Maintaining a Gaming Community

What makes gaming communities strong? Why are we drawn to them? How do they tie in with culture and sub cultures? These are questions I’ve found myself wondering about lately. When I entered the world of online gaming I got to discover an online community that fascinated me. Gamers are very interesting and often a lot of fun to be around. These are educated, clever and entertaining individuals with wit and they keep things fresh when the games you play sometimes get a little stale. The stereotype of a sweaty, smelling basement dweller has, or should have been extinct a long time ago. Their creativity is not just evident from the innovative use of abbreviation and curses these players use to insult each other. Look at Minecraft and the worlds that these gamers create. Look at the fan art, the dedicated blogs and the YouTube channels made about games. I repeat: gamers are creative. They are also helpful. For every immature troll there is a friendly person who is always willing to lend a helping hand to someone who’s stuck or is looking for advice. As for the immature ones who are so very creative with their cursing, trust me, they have their place in this community as much as anyone. This is something I have recently come to understand.

THE CONTRADICTION

For online multiplayer games especially there needs to exist strong (ideally conflicting) sub cultures and personalities. Why? Because most of these games are built upon winning or losing. The community’s part in this is to define the value of  victory or success in relation to the rest of the player base which is vital for maintaining interest in the game. That’s why competitiveness plays such a large role in how strong these gaming communities are. A perfect example can be found in Mylex Asheron’s Call post:

Early on, players began to stick together at the starting areas where new characters spawned. Higher level characters, looking for easy kills and quick thrills would hunt the areas like locusts killing and trolling the poor Level 1s as they started their time on the server. Other players, with a sense of justice, began to band together to protect new players and the starter towns. Thus, the “PK” (Player Killer) and “Anti-PK” movements were born. On the various forums associated with the game, Monarchs would state their intentions as Anti or PK. Wars of words would erupt as some random vassal attacked someone he should not have attacked. PK Monarchies, like the infamous Blood and The-Mercs, terrorised the server. Anti Monarchies claimed and protected towns, like Xanthro in the town of Sawato. Players hacked and cheated, raided, broke truces, acted as spies and trust-killed the mules of those in their monarchy. The forums were a constant battlefield, with trash talk and accusations of hacking widespread.

The extraordinary events that would follow the birth of the community Mylex was a part of were completely dependent on there being two conflicting core perceptions of what was acceptable behaviour as a gamer and what was not. If the “PK” players had not existed, if the server had only been full of Anti-PK players then they would have nothing to fight for. They would not have a reason to define themselves on the server the way they did. People would not have been as dedicated to the game because the drive to defend your own anonymous personality is a lot less consuming than the drive to defend your principles. So in short, without conflict, gaming communities will suffer. I’m going to use SWTOR as an example next since it’s the game and the community I know the best.

SWTOR

As I’m writing this post, the TRE PvP community is in the long, drawn out process of taking its last dying breaths. Why? There are many reasons I’m sure, but one of them is because there is no conflict of interest. There are no conflicting forces; there is no uniting against a common enemy. There are just old, tired players, and new oblivious ones. The more experienced players are bored of killing the new kids who don’t have a fighting chance. There are no two equal forces striking against each other creating the tension that the game desperately needs. SWTOR has tried to encourage this in the game’s earlier days through things like the open PvP on Ilum. This, unfortunately for the players, did not last since the engine simply couldn’t handle it.

There are still people trying to work on the community. We have (the much hated by some and loved by others) Snave. His charm being his brutal honesty; Snave often says what he thinks even when some would argue he shouldn’t. Snave is very much SWTOR’s own marmite; either you like it or you don’t. With events like the upcoming URC tournament in December, Snave keeps proving that in his own way, on his own terms, he cares about the game and has kept trying to contribute to the community much longer than anyone else has had the energy to. These kind of, let’s call them “marmite-personalities” is exactly what a gaming community needs more of. Other things that have been done for the community by a number of people are the attempts of getting team ranked to pop. This requires so much effort from individuals and gives so little back that few have stayed at it. There are also players who are doing things on a smaller scale who are very important. They manage guilds, they encourage people to group up and queue for regs, they making it fun, they create and lead raid groups and put a lot of effort into sustaining and entertaining the population of players across their servers. All of these deserve attention because it takes so much more energy than you realise if you haven’t done it yourself. These are the people keeping SWTOR alive. For now.

HONEY OR MARMITE

When I made a guild on TRE I did so wanting to find skilled but non elitist players. I’d express disappointment if it ever happened that anyone was trolling in chat or if they were getting very frustrated with new players. This is something about me that my guild members often would make fun of in a friendly way. That said, they always complied because let’s face it, they are awesome. In hindsight I realise that this might not have been what the server needed. Maybe I should have been a bit less honey and a bit more marmite. Maybe what the server needed was a guild for the community to dislike and unite against. Maybe if I would’ve first called people shit and told them they were cowards then the motivation would’ve been higher to accept when I challenged them to play us. As it is, there is no competition on TRE. There are hardly any PvP guilds at all and the ones there are only play regs and complain about the state of the game. As you can see I have become one of those bitter players whose game and community is lost. I don’t like it at all. It has resulted in me playing a lot less. If we are lucky there might be others joining SWTOR that are unaware of its past and as naive and optimistic as I was when I started playing the game. If the influx of new players who choose to stay will be large enough then who knows, maybe they could build up a new community. Let’s hope this time that there will be someone on the server to hate so that others can unite.

Which is your favourite gaming community and why? What makes it unique? Let us know in the comments below!

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