The Star Wars moment
You can usually spot a guild meet at a game convention because the members are usually having animated conversations about memorable moments and completely losing all track of time. It's very hard to run a guild over a long period of time because there's few opportunities for everyone to savor the best moments. As soon as one challenge is completed, another appears. Guilds need to have that "Star Wars" moment when Luke, Han, and friends get their medals up on the dais and get a standing ovation from the Rebel soldiers.
Guilds put in an extraordinary amount of time and effort to tackle hard game content, and they really don't get much of a chance to stand back and pat each other on the back afterwards. Guild meets give members that opportunity to relive those moments, and it's gratifying to share laughs over lighter moments and marvel together about some of the decisive points of unforgettable battles. And as members do their own play-by-plays, they're actually sharing valuable tips on how they were able to execute key moves and make the difference between a win and a loss. A few minutes of face time with guildmates is far more valuable than any forum post or chat conversation in game -- and far more enjoyable!
Wizard of Oz
Meeting guildmates is a lot like the final scene in the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy wakes up and recounts how the characters in Oz resembled her friends and neighbors at home. When you finally are face to face with people you've had contact with only online, it's fascinating to see how online personas match up with the people you meet.
Guild get-togethers give everyone more time to actually get to know one another. Without the distraction of the game, members can share stories of who they really are. The "internet bogeyman" is always something that players are concerned with, but that looming threat sometimes gets in the way of normal socialization. Obviously there are certain things players should be wary of when meeting up at a convention or a guild get-together, but the risk is no greater than at any other group gathering of people with a common interest.
Over the years, I've enjoyed getting to know guildmates I've met at meet-and-greets. We've congratulated each other over personal successes in work and school, we've celebrated marriage and birth announcements, and we've comforted each other during difficult personal times. By getting to know each other over time, we've made our MMO lives feel more "normal," and we've been able to weather many challenging times in game because we've gotten through much more difficult real-life challenges together. Take that, Internet Bogeyman!
We are (no longer) anonymous
Guilds are always susceptible to drama because activity takes place over the internet, and the internet is a vast wasteland of anonymity. When you're not accountable for what you say, and you can't see those you're talking to, it's easy for some players to sink to the lowest level and drop the filters of civility. Voice chat has helped curb drama because it's harder to be a tool when you can hear the effect of your words on others. Guilds who get together usually have an easier time after they return home because then they know many of those they play with, and it's hard to want to create tension and drama with others after you've all shared a laugh and a beer.
Taken a step further, at game-specific conventions, it's not unusual to bump into players from a rival guild, and after the awkward moment of reliving colorful trash-talking or less than honorable in-game activity, players usually forgive, forget, and walk away with an unexpected new friendship. Rival guilds still might butt heads from time to time after they return home, but it's usually with a lot less malice and hard feelings. And in many cases, those once-sworn enemies become good friends who reach out to lend a hand from time to time.
Guild gatherings aren't everyone's cup of tea, but at the end of the day, they're a chance to pull back the curtain and meet the people behind the avatars. MMOs are more than just a game, but at the same time, the game is not nearly as important as the people playing it. A guild gathering is really no different from a sports team meeting after a game to share a drink and a few laughs, yet somehow it's seen as dangerous, weird, or just plain silly. By extension, gaming still is seen as odd by a large part of the (non-gaming) population. Walk through any convention hall and you're bound to see a security guard, waiter, or building worker with a look of bewilderment and vexation. They don't understand it, but they also don't approve of it, and the best way to nudge gaming into the realm of accepted culture is to continue to show up in droves at conventions and treat gaming as any other "normal" hobby or social activity. In the end, not only does it help strengthen guild ties, but it helps smash many taboos and negative images that many have against gamers.
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.