The Guild Counsel: Why The Raid is worth seeing

Karen Bryan
K. Bryan|08.11.11

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The Guild Counsel: Why The Raid is worth seeing
The Raid's Double Dragons
Over the weekend, Gary Gannon from Gamebreaker.TV hosted a unique event in the world of MMOs: a film premiere, complete with fancy suits and ties and even an afterparty (albeit in the form of a chat room). The film is The Raid, which followed the World of Warcraft guild Double Dragons as it worked through the raid content from Wrath of the Lich King. There has been a lot of feedback from those who saw the premiere, but it's been decidedly mixed so far. Furthermore, viewers had such strong reactions to certain parts of the documentary that director Kevin Michael Johnson made a post on the site to try to address some of the criticism.

But is the mixed review simply the cynical gamer at his best, or is it legit? In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll take a closer look at The Raid, and I'll explain why I think it's definitely worth seeing.

A lot of the feedback has been focused so far on the starring guild, Months Behind (although Double Dragons seems to be a smaller chunk of the guild that the movie focused on), but little has been said of the three commentators who participated in the project: Edward Castronova, Jesse Schell, and Bonnie Nardi. All three have done a lot of research on virtual worlds, and each helped to give some perspective on why this guild and raid content were so significant. Not only do they provide a lot of valuable insight into raiding, but they also discuss the relevance of online communities in general. Viewers are given a primer into some concepts that relate to MMOs, such as "achiever," the "magic circle," and "problematic media usage," terms that are understood in academic circles but are probably not well-known among gamers. Castronova, who is known for his research in virtual worlds and their economies, compared raiding to an intense sport and equated the downing of the Lich King to a World Cup Championship victory. Schell, who has been involved in the creation of several well-known childrens MMOs, described raiding a type of hunting party. All three explained that while there is a certain stigma attached to raiding, there's a lot more to it than just pushing buttons on a keyboard.

Edward Castronova
Despite the valuable commentary, the guild is the star of the film, and based on the feedback, it is a very polarizing group of players. The thing is, I get it, and I get them, although there are lots of things they do in their guild that I would never do and would never encourage others to do when running a guild. But I can completely relate to their journey through Icecrown Citadel, and as a raider, I can identify with the ups and downs they faced along the way. There are also some subtle aspects of their guild that come out in the film. Much attention has been paid to their use of language, but any time they were troubleshooting a raid encounter, chat was calm, quiet, and professional, which is typical of successful raiding guilds. In-game footage combined polished, high-quality video with more rough, unedited clips, complete with the UI and game windows. Their real motivation, and devotion, was not to the game but to their friends in the guild. Also, anyone who's raided will recognize that rush of excitement and the cheers from taking down a difficult mob. But probably most poignant was the testimony from Curv, who right before our eyes seemed to be trying to come to grips with the amount of his playtime and realizing he might need to cut back.

Curv of Double Dragons
Switching gears a bit, there was a lot to like (and dislike) about the guild in the film, but it's up to the viewer to draw his own conclusions. What's key is that several important issues were brought up in the film, and while they were all treated superficially, this was the first time that we've seen them all presented together with no real bias. The big question, of course, is what exactly is raiding, which Castronova and Schell explain with great insight. But the film goes beyond that to touch on other areas that come up in MMOs in general, regardless of raiding or not. It almost seems as if each member personifies one common issue today in games. Fearwards and Ashleyriott explain what it's like to be a female gamer in a male-dominated world. Immuneone touches on how gamers deal with the task of trying to explain their online activities to real-life friends. Curv grapples with the question of how much gaming is too much? Malsynth and Lore discuss whether raiding gives you leadership and organization skills. And Greyhammer definitely addresses the issue of colorful language in chat.

There are several questions that are left unanswered in the film. First, we know a little about these people when they are playing, but we know practically nothing about them outside of the game. By neglecting to explore the players' real lives and individual personalities, the show ensured that we only get to know them through their characters, which falls back into the stereotype of the typical MMO gamer who only exists in-game. Who are they, what brought them together, and what can the film reveal about their similarities and differences? Second, what happened after that last encounter? Where is the guild today, and how did it fare? Lastly, and this is probably the biggest question, why did the film end up being about one seemingly small guild when there were plenty of short videos showing other players from other guilds? Director Johnson did answer this on his site, but it really looks like the final project was a lot smaller than the one originally planned.

Even if you disagree with Johnson's portrayal of raiding, this film is worth seeing and worth the time and money to produce because it offers an important snapshot of the state of MMO endgame, and MMO players to some extent, in 2010-2011. Johnson has said that the target audience was non-gamers, but the audience that will appreciate this film most hasn't even been born yet. The virtual worlds of the 1990s and beyond have a lot of history, but there hasn't been much attempt to record it outside of things like forums and guild sites. Unfortunately, the survival of such records usually depends on the whim and desire of their owners to keep the site going, and too often, we lose those sources of written record. Yet recorded history is what gives civilizations, both real and virtual, their validity. Right now, those who have seen the premiere are busy debating whether the guild in the film is really any good and whether the colorful language really represents gamers. But what viewers should be asking themselves is what does raiding offer and where does it still fall short? Overall, I think the film does a decent job of looking at this subject, and I hope that it leads to other projects that continue where The Raid leaves off.

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.
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