It's hard not to laugh at each other in MMOs. After all, we're out there playing characters with ears the size of a football or skin colors that rival the vibrant hues of My Little Pony. But some areas for jokes are a little tricky. Gear is one area that has the potential for drama. You might have an endless list of jokes about Tom Tankface's new helmet, but that helmet might have been on his wish list for months, and he's not going to be thrilled to hear that you think it looks like a jar of pickles.
Another dicey area is joking about mistakes. It's tough because sometimes a good joke can lighten up a group or raid wipe, and joking about errors can defuse tension. But someone might be at the peak of frustration for having failed to execute, and that joke might be one thing that pushes him over the edge. It's all about context and trust, and if you don't know for sure how someone will react, it's best to skip the snark.
Politics, religion, race, and sex
Obviously there's a clear line about what's appropriate and what's inappropriate, and we've talked about how racist and sexist jokes should not have a place in guild chat. And it's doubly important because you don't necessarily know the identities of the people you're guilded with. I think, to some extent, this is also why politics and religion tend to be something that players shy away from in chat, and it's probably best to avoid joking about them unless you know your guildmates really well.
Pranks gone wrong
I've carried out a few pranks here and there, and out of everything, I'd say this is the riskiest area, and when it goes wrong, it can really go wrong. I remember seeing a guild leader one time kick someone out of the guild as a joke, and even though it was clear that it was a joke, and the re-invite was sent right after, the person didn't really appreciate it. That's an area where the joke isn't worth it because not only did it make the member unhappy, it also set a bad precedent about being responsible with guild powers.
On the flip side, you should be careful not to allow yourself to be pranked, a lesson I learned one day from my kids, of all people. I had left my character idle in our guild hall to make dinner, and my kids asked if they could play a bit. They knew to stay in the safety of the guild hall, and they liked porting around and exploring the rooms. But on this day, I made the mistake of AFKing in front of the training dummy box, which gives you temporary training dummies that you can plant in the guild hall to test your DPS. I wasn't aware of this, but each training dummy weighs 100 pounds. By the time I returned to the keyboard, all of my bags were full of training dummies and I couldn't move! Fortunately, they were temporary, so I was able to log off and get rid of them, but my kids, and my guild, both got a big laugh out of the whole thing.
Joke failed, now what?
If a joke or pank falls flat, it's probably not a good idea to double down and suggest that the recipient lighten up. Humor is an important, and I'd even say necessary, part of gaming, but it's difficult because you aren't face to face with the other person. There is so much room for misinterpretation, and it's easy to have something small flare up into a guild-wide dramafest. Usually, the best thing is to admit the mistake and apologize, and then move on from there.
But whatever you choose to do, avoid letting things linger. Susy SparkleCaster might not appreciate your joke about her lack of fashion sense, but she'll be even more upset if you ignore her reaction. What usually follows are multi-page forum threads, lots of nasty tells, and long, drama-filled discussions that might even result in people calling for policy changes and guild removals. If you head it off before that first forum thread, you can hopefully avoid blowing things out of proportion.
The bottom line is to err on the side of caution when joking around with members. An inside joke between just the two of you in tells is one thing, but if you decide to toss it out there for the guild to see, you'd better be sure the recipient won't end up fuming as a result. If you have a joke or prank that you're mulling over, remember that once you go there, you can't call a do-over, and the damage you risk as a result might not be worth it.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.