This means that when people talk about having developed a sense of server community via pugging Stratholme or Shadow Labyrinth back in the day, they're talking about a game I never played. When I was pugging in early BC, before I started raiding again, I was miserable dealing with non-guildmates who often wouldn't listen, demanded a tank with more AoE than a warrior, refused to CC or refused to do so on the targets I asked, and were otherwise often awful. This isn't to say I didn't have any good pick up groups in those days, but if I wanted to get anything done I often had to wait for guild groups. One of the reasons I heralded the advent of the Dungeon Finder was that instead of bothering my guildies so I could get some runs in, I just queued up. No more "LF Tank and 2 CC for Shattered Halls, Paladin tank preferred" or whatever the flavor of the month is. Not that we were running Shattered Halls anymore by that point, of course.
Society in the World of Warcraft
For me, that hasn't really changed. I'm still much more guild focused than I am server focused. So for me, the decline of server communities I hear about from other players has had zero impact on my gameplay. If anything, it's improved it. With features like Real ID and battletags, the server is at best a place I park my stuff - I can do runs with anyone I like. Literally, my community is rooted in two circles like a Venn Diagram, the first being my guild, and the second being RL people I'm friendly with. From my perspective, the server has been dismantled, and it's nothing but positive. But what's true for me isn't true for everyone.
I'm not blind to other people's arguments and personal experiences on this issue. I have heard a great deal from players who, having played just as long as myself, were parts of large server communities full of active players who worked out networks to run dungeons, even some older raids. I recall friends on Malfurion who, during the height of Burning Crusade, often worked together pug runs of Black Temple and Mount Hyjal based entirely around networks of friends they'd made running dungeons together. There were channels on Malfurion Horde-side named Bur and Kek dedicated towards facilitating these kinds of runs, people coming together to form friendships and run dungeons and raids across guild lines. I was often brought into these runs by guildmates, in fact, and while I was more active Alliance side in those days I had fun running Horde with them. But I was always tangential to these, not a major participant. Still, having seen those networks in action, I do wonder about the effect the changes in the game had on them.
Community, and the struggle for identity
But then I think about the Cross-Realm Raiding groups that have sprung up in the wake of Battletags, and I wonder if what really happened was that the community moved out of the servers. Between blogs, twitter, forums and other such changes to the game (and to be fair, people were using forums and websites to organize communities well before any sort of dungeon finder or cross-realm play existed) it almost seems to me that the problem is in defining, exactly, what your World of Warcraft community is. Is it your guild, your guild-alliance, your server as a whole, your cross-realm friend's list, your twitter feed full of WoW players? It certainly doesn't have to be exclusive to any of these.
The growth and change to WoW as a multiplayer game over the years has simultaneously shrunk and expanded my horizons in terms of who I play with and socialize with. I haven't had to do something like go stand in Stormwind or Orgrimmar and ask for players for a group in years, but I have trawled my friend's list for bodies to run raids for people's legendaries, to run current level but older tier raids for transmog gear, or even just to pass the time. I'm not sure, in the end, if we've lost community or simply changed where it lives.
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