In previous years on any evening or over the weekend you would find me on World of Warcraft, headphones on with Snoop Dogg blaring. What I loved about World of Warcraft was how you could reinvent yourself online through your avatar. I myself always related to the Blood Elves, I’m not sure if that’s because I was trying to emulate myself as an extension of The Lord of The Rings franchise with a vampire twist. Being a typical teenager, I was a prominent night owl and found myself wandering around different realms tackling quests into the wee hours of the morning. The only thing that saddened me is the fact that on the EU server there was typically no one around at that time, so I decided to broaden my wings and travel a bit further afield and play on the US server from time to time.
My best friend of the time and I, used to meet up on World of Warcraft after school and tackle quests together as a team. One of the problems we faced was how difficult it actually was to try and locate your friends in this online world. For two weeks we tried to find each other, we were in the same realms and still couldn’t find one another. Until I discovered that playing on a different server meant that although you might be in the same realm, or even the same spot, but you are in a completely different world with different players. This meant I had to switch back to the EU server so we could play together again.
When I found out we were going to be playing World of Warcraft as a class I knew straight away how difficult it was going to be to try and find other class members. I felt like I had an upper hand because I already knew the controls and the most beautiful realms to go to. It was interesting for me to watch my classmates embarking on their on World of Warcraft excursion. Many had never played games like this in an online setting and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself with amusement at how frustrated people would get at their avatars because I know exactly what it’s like to be a ‘n00b’. Despite the frustrations it was great to experience the majority of the class enjoying this new world as a community. Hearing my classmates roaring with laughter was endearing, laughing at themselves as the avatar within the game and also externally as they try and control the avatar by tapping away at the keyboards.
Deborah Ferreday (2009) argued that playing online in a community, like we have been playing World of Warcraft in class, can enhance how we form our identity and it can directly relate to how as players we sense online community, online connection and a sense of belonging. Brignall and Van Valey(2007) states that:
‘Many of the social components within WOW facilitated the adoption of neo-tribalistic behaviors by many players. Making friends, socializing, cooperation, and the creation of new tribes are all components of WOW.’
The concept of neo-tribalism originally coined by Maffesoli(1996) is described as being ‘without rigidity of the forms of organization…it refers more to a certain ambience, a state of mind.’(1996:98). Bennett (2006:112) elaborates on this and argues that: ‘young people…are not rigidly bound into ‘subcultural’ community but rather assume a more fluid neo-tribal character.’(2006:112) This could relate to our online community, the shared mentality of WoW gamers creates a neo-tribal community. Jameson’s (1991) concept of postmodernity explains how culture has become a second nature to the human world through connectivity, the internet and online communities do make us more connected but does this online engagement modify the way in which we see ourselves as human?
Despite all the benefits that playing WoW can have in initiating and creating an online community and relationships, from first hand experience (I have two younger brothers), I know how gaming can be incredibly additive and can in fact prevent loved ones engaging in a real life community of the home. In a forum for OLGA, (Online Games Anonymous), one user had a completely different experience of Wow and believed this game in fact had negative effects on her and her relationships. ‘I found out that he had a serious gaming addiction. He was playing WOW about 50-60 hours a week.’, this user began feeling isolated and symptoms of depression due to her boyfriends heavy use of WoW. Although addiction is not directly correlated to WoW itself and is another entity on its own, I still think it’s very important to mention while discussing online community. Similarly Jameson(1991) also believed that we could be in fact too over connected to the world and that in turn could prevent us from thoroughly experiencing and enjoying the ‘real world’. I believe the access to these online communities could prove to be very beneficial for people who struggle with face-to-face communication or for people who struggle to leave the house due to perhaps mobility or a certain phobia. But I believe that gaming, like all forms of pleasure that we experience, should be done in moderation to prevent individuals becoming isolated from the real world and real physical relationships. The shared experience of playing together, although enjoyable to an extent in a classroom setting was not as enjoyable as a debate or discussion. I still think that facial expressions and tone of voice are very important to relationships as a whole and despite the good that can come from online communities it’s still not physical and if a laptop broke or a server went down, individuals who were heavily reliant on these online communities could become lost with feelings of loneliness and the realisation that there is a big difference between the virtual and the real.
Bennett, A., Shank, B. and Toynbee, J. (2006). The popular music studies reader. London: Routledge.
Brignall, T. and Van Valey, T. (2007). An Online Community as a New Tribalism: the World of Warcraft. IEEE The Computer Society.
Maffesoli, M (1996) The Time of Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. Trans. Shields, R. London: SAGE Publications
Olganon.org. (2016). Depression, Gaming, & Relationships | On-line Gamers Anonymous®. [online] Available at: http://www.olganon.org/forum/i-need-help-spousessignificant-others-open-forum/depression-gaming-relationships [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].
Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or, The cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.