Most of us will have our first encounters with guild membership in the following fashion:
Random Guy: <pops guild charter on my unguilded alt>
Allie's Alt: Can I help you?
Random Guy: join pls i need ppl
Allie's Alt: Don't you want to get to know me first before deciding I am totally unsuitable for your guild and then /gkicking me in a display of machismo that will strike fear into the hearts of all who would dare oppose your tyrannical reign?
Random Guy: wut
Allie's Alt: Sure, I'll sign.
Admittedly, this is a very compelling reason to join, and most of us will have this option at one point or another. I did accept one such invitation on an Alliance alt, and then spent the next few weeks observing my new guildies, much like Jane Goodall among the chimpanzees, trying to understand their primitive communication techniques ("r u a girl irl?") and assessing how they fought for social dominance.
Eventually I had to quit. For one, my main was Horde. Also, Jane Goodall was never required to loan chimpanzees gold for their epic mounts, which I found to be an intolerable practice. Now, my main is lucky enough to be the member of an excellent guild, one that abandoned the principles of human sacrifice weeks and weeks ago and is also a signatory to the Geneva Conventions except on Thursdays. However, I understand that not all of us are going to be so fortunate with the selection of guilds available on their server, which is why I have composed the following handy guide.
While looking for a guild, Pwnsyoo, these are general classifications you will want to keep in mind during your search:
Hardcore: These are players who tend to be PvE or PvP-progression oriented at all costs and would sell their grandmothers into human bondage if it got them a PTR kill. They are typically decked in the finest that high-end PvE or PvP have to offer and are sure to let you know it. Unfortunately they tend to be host to fairly volatile atmospheres and are among the most likely guilds to break up, because the truly hardcore are distinguished not by the correctness of their opinions but the sheer conviction behind them. The current "hardcore" guild on my server has broken up and reformed under the same name with an entirely different set of players no less than three times, and this is not by any means unusual. Hardcore guild applications are awash in legal disclaimers that strongly suggest the guild is being run by a trial attorney, health insurance claims analyst, or the Mob.
You hate these people. You despise their arrogance. You will also pump your fists and yell "Whee!" if any of them turn up in your premades. For younger players, this is a nice introduction to what the rest of us know as "the fundamental ironies of life."
Why you want to be in a hardcore guild: The chance to grind half the server under your Vindicator's-shod bootheel while learning to navigate a high-pressure, cutthroat environment that might be excellent training for, say, the local hoosegow or Yale Law.
Why you don't want to be in a hardcore guild: Human bondage is actually illegal nowadays and your grandmother will hunt you down eventually.
How this guild will break up: With the approximate energy and destructive force of a dying supernova.
Do you want to be there when it happens?: I hear Thailand is very nice this time of year.
Casual: What the rest of us claim to be, not because we may actually be casual but because we don't want to be called a bunch of basement-dwelling troglodytes (an insult usually reserved for the "hardcore" set). "Casual" guilds run the gamut from people who are actually hardcore but are terrified of being called hardcore, to people who log on once a month and are only vaguely aware that there are, in fact, levels beyond 30. No one knows what the hell "casual" really means. In fact, it basically means nothing. Caveat emptor.
Why you want to be in a casual guild: Depends on the guild. The "hardcore casuals" will indulge your desire to be hardcore without having to shell out for plane tickets to Asia. The "medium casuals" are among the most likely people to scoff and say, "It's just a game!" The "casual casuals" are among the least troublesome of all guildies because they're usually not there at all. Guilds that fall under the appellation of "casual" could literally be doing anything on a given night from farming Illidan to trying to get past Mr. Smite ("wtf he keeps improvising").
Why you don't want to be in a casual guild: Ever been on a Kara run with two people who know the boss fights cold, five people who sort of know them, and three people who are only there because another three didn't turn up?
How this guild will break up: In a firestorm of introspection and recrimination as the hardcore bully the guild into more serious raiding and then take off when little to no success is encountered, but not before the less hardcore will have quit in disgust over what the guild is turning into, leaving the least hardcore of all to log on a month later and type, "huh?" in /gchat.
Do you want to be there when it happens?: If by "there" you also mean Thailand.
Social: If you have absolutely no desire to get off your arse to do anything and want a ready excuse that "I didn't join this guild to have to raid/arena/BG/farm/quest/repair my gear!", then a social guild is probably the environment you're looking for. Because the guild is formed with no real purpose other than being a place to hang out, there usually aren't any demands made of its members beyond some sort of desultory sense of not screwing guildies over in too obvious a fashion. The social guild's quality is largely defined by what its members feel like talking about, so the social atmosphere can range from that of the Duluth Knitters' Circle to Jerry's Discount Crack Emporium.
Why you want to be in a social guild: These guilds are often started by real-life friends who want to be able to do things in the game together, and that can actually make for a pretty chill and welcoming environment. You're going to be left out of a certain number of discussions concerning what's going on in their town or who ran off with which milkman, but there's no denying a certain attraction to being the proverbial fly on the wall.
Why you don't want to be in a social guild: Having to hear about Auntie Mabel's gallstones in /gchat is -- I think I've made my point.
How this guild will break up: A lot of guilds break up for reasons that don't actually have much to do with the game itself, but in a purely social guild this is the only reason it's going to break up. You can take it as an article of faith that whatever's bugging the core members in real life will shortly manifest itself ingame as a writhing, poisonous mass of toxic drama that splashes out into Shattrath and carries off screaming bystanders.
Do you want to be there when it happens?: You were a voyeur before, so why stop now?
Role-Playing Guild: Our own David Bowers is more the expert on this, but that never stopped me from hanging up my traveling cloak, pulling up a tankard at the local inn, and regaling the eager crowd around me with a brilliantly constructed set of half-baked opinions that disintegrate into mindless rambling the more sloshed I get.
Why you want to be in a role-playing guild: Because you're on a damn RP server and you're getting tired of all the PvP-realm refugees flooding general and trade chat with Chuck Norris jokes and character names like Thundernuts (recently glimpsed on a dwarf warrior).
Why you don't want to be in a role-playing guild: In normal guilds you'll be screwed out of a raid slot because the GM hates you. In an RP guild, it's the GM's character who hates you and the GM can reasonably claim to be blameless. Trying to work out a sound strategy in order to exact revenge on both the character and the GM while maintaining a totally innocent façade will keep you up nights.
How this guild will break up: A Gnome warlock named Trump will conduct a merger and acquisition of your guild with his in order to further his own RP storyline, which pretty much consists of getting his revenge on the old GM -- oh, pardon me, the old GM's character -- for kicking him. That's how you do it, son.
Do you want to be there when it happens?: Well, if not, you can always rip off your robe and wizard cap and stomp off to join the --
Erotic Role-Playing Guild: Um.
Why you want to be in an erotic role-playing guild: (writer has hurriedly excused herself to go make a sandwich)
Why you don't want to be in an erotic role-playing guild: (ham and cheese on sourdough)
How this guild will break up: Well, what do you know! This part of the column is almost over already! Shame, really, shouldn't have taken so long eating that sandwich. Fortunately we already know the answer to this question.
Do you want to be there when it happens?: Oh hell yes. And for Christ's sake send the rest of us some details.
So. Simply put, all of your options suck. So what you need is to ask yourself which type of guild you absolutely and under no circumstances want to be a part of, versus what type you just don't want to have anything to do with. I realize that this question may occupy some of your time before you reach a decision, so we're going to take a break for a few days while you deliberate. When you get back, we will move on to Part II of "Guild Selection," which will include how to size up any potential guild, how to make the most of your application, and why you should try to avoid any guilds being run by people with a bank alt named Caymanislands.
This article has not been endorsed by anyone on the WoW Insider staff including its writer, who is off to go finish her sandwich now that she has regained her appetite.