By: Designer Dragon
or, How to Make Your Guild/Town/Roleplay Group/Tavern StrongerDesigner Dragon, May 12th, 1998
In all the talk of what a virtual world administrator or designer can do or cannot do in terms of setting the tone and enforcing etiquette within a virtual community, we've sort of left behind the community itself. So today, let's talk about things that you, your friends, your township, your roleplay buddies, or your guild can do in order to be become a stronger (and more fun!) virtual world community.
The first thing if of course communication. If your guild doesn't already have a web page, a bulletin board, and an email newsletter or mailing list, you are missing out on the most important factor in building community ties. A very good tactic is to choose the person who is always first with the gossip and put them in charge of running the newsletter. The great advantage to a newsletter or email list is that it isn't passive--it seeks out the community member and it draws them in.
Make a point of showcasing the contributions of members in whatever forum you have, be it web page or newsletter or in your in-game tavern. If you have a regular who is a good roleplayer, encourage them to put their stories in in-game books you keep laying around the tavern. If you have someone artistic, try to get a new character portrait on your township's web page every week. Song lyric recitals in the taverns or in the town square can be great events and you can also make them competitive, if you wish. Until such a day as UO supports compising music and drawing pictures within the game (which is indeed a design goal), you'll have to do this externally, but you can still provide pointers to web pages from in-game books and house signs.
If you're maintaining a web page, it's a great idea to build up more than just a roster. A roster in itself does not present your group to others very well. A roster wih character histories--be they RP histories or not--will create a shared history for the group, and help newcomers get into the context of the community. If you want to foster this, try giving out awards within your group for the best profile or best addition to the "group history" that week. So much of the great roleplay in UO is told only in ephemeral media such as the web boards, when it really needs to be building up and enriching the context of the world. (Hey you guys over on the Crossroads of Britannia Tales board--do you make a point of making an in-game version of each of your poems and stories?)
And of course, once there is a stronger sense of a group to belong to, some form of "tribal marker" helps a great deal. UO guilds picked up on this very early, with color-coordinated outfits. Now the guild system supports displaying guild abbreviations over the name as well. Make use of both of these as much as you can--even if it is just a single spot of color on one small piece of clothing--because they serve as instant identification of friends and foes alike. If you wish to go further, create ritual greetings, passwords, etc, the equivalent to "secret handshakes."
You definitely need to have functions of leadership within the group. But as UO groups differ significantly in organization and in type, I can't really describe too many specifics. One of the great joys of UO is seeing the different social structures that have developed. Whatever structure you end up with, however, it is important to somehow mark out the people who have leadership roles. The guild system allows for the use of titles, of course, but for those groups not suited to guilds, perhaps an item of clothing that only that one person usually wears could serve as an identifier. A great way to discover leadership potential is to ask people to help with the recruitment and mentoring of new members.
It's really important for your group to have a mission statement, a code of conduct, a reason for being, and a method for resolving conflicts. A lot of guilds fall apart because of unclear chains of command, differences over the core philosophy of the guild, and other such problems which can usually be avoied with a strong leadership structure and a strong group identity. You do however also need to make sure that your structure can evolve. Provide mechanisms for your members to change the rules.
Something that is extremely valuable, as those who run Fight Nights know, is periodic events. If you have a guild that plays regularly, or a tavern that is open every night, and you're not doing something like this, you are missing out on a great opportunity. Some of the perfect things to do:
- Taverns can hold recitals, pun championships, board game tourneys, storytelling, concerts, etc, on specific nights each week. There's a reason why bars do this in the real world! An open mike poetry recital every Thursday night can be a powerful draw.
- Combat-oriented guilds should make a point of specific adventures on specific nights. There are any number of activities a guild can do that can work, from training sessions to competitions to more complex things. There is a guild that organizes "running man" competitions, where one person is designated as the "prey" and the rest of the guild must hunt him down and kill him. If he lives out the time limit, then he gets a prize.
- Townships can try for weekly trade fairs, parades, civic events such as elections, town meetings, candidacy speeches and the like. As many have discovered, communications crystals make for a very effective PA system.
Alongside this, rituals are very important. UO guilds have come up with some really great initiaion rituals in the past (staged lighting of candles in order in a dark room, inspection of uniforms, ritual speeches...). But there can be many more forums than just that. Consider the Beefeater rituals at the Tower of London, with keys presented at a certain time and so on. There are things like that that can be done for townships, and so on. Be sure to have a ritual to confirm the new mayoralty once an election is over! And if you are able to this far, try having crafting guild initiations in your town when a community member reaches some skill mastery goal that they had been working towards.
A very important ritual if of course holidays. Celebrate them! Don't feel that you should be limited to only the real world ones, either. There are some holidays defined in UO that show up as events on the calendar. But you are not limited to observing only those.
Nor should you, even if you are diehard roleplayers, only acknowledge in-game events. A birthday is an opportunity for a rite of passage too--throw a party when someone's player gets married, has an anniversary, or has a birthday. Give in-game gifts as well as your best wishes out-of-game. Any roleplayer worth his salt can come up with a fictional reason that can coincide with the real world date.
These are just some ideas for ways to make your particular group stronger. As your group, guild, town, tavern, or whatever grows, be sure to publicize its existence, and send in your events and major news to the news sites and to the official Events Calendar. The strength of virtual worlds lies in the interaction, and people need to know about you to interact with you in any meaningful way. Start up webrings of like-minded sites, and if you can, offer to host character pages for group members. And form ties with other groups both on your shard and elsewhere, as you may be able to share ideas and resources.
It takes some work, but you'll find that the ties you form are very real, and that the fun factor goes way, way up. Enjoy.
A Story About a Tree
By: Designer Dragon
Designer Dragon, May 5th, 1998
I'd like to tell you a story about a tree.
This tree grows in a different virtual world than Ultima Online--one of the many text muds that exist on the Internet. It grows in a Garden of Remembrance, and the ground around it is littered with flowers and boxes of chocolates and pieces of paper with heartfelt poems written on them. And there is a plaque there as well--"In memory of Karyn," it reads.
The story I'd like to tell is the story of that plaque and that person, someone I never met.
Karyn first logged on to that virtual world quite some time ago. She was from Norway. She kept coming back, and brought friends with her--some of whom did not speak English very well, but for whom she served as an interpreter. She made friends. Eventually she ran a website all about that virtual world, and posted on that site pictures of herself, where all could see she had a lovely smile.
As her ties to the world grew, she started a guild. She called it the Norse Traders, and with a lot of hard work, she got it off the ground and developed it into one of the most popular and well-known guilds in the game. It was a merchants' guild that also adventured together, and pretty soon the folks involved had made good friendships.
In March of this year, some of those friends started to notice that they hadn't seen Karyn in a while. You know how it goes in the online world--people don't leave, they just fail to show up, usually, and you never know what happened to them. But in this case there was her website to go to. So people went looking for Karyn.
A day later the news filtered out across the bulletin boards, via emails, and eventually onto the welcome message when you first logged in: Karyn was dead. She had died in a head-on collision while test-driving a new car. And it had happened two months before, in January, and none of us had known.
Her parents knew that she had friends on the Internet--they didn't quite understand what she did online, or who those friends were, but they knew that there were people out there somewhere who might want to learn the news. It took them some time to find her webpage, and to learn how to put a message up. But they did it, and they attached news items about the car crash, in Norwegian.
The outpouring of grief on the virtual world was immediate. People who had not logged on in months heard about it from the game's email newsletter. A memorial service was organized. And eventually, a Garden of Remembrance was created, and a tree planted in Karyn's memory. Players made the pilgrimage to the garden in order to leave tokens of their grief. Code was changed so that items left in this manner became permanent parts of the world.
Throughout all the events, however, there ran a common thread. People could not get a handle on feeling grief for someone they had never actually met. They could not quite understand feeling a deep sense of loss over someone they "just played a game with." When describing their loss, they had to resort to "I once formed a party with her and we went into a dungeon." They couldn't quite express the feeling that a member of their community was gone.
And it was that sense--the Norse Traders had fallen apart since January, and now they knew why. Because Karyn, the person at the center of it, was not there. In a very real sense, they came to realize that the strange unease they had felt about hearing of her death with a two-month time lag might have originated in the fact that the loss to the community was actually felt when she stopped logging in--not when the news finally came.
In the end, that garden and that tree served not only as a memorial to a well-loved and much-missed person, but as a marker of a moment, a moment in which the players of an online game realized that they weren't "playing a game." That the social bonds that they felt within this "game" were Real.
There's a children's book, The Velveteen Rabbit, about a stuffed plush rabbit which desperately wishes to become Real. And in the end, the love of the little boy whose toy it is makes this come true.
In the end, the social bonds of the people in a virtual environment make it more than just a game. They make it Real. Sometimes it takes a moment of grief to make people realize it, and sometimes people just come to an awareness over time, but the fundamental fact remains: when we make a friend, hurt someone's feelings, suffer a loss, or accomplish something in an online world, it's real. It's not "just a game."
Ultima Online was designed with a basic philosophy in mind: that we were providing an online world, one that could live and breathe and develop in new and unpredictable ways. We wanted to provide scope for players to develop online communities in a way that no other online world had done. It is amazing and gratifying to see some of the results today: volunteer police forces, roleplayer taverns, small-scale Olympics, and fledgling forms of government. And yes, sadly, a few places where funerals have been held, for in any community of this size, there will be losses.
The thing that we should never lose sight of is that we, by participating in this new sort of community, are breaking new ground that will undoubtedly prove important over the next decade, as the Internet acquires more significance in business, education, socializing, and other areas outside of gaming. The dilemmas that players of UO wrestle with every day in the form of how reputation should work, what to do about harassment, etc, are the key problems of virtual reality for the next several years. And we are only able to tackle them because you, the citizens of this virtual Britannia, are more than just players--you are a self-aware community that reaches beyond "game" and into the Real.
I am not going to let anyone tell me that the Garden of Remembrance isn't Real, or that the grief we all felt over Karyn's death was not Real. And I hope that UO players aren't going to let anyone tell them that their experiences within UO aren't Real either, that it's "just a game." It may be for some people, but we all know better, don't we? For Karyn's sake, and also for our own.