I know, I’m contradicting myself. If you read my most recent post, you read that I am pretty excited about Real ID raiding. I think especially once Battle Tags are introduced, the social landscape of WoW will be forever altered. You might think that as a guild leader that would scare me. It doesn’t, because I firmly believe that what a guild brings is something separate from just raids or instances.
Imagine you are invited to a big party at someone’s house. When you arrive, the party is already in full-swing. The music is playing and many guests are partying. You won’t find every single person at the party crammed into one room, sitting silently while one person at a time talks, or having one giant conversation. It’s not possible. It’s unwieldy, not to mention intimidating. No, 100% of the time you are going to find in a group situation that people split off into much smaller, more manageable groups. A few people sit on the couch chatting, some others are in the corner, maybe some people are dancing, that one guy or gal is mixing drinks for everyone. Some will talk more than others, some will stay longer than others. The entire collective is the party, but within the party individuals may have a completely different experience. (For example, if you’re me you make sure to say hi to everyone and then find a quieter place to chat intensely with a few good friends).
The whole game (or the larger community of players you’re connected to) is the party, comprised of friends of varying degrees of acquaintance. But your guild? Your guild is your family. You can like and hang out with every person at the party, but it’s your family you see most every day, or sit down to hang out on an evening when nothing is planned. You invite other people to party with you, and when they’ve gone and you need to clean up the mess, the ones who stay are the ones you’re connected to most strongly. Of course, the lines can blur. Some of the folks I can now raid with are from a different guild but I chat with them daily or every few days via IM or whatever. You can have friends that are like family, but it’s all about context. A good example is someone who recently joined our guild – I “knew” her via Twitter but not really well. I find that I pay extra attention to her tweets now, and when a bunch of us are talking sometimes it strays into “Business Time” territory where we’re joking about something that happened in a raid or a forum post in our private guild forums. She’s now “in” my guild, and for me that involves a special mental shift.
To sum up: I have friends, and friends that are like family, and family. The people I’ve been Real ID raiding with are definitely ones that could move from one category to another. I have friends I’d recruit in a heartbeat if I needed people and they needed a guild. So what’s the difference between them? It’s so hard to articulate. It’s kind of like, you know how you complain about your stupid kid/older brother/sister and they have a million faults but the moment someone ELSE criticizes them you are ready to fight them? That’s family, to me. You don’t always get along but you’re a bit stuck with each other. Then friends land somewhere on that spectrum from “I don’t know you really well” to “Call me if you ever have a RL emergency.”
In Warcraft, to a certain extent your guild and the people in it are your identity. You’re a member of <This Guild> and that means something, to people on your server, to people who know of you, and even to WoW people you might meet in real-life. It’s no mistake that the big, famous raiding guilds have guild sweatshirts/t-shirts and they make sure to wear them 100% of the time at Blizzcon and similar. People know those guild names and what they mean, and they are a badge of pride. I think it would be a pretty difficult thing for that to go away, because of the tendencies mentioned above. People like to feel as if they belong to something, and they ascribe meaning to it. What does it mean to be a member of Business Time? To me, it means that you are a good player. Maybe a retired hardcore raider, somewhere in the adult spectrum, able to take a joke and to give one, not easily bothered by teasing (we do that a lot), but also ultimately respectful of everyone else in the guild. Sure it’s “just” a guild in a video game, but it’s also a collection of people who’ve known each other for years; almost three years in some cases. It has barriers to entry (applications, interviews, which yes, we still do even though we aren’t doing hardcore raiding any more), and it has conditions (i.e. you can be removed from it). It’s a small group but meaningful.
When we went casual, I wrote about how I didn’t know what the future of the guild would be. I honestly believed (and had come to terms with) the fact that my need to step back from WoW could mean the death of the guild, and I cried to think that, and I had to do it anyway. I’ve since had people tell me that even though BT is “casual” now they aren’t sure they could raid with anyone else. Perhaps that’s overstating the case, I’m sure they could learn to, but it’d definitely be different, as each group of friends is different, each guild’s way of being is different. It means a lot to me that people are committed to the guild that way, and it’s that intangible “something” that keeps people in a guild that I believe will prevent Real ID and Battle Tag raiding from actually dissolving guilds. You can’t “belong” to a group without a group to belong to, even if the group is just a Mumble server or green text or a tabard.
There are more practical reasons why guilds will continue to be the de facto structure for most organized activity in WoW, not the least of which is guild perks. Guild perks have proven to be a real double-edged sword – excellent for established guilds but sometimes punishing for smaller guilds or guilds just starting out. People come to expect certain privileges when they belong to a guild, and when you can’t offer those perks it can be hard to attract new members. (I’d offer that if people are only concerned with perks you don’t want THOSE people anyway, but that’s neither here nor there). Perks and achievements also offer tangible rewards of coordinated effort. We can make fish feasts because we did a ton of fishing and contributed to that goal. Every time we place a feast, it’s because we worked together to get to that point.
Your guild provides the framework for many of your experiences in WoW, and I believe it will continue to be that “home base” even when extracurricular cross-server activities become more commonplace. Guilds that establish relationships with other guilds will be stronger for it, in a kind of symbiotic mutual health. You can have a kind of “sister guild” where members are welcome at events – but guild members of your guild still get top priority. Whatever “guild” means to you, and whatever the culture of the group of people you’ve gathered together, I don’t think we should be threatened by the upsurge in opportunities for interaction. To use my earlier analogy, you can welcome plenty of people to the party and it’ll just be more fun for everyone. (But at the end of the night, somebody’s got to help me get this wine stain out of the rug).
What do you guys think? What is your relationship with your guild(s)? In a strange way, my opinion on this matter is both conflicting and in perfect harmony. I love the opportunity to include more people in activities and to branch out, but I am also fiercely loyal to my guild and the people in it. I think this is most evident in the way that as more people join us for runs, I start to think of them as an extension or part of BT rather than me being less of BT. Ultimately the message is a positive one – I think these changes can and will be good for everyone who is willing to do a bit of changing with the times. Someone who joined us for a raid recently told me that he loved the atmosphere, and to me that’s the highest compliment we could ever receive. If events organized by people in our guild create a fun environment for people to play in, isn’t that what this game is really about?