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The Guild Counsel: What the WoW speed dating video really tells us about gaming

Karen Bryan

Over on YouTube, amid the sea of boring, mindless, drivel-filled videos are a few gems that capture worldwide attention and have become iconic. Numa Numa, the evolution of dance, and of course, Charlie bit my finger are all so well-known that they've become part of the lexicon. So when I watched the World of Warcraft speed dating video this week, I couldn't help but think that this video is iconic in its own right. In that short snippet, we can learn a whole lot about the state of gaming and a hint of our future. Read on to see why I think it's more than just a cute conversation.

We've come a long way

First off, this video shows how far we've come since the early days of MMOs. Compared to other forms of media, MMOs and video games in general are still in a state of infancy, probably just approaching the terrible twos. But if you think back to those early years, the demographics were different from today's. We would never have seen a video like this in 1999 because gamers were overwhelmingly young males. Today, there are many more female gamers, a growing number of kid-gamers, and even aging communities of older gamers, so it's really not a surprise that two relatively normal-looking young adults (I don't get the spiky black hair, but that's my old age showing) might find themselves sharing a conversation about World of Warcraft at a speed dating contest because we're having those conversations with our kids, our grandparents, and many more of our friends than we were 15 years ago.

Recognizability of players/guilds

Second, and I think this is really exciting, is that players and guilds have become known worldwide in gaming circles. We've seen hints of it here and there, but what we're seeing is the rise of MMOs as a spectator sport. People who play MMOs aren't just playing the game; they're following the feats of the best players and guilds, similar to a kid reading the box scores of her favorite sports teams. Gamers are passionate about their own accomplishments, but they're also becoming passionate about favorite guilds or players who are at the apex of success. When the guy explains how he was in Method, the young girl's reaction is one of surprise and admiration. Now, I'm sure there's a good chance that others who recognize the name might react with disdain, but that's just further proof that his guild is well-known and that players have formed an opinion of his guild, just as a baseball fan might love the Red Sox and hate the Yankees.

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Pro-gaming tournaments are gaining in popularity, but you don't usually see MMOs included. That's beginning to change, and we're going to see more of that as MMO shooters like PlanetSide 2 and Firefall lend themselves to tournament-friendly competition. I think that's a good thing for the state of MMOs because the best players often are the best at evangelizing the game and bringing in new players, and that changes the way we not only play, but view, MMOs.

We're not there yet

I'm sure the commentators were playing it up for dramatic effect, but there was a sincere, dismissive contempt for the conversation between the two young gamers. As far as we've come, gaming is still not socially accepted, and that was clear from the reaction of the two announcers, who responded to the cute moment with "What the hell was that all about?" and "No idea."

We're not there yet, but it's partially our fault because we're largely the ones who keep gaming from being an accepted part of mainstream culture. Non-gamers tend to view gamers generally as antisocial, but we're not doing much to fight the stereotype when we readily accept certain types of behavior and language as "part of the game." The main problem is that too many gamers assume that if you can do something in your favorite game and get away with it, it's OK to do. We're so dependent on GMs setting the rules in game and on forums that we don't try to police ourselves.

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Sports stories are filled with news about players, coaches and even spouses doing things that, while allowed, really aren't acceptable, and they end up getting heaps of criticism as a result. Yet gamers have a completely different attitude, an almost sheep-like acceptance of antisocial behavior, simply because it's not expressly forbidden by those who make and manage the games. Sure, you're technically allowed to impersonate a female player to sweet-talk loot from another player, and you'll probably get away with cleaning out the guild bank and surreptitiously disbanding the guild on a whim, just as you're allowed to post cruel comments on gaming forums with lax moderation. But as long as that happens, we'll continue to see gaming conversations met with the same dismissive reaction from non-gamers that we saw in the video.

Don't get me wrong; I'm the last one to call for more limits on what we're allowed to do in games. On the contrary, I'd love to see games give us more freedom to build, to create, and to interact without worrying about the impending hailstorm of flying phalli. But that won't happen until what's acceptable behavior in-game more closely mirrors what's acceptable out of game. Gaming has come a long way, and it's settling in nicely with the rest of our leisurely activities and hobbies. Personally, I'd love to see more videos of gaming conversations in typically non-gaming settings because I want to see gaming become socially accepted as a cultural medium. But there are two choices for gamers right now: One is to accept antisocial behavior as part of the game, and the other is to game with a greater sense of decency. The one that wins out will determine how gaming is seen down the road.

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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