This post is part of the Bloggy XMAS Countdown, bringing you blog posts on the topic of games and community through December to Christmas Day. You can thank Syl at MMO Gypsy for the idea and the advent calendar, and the rest of us for being weak enough to fall under spell when she suggests stuff like this 🙂
A big part of Christmas, for many people, is a chance to get together not just with their immediate family and friends who live nearby, but also to see some people they may not see quite so often. Christmas and New Year (and Thanksgiving for those in North America) are opportunities to travel, catch up with relatives and meet up once again with old friends scattered far and wide by the winds of time. If you play MMOs, unless you’re the sort of curmudgeon who insists on playing everything as a massively single player online game, then you’ve got another network of friends – guildies, ex-guildies, people you know from around your server or banter with every day on the forums. But how many of them have you met in the flesh?
I’m not a huge one on gaming get-togethers. In over a dozen years playing MMOs I’ve only been to three, each one different and worthwhile in its own way. The first one was a server-wide gathering. Those of you who played Dark Age of Camelot back in the old days will remember how much ‘realm pride’ was a thing and server communities were close-knit, pulling together not just for the war against the other realms but for massive PvE content and day-to-day levelling and crafting as well. The rest of you are probably bored with hearing us old farts go on about it. But of all the realms, on all the servers, I suspect Hibernia on Prydwen may have had the closest. We had one overarching alliance for all the main guilds (albeit in a loose confederation, with at least one ‘man who would be king’ shouted down the freedom-loving rabble). We had our own forums, in lieu of any official ones, which because they were restricted to known and vouched-for realm-mates were remarkably free of trolls (although we did have some pretty heated disagreements). Pretty much everyone knew everyone (and we knew who we thought was a loot-whoring S.O.B.). So it seemed only right and proper to arrange a meet-up, and (Prydwen being an English language European server) London seemed the most central place to meet. Easy enough for me, although others came from far afield – all over the UK, and at least one from Norway. We met, we drank, we talked and even though we exchanged real names it still seemed natural to keep calling each other by our in-game names. After all, this is how we knew each other, and this is how we mattered to those people. The staff of Belgo must have wondered why that bunch of fifty or so people were yelling “HIBERNIA!!!” at the top of their voices whilst knocking back rounds of schnapps, but we didn’t care. We were pledging our allegiance to something we had in common – something real to us.
The second get-together was of my main World of Warcraft guild, back in the days before the Burning Crusade. The guild had started as a bunch of co-workers who later added various waifs and strays such as myself, so the guild had a very specific geographic centre in Southend, a coastal town east of London. Maybe not quite as easy to get to for me as the city, but certainly doable. What can I say? Like the last gathering we met, we drank (we’re British, heavy alcohol consumption is a standard part of our social ritual), we talked about the game and our guild-mates who couldn’t make it. Some of their ears might have been burning, but this was back when WoW raiding was still 40 man and actually relatively casual. The hunter who just sat there spamming Steady Shot was something to joke about over beer, not a deadly threat to our raid progression who had to be \gkicked forthwith. Again, we had something in common, with our war stories of the Molten Core and Blackwing’s Lair, and I recall a very pleasant evening, a very late taxi back to my hotel and a somewhat bleary-eyed journey home.
The final get-together was centred around a game rather than a specific guild or server. When the RIFT community team announced on their forums that they were in London and offering free beer and phat loot to anyone who could make it to a specific pub one evening, well, how could I refuse? All it was going to cost me was the time to travel across London on the Underground during evening rush hour (actually OK, maybe that does count as an epic quest) and the social embarrassment involved in walking into a room full of people who I don’t actually know, as at that point I was guildless and none of my real life friends were playing RIFT. Again – I’m English, social embarrassment is a big thing for us. But this didn’t matter once I got there, because people got to talking and guess what? We had something in common. So once again I met people, drank, talked games and left with a medium size RIFT T-shirt (thankfully, made of stretchy material) and the code for a Hooty pet owl that earned me a few admiring whispers in-game.
Insofar as there’s a moral to this rambling tale – spend Christmas with your loved ones. But in the New Year, think about maybe meeting up with some of the faces behind the avatars. Even if you’re an introvert (like myself) and don’t meet strangers all that easily – it’s not nearly as scary as it might seem, because you do actually know many of these people already. and even the ones you don’t know, you have something in common, and that’s really all you need to break the ice.