Creating a Family

Posted by archiveDNA on Friday Dec 14, 2007.

Some guilds are formed to kick ass. Others are formed more to provide a chat channel for like-minded people. And some guilds are simply real life friendships brought online, a continuation of existing relationships. All of these guilds can (and do) lead to lasting relationships, bonded by common interests and experiences. But it seems like the guilds that got their start in real life lead to the deepest friendships even for members who joined up long after the original group of friends.

Yes, even the people who meet the real-life friends online tend to bond just as deeply as the original group. The experiences people have in such a guild become things they talk about years later, and often change their very lives. This is not an exaggeration. In my years of doing online community work, I’ve seen marriages and children result from online friendships. But I’ve also seen people pulled back from the edges of suicide, poverty, alcoholism, and more. Dozens of people have told me that their guild was their salvation during a dark night of the soul.
Can you make your guild into something so meaningful? No. Can you create an environment that allow relationships to thrive? Absolutely.

The first step you can take as an officer is the easiest — say hello to members as they log in. It’s that simple. Dissatisfied guild members, regardless of game or guild style, are often the newest ones who feel lost in the crowd, or even of less importance than established guild members. It’s not "Dozens of people have told me that their guild was their salvation during a dark night of the soul." that they expect to know all the in-jokes, or to be as beloved as the founder who knows everyone. But they do want to feel like they’ve joined something in which they are no longer an anonymous player who has no impact on other people. Nothing is lonelier than being alone in a room, logging into a bustling chat channel, and going completely unacknowledged. So set the tone for your guild by making a point of greeting everyone who logs in to play. You may be the only one at first, but eventually your members will follow your lead.

The second step is to encourage out of game interaction. Players of today’s faster-paced MMOs don’t sit around chatting with each other for six hours waiting for their turn at a zone, and they almost never sit around while their characters are ghosts or corpses. This improvement in general design has lessened the feeling of community for guilds that are continuously in action. Relationships form over shared experiences, but they are cemented by conversations about other aspects of life besides the game.

Start threads on your own message board, set up an IRC channel for your members during the day, and organize annual, even monthly gatherings for people to meet and deepen their friendships. If your guild is scattered across multiple time zones and national boundaries, consider appointing regional officers to coordinate these activities. And consider webcams at live events, so even the most distant member can say he was there the night of the Epic Guitar Hero Showdown. Above all, host a photo and screenshot gallery – these images are the history of your guild, and they serve to make your virtual friendships tangible.

Finally, take a page from development professionals, and track personal information using a contact database, or even a simple spreadsheet. Development is business lingo for fundraising in the non-profit sector. Big money donors (and small money donors with the potential to become bigger) are studied more carefully than the reproductive organs of endangered pandas. A typical contact information sheet for a big donor has their name, nickname, spouse/partners name, pets name, birthday, participation history, political leanings, preferred seating at fundraising events, and favorite color. Thats a TYPICAL sheet. Ive seen many that were far more involved. All of this effort allows the development director to send birthday cards, to inquire after the health of loved ones, and make pleasant conversation easily.

Does this sound terribly impersonal, and completely contrary to the spirit of creating a virtual family? It wont feel that way to the new member who is celebrated on his birthday, and it could make a huge difference in the day of someone feeling down on a difficult anniversary. You’re only one person, and your family is enormous. Use technology to help you keep track of everything.

Got any other ideas? What works best for you in terms of creating community? Post in the comment thread!

Posted in the categories: Tips and Tricks


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