I haven’t made it a secret that I’m leaving WoW when my subscription is up. I’ve been working on saying my goodbyes. It hasn’t seemed like there’s any good reason to criticise this or that aspect of the game or players since my reasons for leaving are very personal and not something that can be “fixed” that way. But this post isn’t so much about criticism as it’s about how the things we say often conflict with the reality of the situation, and how we can sometimes make things easier on ourselves by changing the way we think about the situation. I’m not going on a rant about how “communities are supposed to do this and that, and the playerbase doesn’t act that way so THIS ISN’T REALLY A COMMUNITY! RAWR!” That’s not at all my point.
Traditionally, the word “community” doesn’t just refer to people with a common interest, but also with common backgrounds and living in relatively close physical proximity to each other. That’s not so true on the Internet. Or it is, depending on how you look at it… in cyberspace, we all live right next door to each other. It’s still usually true, though, that a community has a governing set of rules and social cohesion. They may not be formal rules. They can be “rules” that are just understood to exist because the members of the community are like-minded about how things should be done.
We often speak of “the WoW community”, and maybe it did exist at one time, but I don’t believe it exists now. I think it got bigger and more varied until it became “the WoW populace”. However, you can find communities within it.
That leads to speaking of things like “the WoW blogging community” or “the WoW Twitter community”. Or “the WoWInsider community”. I’d say that last one is a community. I’d say people who regularly read and post on the official forums comprise something of a “WoW forum community”. I’m not too sure about blogs, though, and even less sure about Twitter.
In many ways, I see blogs as being an extension of whatever other community within WoW the bloggers are part of. Maybe that’s wildly innacurate and just based on how I read blogs. I tend to read the ones that relate to my interests in the game. In the cases where I do read blogs written by, say, a dedicated raider, I tend to skip posts that seem to be solely applicable to raiding. In some cases that means I only skip a post now and then. In other cases, it means I only check in on that blog every now and again. My husband suggested I read Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual when I needed help in PvP, but I used it more as a reference than really keeping up with posts. On the other hand, I have enjoyed keeping up with a lot of his writing about other aspects of the game.
Twitter… Twitter is a strange beast. I got to thinking about how Twitter works (from a social perspective, not technical) while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race this week. If you haven’t watched this week’s episode yet and intend to, skip over this next paragraph. I don’t think I’m being too spoilery, but just in case… y’know?
I honestly believe Mike was kidding when it looked like he and Chad were about to get into a fight. Especially based on the things Mike said when the drag queens weren’t in the room during Untucked. It just wasn’t recieved the way he intended it, and I don’t think that’s something to blame anyone for. Mike and Chad aren’t part of the same community. They come from very different backgrounds and have very different experiences, and Mike isn’t part of the drag community.
Two people with different personalities and common backgrounds may find it easier to recognize each other’s motivations, even if they don’t agree with each other. That also often works for two people with similar personalities and different backgrounds. It can be a lot more difficult for two people with very different personalities and very different backgrounds, though, and can become a volatile situation if even one of them isn’t conciously aware of that.
I think a lot of that happens on Twitter.
Add to that what happens when not everyone is following all the same people. At least with a blog everyone who is commenting on a post has read the same post. (Or should have. It’s ridiculous to comment based on something someone told you about it, but without actually reading it.) The conversation on Twitter isn’t always so easily laid out in front of everyone.
Let’s say Bob follow Sally, Jim, and Steve. He does not follow Sarah, Chris, or Max. Jim follows Bob, Sally, Max, and Sarah. Steve follows Bob, Sally, Jim, Sarah, Chris, and Max. (Everyone except himself.)
Steve retweets something Sarah said. Bob will see that because he follows Steve. Jim asks Sarah for clarification on what she said, and she @ replies him to explain. Steve will see this because he follows both of them, but Bob will not because he follows Jim but not Sarah. And if Bob retweets what Steve retweeted and adds his own commentary, and Sally only follows him, Sally is getting a really skewed view of things.
That’s not a community. Not in my opinion. There’s too much of a breakdown in the cohesion of the group.
Now, I’m not saying it’s “too much breakdown” in the sense of “someone should fix this”. I’m saying I think it’s important to recognize that communities do exist, but not everyone who can freely take part in what a community is doing is actually a member of the community. And that it can often be nearly impossible to see where the community lines are drawn, so it’s not as simple as saying, “Be careful of your interactions with community members if you’re a visitor”.
Maybe what we need are new terms. The Internet has social networks that are very open and fluid now. I think that’s a great thing! I love Twitter. I have gotten to meet some wonderful people there, found a lot of inspiration and support when it comes to my art, been retweeted by Neil Gaiman, and had conversations about quantum physics with a physicist who lives on the other side of the world from me. Oh, yes, I DO love Twitter!
But Twitter is a lot like using the dungeon finder. I may be queueing up with some friends I’m comfortable with, but I never know who else will end up in the group. We might even get somebody I’ve ended up in a group with before, but they’re still someone outside of my inner circle.
It takes more than a common interest and being in the same place at the same time to build a community.