Guilds take the lonesome gamer out of seclusion ... kind of
Throughout the Eighties and Nineties, gamers would take a game system to their rooms, turn on, tune in, and drop out. Since most games allowed only two-player modes, they could socialize with only one other person; anyone else would have to wait for the others to finish and grab the controller. Massively multiplayer online games like Guild Wars and World of Warcraft manifest something more sociable, offering unique virtual realms for hoards of subscribers. No more waiting for turns.
So what does the human species do when a large population congregates in a single area? They form groups, or in an MMO's case, guilds. Missions can be completed more successfully and efficiently in a group fashion. Without guidelines, however, these group efforts lend themselves to chaos, so the guilds grasp at producing these boundaries.
A guild's social structure is arranged as a pyramid. At the peak you have the members who possess the most points, have the highest social status, and hold the power to put the others under the influence of their codes of conduct. As the pyramid widens out, each level down consists of class members with fewer points and less status. The newbies at the bottom work their way up the pyramid through grinding, trading, and selling goods.
"We have to be able to be on call all of the time," says Greg Leonard, a 33-year-old Austin gamer who's been in the guild scene for six months and spends roughly 50 hours a week playing World of Warcraft. "If you can't be counted on, then why are you here?"
Leonard is in between guilds, with his sights set on one named Defiance, whose codes of conduct better suit his personal tastes. "Defiance is around my age; we have the same sense of brash humor. They don't want someone who's going to get their feelings hurt when they get insulted," Leonard says.
Brad Woolwine, a local game designer by day, spends his after-work hours as an officer for the Trick Model guild in the same game. The codes of conduct for his guild start with the basics. "We can't make racial slurs, and we have to be helpful to others, be nice to our guild members."
As they gain experience, guilders join in groups and tackle obstacles they couldn't conquer on their own. The achievements grant the guild members weapons and supplies, giving them a taste of the next level. "You have to have a 40-man team to take down some bosses, so everyone helps each other out," Leonard says. A team like this consists of 40 individuals, isolated at home, staring into a screen that hosts the universe of their alter egos.
Woolwine's home is completely dark except for one light in the computer room. The only thing clearly seen is Woolwine's pale skin, glowing through the dark corridors. He's in the middle of a game, his character surrounded by 20 others of the same guild. The voice communication plays through the speakers, relaying the jabber of his guild regulators barking orders like "Do I have to give a speech on ground-control people? No, no, no, let the mages do their job!" The authoritative voice resembles a football coach or a drill sergeant. The guild regulators direct every scenario they fall into, making it as orderly as possible, keeping the team from falling apart. Woolwine's vision was keenly focused on the screen as his chair swiveled side to side in anticipation. He, too, commits 50 hours a week to this endeavor.
Woolwine says that he's made several close friends through his guild. "Even if this game ended, I would still talk to my guild members. We call each other by our real names, and some of them have my cell phone number."
Leonard's apartment is similar to Woolwine's house but halfway underground. Same ghostly pallor and same solitary light source. Communication with his potential guild members is more crude and vulgar, but their work ethic parallels Woolwine's guild. However, Leonard says his guild friends are online friends only. "I've never met them before, but I've heard of people who have traveled to meet their guild mates." When not combating, Leonard taps his fingers on his desk anxiously, craving the next attack.
As the game progresses, the obstacles, rewards, and social status of the players increases. The guilders work together, have scheduled raids, and have to think outside of the box for their team to continue pillaging the jungle of World of Warcraft. Through voice-communication programs like TeamSpeak or Ventrilo, the guilders are constantly problem solving, becoming friends, and working in a community. "You really get to know the people in your guild through voice communication," Leonard says.
"It's definitely a team sport; we communicate more so than real sports teams do," Woolwine says. "If one person drops the ball, all 40 players could go down. Everyone has to know what everyone else is doing." A team works together to complete a task without eye contact, hand signals, or reading the expressions on their teammates' faces. Online group forces have eliminated physical relevance in the term "working together."
Guilders have found a way to appease their social human needs yet still live a secluded lifestyle. Through World of Warcraft, Defiance, and TeamSpeak, gamers can be an important part of a close-knit community, without ever meeting their brethren. The alternate cyber-world teaches them leadership skills and challenges their intellect all in the comfort of a computer chair. Why play outside when all 200-plus of your friends are in the only room with a light on?