Epic Win: The Guild and Communities of Play
Andrea Braithwaite / University of Ontario Institute of Technology


The Knights of Good

The Knights of Good, from left to right: Bladezz, Vork, Zaboo, Codex, Clara, and Tink

Comedy web series The Guild follows a group of gamers who spend much of their time playing The Game – a thinly veiled version of the hugely successful massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) World of Warcraft.1 Created by and starring Felicia Day, The Guild has won numerous awards for excellence in web television, and a nod from Rolling Stone as one of the best web serials.2 As Day describes, she modeled the series on her own gaming experiences, to capture the appeal of MMOG’s social dimensions and to break apart some of the stereotypes about gamers: “So many interesting types of people were online gamers, and … most [of] the world was unaware of the whole sub-culture. So I decided to write something to show the world that gamers weren’t just guys in their 20s who lived in their mom’s basement”.3

Instead, the characters who make up The Guild are diverse — in age, profession, interests, race, and gender. Day, for instance, plays Codex, a self-conscious recluse and concert violinist. She games with Clara, a gregarious stay-at-home mom; costume design student Tink; IT guru Zaboo; the frugal and rule-oriented Vork; and self-proclaimed high school stud Bladezz. Together, they comprise a guild — a voluntary in-game coalition — called The Knights of Good.

These characters also form what Celia Pearce (2009) calls a community of play.4 This idea is an adaptation of communities of practice and communities of interest, in which a constellation of people gravitate toward each other based on a common interest, and create collaborative spaces of shared knowledge (see, e.g., Wegner-Trayner).5 Gaming, for instance, offers many opportunities to participate in these types of communities: forums and fan sites, theorycrafting, add-ons and modding, and creative production like fan art and machinima complement many people’s gaming experiences (see, e.g., Paul 2011; see also sites like forums.elitistjerks.com, curse.com, deviantart.com, and machinima.com).6

Pearce, meanwhile, uses communities of play to emphasize the playful and affective components of MMOGs: how “play practices warrant their own understanding of how communities form and are maintained”.7 Games generate social experiences that can influence how gamers understand and organize themselves as a group, and communities of play illustrate the emotional bonds that games can facilitate. From complex battles to complicated interpersonal dramas, communities of play encourage people to connect with and depend on others. As Pearce notes, “All of these behaviours suggest a level of emotional investment that may be as high as or even greater than investments in communities of either practice or interest”.8 Day attests to this, citing how much she missed her guild mates when she stopped playing regularly as part of the impetus for creating The Guild.9

Such attachments are apparent from The Guild’s first season, which culminates in The Knights of Good banding together to help Zaboo deal with his overbearing mother. When she unexpectedly shows up at a guild meeting, Codex encourages everyone to help: “The guild has to help Zaboo take down the scariest boss of all time: his mother.” Framing Zaboo’s mother as a boss — an MMOG term used to describe especially challenging foes that can only be defeated by a coordinated team — highlights how each of them is part of a larger whole. The Game, like many MMOGs, is structured around synergistic combat roles; the characters use this same approach when confronting Zaboo’s mother by adapting their communal play patterns to this real-life challenge.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSC2TMwyqzg#t=2176[/youtube]

The guild teams up to help Zaboo confront his mother, using skills they’ve honed in The Game

Clara goes on the offensive: “If you love him, just listen!” Tink, like the sniper she plays in-game, lobbies some biting remarks. When Zaboo’s mother deliberately starts to cry, the team is paralyzed until Bladezz — a stealthy rogue immune to such tactics — intervenes. Codex, the team’s priestess healer, attempts to restore Zaboo: “Zaboo, we’re here for you!” They successfully convince Zaboo’s mother that her son needs to live his own life, in his own way. The season ends with Codex reflecting on the importance of her guild mates: “I had this crazy surge of confidence that I could take on something that was bigger and tougher than anything I’ve taken on before because I had the guild as a back-up. It was pretty cool.”

In season three, the game shifts from being an analogy for real-life challenges to a shared space for facing them. Clara’s husband is frustrated by her gaming habits, and insists that they spend more time together. While worried about her marriage, Clara is loathe to give up gaming or the guild; her husband is invited to join (and named Mr. Wiggly) so they can game together. Mr. Wiggly has no experience with video games, and is an abysmal player. For Clara’s sake, the guild works hard to help him – Bladezz, for instance, spends hours giving him personal lessons.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wiggly’s skills barely improve. After inadvertently helping rival guild Axis of Anarchy track down The Knights of Good’s in-game location to stage a virtual assassination, Codex removes him from the guild. Clara, like she promised her husband, leaves as well. The Axis of Anarchy’s attacks continue, and Codex engineers a showdown to rally her guild mates and end the rivalry: a LAN party in a local cafe, pitting the two guilds against each other in a final confrontation. Mr. Wiggly is furious to find Clara participating; Clara reminds him of the madcap couple they used to be, and wonders when he lost his sense of adventure. Determined to prove that he is still that man, Mr. Wiggly commandeers Clara’s avatar. His inexperience is his greatest strength, and the opposition is entirely unprepared for his unorthodox attacks. “Sheer idiocy is my gaming speciality!” he proclaims, after defeating the other team’s toughest player. Buoyed by this, he tells Clara that he doesn’t hate The Game, he just wants it to play a more balanced role in their life together.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUUZVJgvwHc#t=3786[/youtube]

The Knights of Good arrive at the LAN party, prepared to face the Axis of Anarchy

This proves difficult, for The Game is in many ways another home for its players. In season five, The Knights of Good attend a gaming convention, where Codex overhears The Game’s creator Floyd Petrovski making plans to sell the property to a larger corporation, known for simplistic games bogged down in micro transactions. As “a social construction of shared meaning,” changing The Game means changing the community — their community.10

Distraught, Codex calls upon her guild mates to help: “We can’t party! The very fabric of our social existence is threatened!” As word of the potential buy-out travels through the convention, other gamers spring into action. En masse, they block Petrovski from taking the stage to formally announce the deal, and Codex pleads with him to reconsider: “You created something wonderful. Don’t allow it to be broken. It would break us apart”. The Game is a real space, made meaningful to its players by their shared actions within it: it’s where they have hurt and helped one other, worked up the nerve to try something new, confessed their dreams and their fears.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KABF_KEooo#t=5367[/youtube]

Codex pleads with Floyd Petrovski not to sell The Game to another company

These emotional investments are what the web series captures most effectively. MMOGs are, as The Guild dramatizes, deeply affective social worlds. A game’s community of play raises “the question of whose social fiction, precisely, it is”11. Is the story of The Game, like other MMOGs, scripted by developers and programmers? Or lived by gamers in the moments between boss fights? For The Knights of Good, at least, the most epic loot is each other.

Image Credits:
1. The Knights of Good, from left to right: Bladezz, Vork, Zaboo, Codex, Clara, and Tink

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. Day, Felicia. The Guild, 2007-2013. []
  2. Kushner, David. “TV on the Web: The Net’s Best Serial Shows.” Rolling Stone, 19 February 2009. []
  3. Holisky, Adam. “Interview with Felicia Day from ‘The Guild‘.” WoW Insider, 20 August 2007. []
  4. Pearce, Celia Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. []
  5. Wegner-Trayner, Etienne. “Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction.” Wegner-Trayner, n.d. []
  6. Paul, Christopher A. “Optimizing Play: How Theorycraft Changes Gameplay and Design.” Game Studies 11.2 (2011). []
  7. Pearce, 2009. p.5. []
  8. Pearce, 2009. p.138. []
  9. Holisky, Adam. “Interview with Felicia Day from ‘The Guild‘.” WoW Insider, 20 August 2007. []
  10. Pearce, 2009. p.52. []
  11. Ibid. p.31 []

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