WoW is big. 11.5 million players at last reported count. And much talk is made both from inside and outside that group about how such games develop communities. It’s obvious, of course, in some ways: just look at the multitude of wow blogs, wikis, and general sites; look at how some are devoted to and highly involved in their guilds; look at how being a WoW player is a vital part of some people’s identities. Slashdot has a nice little post about WoW as more than a game, and that it includes “a form of community rarely seen in the real world”. That rarity as a symptom of modern life is the reason folks like Robert Putnam say, “we are now bowling alone.” Well I’m not; I’m WoWing together.
The WoW communities that I think about first are mostly of the personal sort: I identify them as filled with those people who I talk to, care about, and am interested in. But, of course, I can join a group in WoW (like joining this still new-ish guild) and call it a community before I actually care about people, or say much of anything. Nonetheless, participating in that space is a pretty obvious community – we do stuff together, share things, help each other out, etc.
So, intuitively I thought about my own WoW communities – my guild, my friends who play both on my current and former main server, the people I talk to about the game offline. These are communities in many ways, in that they “occupy a bounded space rich with affective meanings and shared memories” as Mandelbaum (2000) puts it.
Now, though, the “online community” of WoW has changed its meaning a little bit. Some folks point out that communities are not only voluntary by definition, they also have different parameters, depending on the space/group/context. Those “bonds” that are said to form can just be by virtue of sharing space – like my “neighborhood community”: I don’t really have a personal bond with those folks, but I have an association with them because we live on the same block.
I didn’t really think about that part of it when thinking about my WoW communities.
My sense of those communities, though, is contextualized, I am beginning to see, within larger WoW communities.
I confess that before this blog went public, I pretty much never talked about WoW with anyone outside my playing experience. This is nothing unique to me – WoW Relief puts it quite nicely.
But now things are different.
Now I find myself not only reading but also participating in another level of community around WoW in blogging and commenting, and it’s as though my perception of the game has opened up. Keeping my ideas about my WoW communities bound within game play discounted all the 11.49999 million other players of the game! (my decimals aren’t right – you get the point, though).
Now I suddenly “realise” that:
a) there are people who don’t play with me or /say things in cities (since my Trade chat is currently not displayed) who play WoW
b) I can actually talk to said people about the game and have a great time with it;
c) Turns out said people – especially the bloggers I’ve been following (see my links –>) and those who comment are saying and doing a lot of stuff I want to hear about!
So, the communities of my game play are situated within the larger community of WoW players. Again, not rocket science, here – not even social science. But a very lovely personal realization of mine that these layers of communities are rich and vibrant indeed.