It’s hard for me to find my place nowadays.
A couple years back, it all seemed so simple: pick a multiplayer game of my choice, and it would likely have community servers up and running. Spend time on those servers, and one starts to see some familiar names, tags affixed and all.
Even joining the server during my free time, I felt like I had a sense of belongingness. Just being present in the mayhem that happens with these regulars, these family members, felt exciting. Growing up, I kept to myself and seldom chatted with my classmates. I learned to keep myself company, but just being a part of the matches these regulars were in felt significant. Sure, I was a stranger to them– but a familiar stranger nonetheless.
Just being present in the mayhem that happens with these regulars, these family members, felt exciting.
Two strangers meet for the first time. They take in every detail they can about each other: how old they look, how tall they are, how happy they seem, and how they carry themselves in their stature. An acquaintanceship is formed, a relationship established; their social capital blooms. They have a sense of belonging with one another.
Online, things work almost the same way.
In this virtual place exists gaming social capital, established in the same way two strangers meet. Rather than taking in just one’s voice and personality, there’s also aspects of skill and knowledge in the game they play. Multiplayer play promotes the growth of this capital, and researchers even found that gaming social capital is a significant indicator of real-life social capital, perhaps even indicating how proactive someone could be in their communities.
For a hermit like me, these multiplayer pubs were the quintessential icebreaker. Being familiar with the regulars on these servers got me curious about what they were a part of.
That’s when I joined my first clan.
For a hermit like me, these multiplayer pubs were the quintessential icebreaker.
It was an all-time high. I felt like I knew my place, who I was– and how everyone else fit into a part of something big. Better yet, I felt more confident and outgoing outside gaming. I felt like I could actually make eye contact with someone for once, carry on a conversation, and successfully earn the right to call someone an acquaintance. In some ways, socializing with names and characters helped me in socializing with faces and handshakes.
All I wanted to do at that point was to be as involved in this fantastic community as I possibly could. I wanted it to last forever just the way it was.
Communities, however, tend to change over time.
They tend to be blueprints for the internal conversation engine, specifying the dimensions of values and vision up to the builder’s interpretation. The members that make up the community are the fuel– and as some fuel is expended, more is added. How that engine is built and maintained determines what kind of fuel it takes.
Just like an engine, however, a community is fragile and delicate. It’s hard-working and long-lasting at best– but expensive and damaging to repair and maintain at its worst.
Just like an engine, however, a community is fragile and delicate.
Specifically, researchers keyed in on a few main aspects of community/guild survival and decay, such as size, density, and subgroups. Smaller, more internally connected guilds tend to survive, with a member count of around 35. Even smaller guilds tend to be susceptible to churn, the rate at which guild members unguild. In these bigger-smaller guilds exist small subgroups that tend to be well-coordinated with one another– and the longest surviving guilds are “organic, team-based organizations” complete with high gaming social capital for knowledge and skill.
If I had to determine what went wrong with my first clan, it would be the creative differences the leader had with the rest of the community. Even that was spurred on by the pursuit of growth, and our 25-member base swelled. It became hard to connect with and keep track of the new faces that would show up in our servers– and even then, most of the activity was restricted to a big subgroup of about 10. Despite the increased numbers, events started to take a backseat to the drastic and invasive changes our servers went through to be a community second– and an advertisement first. It felt less and less connected… and more and more corporate.
Two strangers meet for the first time, and take in every detail they can about each other. When they don’t talk to each other for a long time, they start to forget about each other. Eventually, their meeting soon turns to be a distant memory– but every now and again, the two strangers have the opportunity to cross paths on a busy street. They recognize each other’s faces, and proceed to talk about the good old times.
Online, things don’t work the same way.
It felt less and less connected… and more and more corporate.
The street doesn’t exist. A stranger may don a different alias in the pursuit of a new direction. Eventually, they disappear into the crowd, their faces never to be recognized again.
That’s when I left.
That’s when I got lost.