesn’t belong. It may be the very basis of the governing system, a last resort measure, or simply the method the ruling council, but there’s always the scared vote.

Why is this important? Because democracy is a terrible way to govern a guild. Sean “Dragons” Stalzer in his book The Legend of the Syndicate says that when he designed the system governing the Syndicate that he specifically chose to forge a benevolent dictatorship. Seeing as how successful the Syndicate has been, I think that we can define that as a good choice. It also just makes sense, a single leader with a single vision will be able to lead and make decisions for a guild better then a group of people with slightly differing, or even competing, visions. Yet we still think the vote is important and include it anyway.

This helps explain why we can learn about civic interaction and other cool political skills from guilds. If they are real governments with intricate systems like voting, bureaucracies, and political leadership then we should fully expect those involved to learn something. It’s not hard to see how this would transfer over to offline as well, as the skills it takes to run a guild are the same as those it takes to run an office, a bowling league, or a church. What we have here is a political laboratory where we can learn civic and political skills, and all we’re doing is killing long imprisoned force users and looting treasure chests.

The other thing voting in guilds demonstrates is that western civilization is really good at teaching us to love democracy. So much so that we stick it into places where it doesn’t belong, like the organizations we create to make to do operations and flashpoints. Our society and education system teaches us so well that democracy is the way to go, that we put into our guilds without help from the code of the game. If guilds were intended to be governed via the vote, we could expect a lot more polling and secret ballot tools to be involved in the guild interface. Yet, still, something tells us that this is the best way to govern a group, that equality is crucial and the voice of the many is always right.

I’m not arguing that democracy is bad or that guilds should not being using this system, I’m just pointing out that it’s unexpected. Benevolent dictatorships are objectively the best way to govern a guild, but to do a pure dictatorship as a governing system would cause that guild to lose legitimacy because that’s what western civilization has taught us. What would be really interesting would be to go onto Chinese game servers and see if their guilds are run by an authoritarian system. Then, what about the middle-east? Can we hypothesize then that there would be some elements of a theocracy?

Most important of all, what does this mean for the world? What does it mean when millions of people worldwide are consistently being exposed to guilds? If guilds are political laboratories, then we have not only created communities of online gamers, but centers of learning. It’s not just civics and leadership either, but a huge variety of skills that can be transferred to offline life. No guild leader can walk away unaffected, no member unchanged.

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

  1. The biggest threat to guild survival is guild splits. So the guild leadership must do everything possible to prevent this from happening. How to do it?

    1) No democracy. Democracy encourages cliques and factions, hastening splits.

    2) Leadership that won’t listen. This is where you need the “Benevolent” part. If people don’t feel that their feedback is heard, they’ll leave/split.

    3) Guild officers that are too powerful. Officers form cliques, hastening splits.

    4) Allowing an “inner circle” to form. You know these folks . The “in group”. The cool kids. The cluster of GM and officers and selected sycophants. These cliques split guilds.

    5) Expansion/recruitment. Too many new people flooding an established guild cause stress fractures and clique creation.

    6) No defining guidance/purpose. Without one, members will each have their own vision of the guild and create factions and cliques.

    7) No strong leadership. Benevolent dictatorship indeed. But a weak GM encourages factions and powerplays among guildies and officers.

    • I agree and disagree with what you’re saying.

      It’s obvious that member segregation will split a guild in its opinions and tasks, therefore creating potentially clashing ideas and thoughts. However, this does not inherently destroy a guild, especially if you create a structure that utilizes this fact instead of prevents it.

      My guild works like this: We have a Council made up of 7 members (7 Officers). These Officers are in charge of a different aspect of the game. One Officer is in charge of PvP, another in charge of PvE, the others in charge of other aspects. Members are free to come and go between these aspects and acknowledge who they go to for each. Our guilds structure inherently promotes a level of segregation that is designed to give members ultimate freedom in how they play

      • Gaglug: I pretty much disagree with you, sure some of your individual points have merit, but they aren’t particularly well explained.

        First, “splits” are definitely not the most dangerous thing to a guild. They technically do not even destroy a guild, but make two new ones.

        Democracy, strong guild officers, expansion/recruitment, and “inner circles” do not cause splits. People cause splits. What you have listed are things that can happen to any group, not specifically guilds. These problems can’t be solved, they can be reduced, managed, or made into a strength instead of a weakness.

        Finally, Yoshi is right, all these things are solved by a strong infrastructure within the guild and the model that Yoshi describes is a very strong model for helping prevent these problems.

  2. Interesting article. I would disagree with the term benevolent dictatorship though. Really what you are describing is how government is supposed to work. Our leaders are intended to make decisions on our behalf, without taking issues back to the electorate for a vote. Far too often we find situations, especially in municipal government where the leaders are unwilling to make a decision, so absolve themselves of responsibility by sending the decision back to the voters in the form of a vote.
    In a guild we elect our leaders, even without a formal election, by joining and remaining part of the guild. Think of this as a multi-party system with hundreds of parties to choose from.
    We expect our leaders to make decisions for us. We can provide imput into those decisions, but we “vote” by remaining in the guild or not.

    As a municipal manager I had not thought of my guild involvement in terms of civic responsibility. Perhaps I now have a topic for an interesting article.

    • Thanks for your comments!

      I’m not sure if I agree with on on “leaders are unwilling to make a decision, so absolve themselves of responsibility by sending the decision back to the voters in the form of a vote.” I would say that the leaders accept the need for more direct input from the citizenry, particularly when the decision isn’t one they should be making alone even with their representative status.

      What you refer to is called ‘voting with your feet’ and it’s a pretty awesome concept, I like your description of it as a ‘multi-party system’.

      You would definitely like the last article, .

      • My comments regarding leaders unwilling to make a decision was unclear, the reference was to civic leaders who seek to avoid unpopular decisions and instead defer them to a ballot in order to not hurt their chances for reelection. However we do see tbis approach used in other forms of democracy to avoid hurting peoples feelings. I had read the other article and I agree with many of the points, even if after nearly 20 years in government I am outside of the demographic described. I am very pleased to see more 20-35 year olds running for public office and getting in.

  3. A lot of what you’re saying makes sense. Guilds are not RL, therefore require separate rules. Often times, governments are out for the progression of humans in the form of sustainability and longevity. That means making sure every persons opinion is counted. Democracy IRL works because society involves everyone, not just the leaders.

    Democracy in a guild doesn’t work because they operate differently. In a guild, decisions are made for as quick of progression as possible, decisions that can, and are, made without the inquiry of its members.

    However, i’m not sure I agree with everything being said. A Benevolent Dictatorship requires a certain type of individual to really make it work, and make the members feel like their both important and have faith in the leader. Ultimately, your guild has to be appealing, and if your GM is a rere, you won’t have any members.

    • Well, kind of. The point is guilds are real, but for some reason have separate rules. Guilds are for the “progression of humans in the form of sustainably and longevity” but the needs are in terms or loot and kills not food and water. But for some reason, there’s something about guilds that makes them different so democracy isn’t the most effective way to make them work, yet we try anyway.

      Yeah, that’s true, a benevolent dictatorship requires a certain type of individual to make it work. But that’s how it is with everything, and one of the things that marks a great guild from just a guild is the strength and will of it’s leader.

  4. My guild is electing a new leader, so this was a very interesting article to me!

  5. Grinstone says:

    I had the same thought as Xoltu.

    Sometimes something should be put to the whole guild for a vote. However, most of the time such things happen it’s an attempt by the leadership to absolve themselves of responsibility. They don’t want the burden a tough or unpopular call because they don’t want risk taking the blame if things go poorly. In the end, calling for a referendum is a poorly thought out decision.

    It may seem like a good idea because most of us live in democratic nations and grew up with democracy. However, this comes with an important caveat: if we don’t win the vote there’s little recourse we can take. Moving to a different city, state, or country is not a realistic option. The best we can hope for is a different result in the next election. Most MMO guilds will have no such history. When we join a guild we accept that the guild leader is in charge and that, barring outside influences, this is not going to change.

    Unless the guild has rules guiding such a process, with all the discourse and exchange of information that it requires, a sudden vote carries a real risk of politicizing the whole guild. This can very well lead to the risk of the guild splitting, as Gaglug says. Leaving one guild to find another, or to be without a guild for a while, is a relatively trivial decision.

    In the end, asking, “Why did the guild leadership put the issue to a vote?” requires additional clarification. Did they make that decision because the question was so important they felt that the whole guild must vote or was it a sign of weak leadership?

    • I would say the same thing I said to Xoltu, but I would add that Yup, they also avoid being unpopular or making a poor decision. This is not wrong or a lack of will, it means that both a) a decision is made and b) the leader is still around and strong enough tomorrow to make other decisions. When a group becomes an organization, it’s first priority changes from doing what it wants to do to surviving as a organization so it can continue to do what it wants to do.

      The rest of your comments point out how important is it is have a strong, robust, and transparent infrastructure. What that means is going to be addressed in the next few weeks as we go step by step how to build a very strong guild structure.

      • Grinstone says:

        That brings up the point of whether you want someone in charge who allows their opinions to be swayed by the fear of becoming unpopular or making the wrong call?

        As has been said, a dictatorial system does not exclude the possibility of debate and hearing what others have to say. If the leader(s) put a decision to a vote every time the job gets tough, then they could save everyone a lot of time and trouble by deferring everything to a vote.

        The other potential friction point with putting certain questions to a vote is that people in the guild may disagree about whether it needed a vote. This could quickly come to a head if a decision they didn’t feel needed a vote gets one, but one they feel is important is not put to a vote.

        Admittedly, I can’t imagine that any guild with a clear mandate will face such tough decisions with any frequency. When they do, it is likely that it is significant enough to put to a vote. But even this can be a bold assumption. There are so many possible variables that it’s futile to try to cover every eventuality.

        Even if all the other variables are available to an observer, one of the most important ones will always be missing: they weren’t there and involved in the heat of the moment.

  6. nice article

    I agree with some aspects and have thoughts in others. Honestly IMO I think you need a bit of both, it depends on the way you dictate to your guild and how open you are, you cant have a dictator in charge of your guild that does not listen to the people he is leading, just as you cant have a leader that does not make a decision and always puts it up for a vote to the entire guild.

    The way I think is best is a compromise of the two, a dictator that leads the guild with a council and officers, the council and officers are advisors to the leader gathering information from the rest of the guild sourcing ideas and getting a feel for the guilds overall happiness or unhappiness.

    The guild leader can ask the council for their opinions and make a decision on this or have a vote within the officers and council.

    A leader can not lead if he does not have followers, the point of a guild is to have a fun place for people to play together, ignoring concerns of your members or ideas without entertaining them will cause your guild to be disheartened and lose faith. Just as people will not follow a weak leader. Being strong and making those decisions but being able to take on ideas from members and officers is a show of strong leadership but also makes your members feel that this is their guild to and they are not just a body making up the numbers. Hearts and minds, make them feel like they have a part to play in making the guild a better place for all the members and they will stay and work to make it good with you and that will make your job as leader easier. There will always be times where a decision is unpopular with some of the guild, you cant please everyone, as long as you explain why the decision was made they can either work through it knowing it’s a good guild and good people or if they feel it’s a deal breaker and leave well maybe its for the best. If half the guild goes maybe you made the wrong decision. Part of being a good leader is admitting when you are wrong and not being so stubborn that you cut of your nose to spite your face.

    This is just my opinions, im not saying im right and anyone that thinks otherwise is wrong, there is no right and wrong, its about what works for you and your guild.

    • I think your idea of a compromise is what causes this whole phenomena. Democracy in guilds is not a good or a bad thing, it’s just something we have trouble explaining. I think that guild leaders and those who design guild structures understand that democracy is not the perfect tool for running a guild, but compromise instead because it SEEMS like the right tool for running a guild.

      I’m not saying that the guild leader should lead without the input of their members, that’s a terrible idea. I’m saying that single vision should rule the guild. I agree that the term ‘dictatorship’ does work particularly well, and others like Xoltu and Grinstone have pointed this out. It implied an all powerful figure controlling the organization for their own benefit, but what it really means is a single executor of the promise of the guild with the advice and counsel of those he trusts. It definitely needs a new word, maybe “Executor” will work.

      I’ve noticed this about a lot of these comments, and I hope you all read this. There’s a lot of great general lessons that guild leaders should listen to, like you should take the feedback of your members, you should appreciate their input, you should have strong leadership, a strong structure, or a strong vision. I hope others can see these and learn from them, but we will be addressing them separately in the next six weeks!

  7. Many government systems do not work the way one would theorize based on what I consider one major factor: size.

    Same with your scenario of guilds. I do not think it is that democracy won’t work with a guild so much as it shouldn’t be necessary. If the guild communicates well with one another, picks their guild-mates carefully and not just let anyone in, then their leader or council members should already have a feeling or idea of the mindset of his (or her) guild members and the members should have the same knowledge of their leader(s).

    I joined one guild (in Rift) that everything was voted on due to the sheer size of the guild and the fact that the leaders barely knew most of the members and just invited anyone in. While you would think this would be nice, it was actually pretty frustrating. Even if I don’t agree with a guild leaders decision, I do tend to respect the fact that they are capable of coming to a decision.

    • There’s one thing that we know for certain about political science: people are not as informed as we would both expect and want them to be. They just don’t care. Same with guilds, no guild member or leader is going to know everything they can about their members, it’s just not possible or efficient.

      So yup, in the end we have to trust and respect that our leaders are capable of coming to a decision. And if they are not, we have to trust that whatever mechanism they choose to solve the issue is the right one.

  8. Guilds are like forums, places where people can act like they want without consequence. Rudeness is the only thing we get from guilds and online forums.
    Somehow everytime I hear the word guilds I think of Stalin
    “Death is the solution to all problems
    No man – no problem”

    Democracy as it works in modern days is a broken system. 60% telling 40% how to live? Corrupt politicians who doesnt deliver on promises. And america, im sory to say, is worst of the entire western world. Your lobbies and campaign methods, reates a system
    Where the rich have power over the poor, a system
    Where money means more than political ideas? A system thay has spread its name calling and mud throwing to other countries.
    A democrazy where the pharmaseudical companies has a say in the health care system? And they can dictate the prices of potential life saving medicin.
    No democrazy and the western world is not perfect, we have a shitty system that only works
    Better than dictator ship because power corrupts, and humans are quick to cruelty.
    The free world? Ha what a joke. We are all slaves and mearly surviving. Evil and crime exists only because we (people/mankind) allow it to, we are corrupt. Right and wrong are simply a matter of popular opinion.

    • “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” – Winston Churchill (from a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947)

      Father11, yes, the world and our country are messed up, because it is made up of people. People are fallible. However, the thing to do is to get out there and fight the good fight, be positive, and help your fellow person.

    • This is a very broad topic that doesn’t fit here, fortunately due to size (which Barrista pointed out) we don’t have to deal with the entanglements that large scale democracy brings with it.

      Avidguru is right, those are all that we can do, and take the lessons of places like the U.S. and try to apply them to our guilds.

  9. In my experience the optimal leadership structure has been a transparent oligarcy, which is like a benevolent dictatorship, except you have a group of people at the top (the guild council), and their priority is not to be nice to members, but remain fair to the guild vision at large. That means sometimes making decisions that most will disagree with, though if recruitment has diligently followed whatever the vision of the guild is, such a decision should be in line with most members desires.
    It assumes that the guild has a welldefined mission statement for it’s activites, that all members are in agreement with.

    Putting the GM forward has some personal consequences for the person in charge that a distributed set of responsibilities can help with. You have your Lootmaster, your PvP officer, your Social representative etc. Internally the council keeps each other informed, such that there is always an “understudy” to handle emergencies, but ultimately even the GM should be able to defer a decision to the relevant officer. Sharing ultimate authority ensures balanced viewpoints and prevents stagnation by placing all the load on one set of shoulders.

    Transparency rather than benevolence is the key. The council makes decisions on many aspects that affect members, and will keep information secret from them to protect persons or prevent drama. Yet whenever possible, the members should be made aware of the backgrounds that went into making a decision. If you change the raid loot system, explain why the current system isn’t working, how you think to fix it and when. A council that always tells you as much as is prudent will encourage members to contact them with their issues, be lessing the “mental distance” between the groups. This avoids lingering resentment that can fester into drama without the officers being aware that anything is wrong. A consistent policy like this also makes it much easier to “sell” the unpopular decisions.

    It also allows the members to gauge whether a change of leadership is in order, because they understand the thinking of the current leadership. The oligarcy should have an open recruitment policy: any member can at any time put himself forward to join the council. The council should be required to present compelling reason *not* to take them on. How compelling depends on the guild, but the default attitude needs to be “why not”. Too few officers, especially in the face of RL hinderances and burnout, can be as bad as too many.

    Votes should almost never be issued. A fundamental change to the guild (such as switching focus from PvE to PvP) could trigger one, but in all other cases the council should put forward their best decision, and the members who disagree should voice that disagreement, either personally to an officer, in public on a forum, by presenting themselves as officer candidate on the platform that they can do better, or by leaving the guild.

    Even in guild with a tight focus, opinions vary too much for democracy to result in anything by everyone being dissatisfied.

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