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The Guild Counsel: Important graduation advice for gamers

Karen Bryan

Summer's almost here, but before we hit the beach and grab some sun, it's time for graduation. Everywhere I go, I see cars with "2012" colorfully written across windows and young adults sporting mortar boards. Graduation is a culminating point in a young person's education, and lately, I've felt as if I've received quite an education through the years playing MMOs and managing guilds. Interestingly enough, some of the advice that's given to graduates applies very well in our MMO experience.

In this week's Guild Counsel, let's look back at a few famous graduation speeches to see how some sage advice on entering the "real world" offers valuable lessons for our time in the virtual ones.

Define your own success

In 2009, Ellen DeGeneres gave a speech to Tulane University in which she said, "As you grow, you'll realize the definition of success changes." For guilds and players, this quote holds true, as we've seen an evolution in MMOs through the years. Originally, success was pretty much solely defined by your ability to kill things, be they creatures or other players. Today, success can be any number of things, and players even come up with their own objectives in game. They can range from constructing something impressive in game to collecting player titles to attaining unusual achievements to reaching locations that were not supposed to be accessible to players. We define our own success, and by extension, we define what's fun for us in game. Hopefully, the industry can keep up!

Smile, even if you're in the muck

In 1996, Kermit the Frog gave a commencement speech to students at Southampton College. While some students questioned whether it was appropriate for a puppet to give such an important address, he did give some helpful advice when he said, "Ribbit-ribbit-kneedeep-ribbit, which means, may success and a smile always be yours, even when you're knee-deep in the sticky muck of life." It's not exactly the most profound statement, but from a talking frog, it's not bad. I think we're all able to recall moments when we've struggled in game and had another player or guildmate lighten the mood with a funny joke or upbeat comment. For guilds that have weathered the storms and endured through the years, staying positive has been key.

You are not special

This was a recent quote from a high school graduation speech by David McCullough Jr, son of the famous historian. His point was that if everyone is special, then no one is, and I can actually see this applying to MMOs in two ways. First, we've all seen countless players who define themselves through their avatars' success, and we've given the obligatory eyeroll afterward. I respect what some people are able to do in video games because it isn't easy, and not everyone can PvP, blow up the DPS parse, or hold aggro on a dozen mobs at once. But there are some players who see themselves as larger-than-life heroes because of their in-game accomplishments, and that's a bit unreasonable.

I think the statement also applies to MMOs general. Our games have changed a lot through the years, and we see less and less in-game content that's intended to be failed by vast majority of players. Quite a bit of the current content that's out there for players involves time more than it involves skill, and it's not really a question of whether or not you can do it but of whether or not you care to put the time in that's required. In other words, "timesink" has replaced "challenge," and everyone emerges with a fairly similar experience. It's no longer "whether" you'll hit level 50; it's a question of how long it will take. And decent gear is really dependent on how many dailies or how much faction you need to grind. Some MMOs have even gone that extra step of attaching a cost to being special. Want unique armor or a cool mount? Then head to the cash shop, plunk down some cash, and you're good to go.

MMOs have allowed us all to be special, and as a result, none of us is. The tough part is that it's hard to assign blame because players obviously want to "get the cool loot," and studios want us to be happy so we stick around and keep playing (and paying!). You have to wonder, though, whether it will hurt the industry in the long run. It's a nice feeling to run around in sparkly armor and ride an impressive mount. But it doesn't feel so special once you've crossed paths with the dozens of other players who look just like you.

Be delusional

Conan O'Brien delivered the commencement speech to the Harvard class of 2000 and finished by saying, "As proof that when all else fails, you always have delusion." Let's face it: When it comes to MMOs, we're all a bit delusional at times. Like that time you were level 10 and decided you could take on a level 25 epic monster. Or the time you felt you could safely cross the mob-filled high-end zone. Or those times when you were sure your group could handle a 10-pull. I've seen robe-wearing Priests insist that they can take on master assassin PvPers, and yes, I was that Ranger who convinced the raid to let me tank a dragon. One of the best things about MMOs is that we can be delusional, and most of the time, it's led to some of our best in-game stories and memories.

Wear sunscreen

For the longest time, I wasn't aware that the famous Kurt Vonnegut speech wasn't actually written by Vonnegut, nor was it a speech. It was actually a column written in 1997 by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune. I've also never really understood why that tidbit of advice has become so well-known, but I do know gamers, and if there's any group of people that needs to heed that advice, it's us!

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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