Interacting within groups

06Nov07

Within online communities exist people who gather together to form groups – or guilds if you’re a gamer. Groups are generally the result of a joint interest beyond that which brought them together in the community in the first place. Many communities welcome groups as they increase the number of postings or bring together experts in a particular field. In video games such as World of Warcraft the formation of guilds is imperative in completing many of the given tasks. Although it brings rewards such as being able to defeat more enemies, being in such a group can lead to devastating results.

In November 2005, online gamer ‘Snowly’ died after playing World of Warcraft continuously for several days. It is said that she was a key member of a particular guild who were preparing for a big battle within the game. As a leader, Snowly felt much pressure was placed upon her… if the guild failed in their battle, she would feel personally responsible – despite it only being a world of virtual reality. This kind of behaviour can be linked to B.F. Skinner’s theories on group formation in that Snowly gained much reward from supporting others with tasks.

In one report regarding the death of Snowly, it is said that she had told friends “that she felt very tired”. This shows some degree of bystander apathy. Instead of continuing with the quest, her friends should have advised her to rest which would have saved her life. Hiding behind a gamer identity can affect feelings and responsibility for your own actions. Couple this with being part of a very large guild and nobody felt it was their place to speak up (“Why should I? Someone else will do it…”).

Following her death, 100’s of gamers gathered in a particular place within in the game for a virtual funeral. Although many of these will have been genuinely mourning her death, I think it is fair to say the vast majority will have only attended because of compliance… acting as expected within a group. As it was such a large guild many of the members may have never even come into contact with Snowly. If they did not attend, however, this would have sent out negative messages regarding their loyalty to the guild and so went along so they were not the odd one out.

Have you experienced being part of a group in an online community? What did you gain from it?

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