Between 2009 and 2013 I played World of Warcraft, and I played it pretty hard. There were a bunch of reasons for that, and they evolved over time. I started because after university most of my friends from school who had dispersed from Yorkshire to far-flung corners of the UK, leaving me with just a couple of friends nearby. One played WoW and introduced me to it, and I soon overtook him in the number of hours played and progress through the game.
WoW for the uninitiated
One of the things to know about WoW as it was then is the investment of time needed to play at the highest possible level. First, you have to level up (from 1 to 70 at the time), a process where you were drip-fed skills and abilities to help you learn your class in a staggered way. This took roughly 100 to 150 hours of play time to complete, at which point you could access endgame content. This included dungeons, heroic dungeons and raids of various sizes and difficulties.
A few weeks after hitting level 70 I ended up in a 25-man raid guild which was identified as a casual raid guild. This meant that they only raided for five hours on two evenings per week – Wednesdays and Saturdays. This was 10 hours of required raid time, plus the time needed to farm for consumables and gear. And this was casual. The nature of the content released by Blizzard (WoW’s publisher) meant that there were some pretty serious logistical needs for raid leaders.
Managing a raid guild
First off, you need to coordinate 30 people (some reserves were always needed just in case of technical problems), making sure that they’re available at the right time, in the right spec for the fights at hand, as well as being knowledgeable enough and sufficiently well-geared to do well.
To do this, we had class leads who would spend time helping the other members of their class (hunters, paladins, shaman, etc) were geared and ready to play. We had a guild forum where guides were posted about strategies for the bosses on progress raids (never before killed), a loot tracker to make sure that loot was distributed evenly to guild members and a calendar of guild events that included raids, social events and fun runs through old content.
Playing at this level became, in many ways, a second job. We got a bunch of server firsts, and a handful of EU firsts (including the first kill of Lord Marrowgar, the first boss of Icecrown Citadel, on the evening of the patch release), through our dedication to the game, and increasingly, each other as a guild. The people I was playing with filled the gaps left by my old school friends who disappeared after university, and we grew pretty close. More than once, we met up IRL (in real life), though always with a laptop in tow so that we could play together.
Sadly a bunch of this stuff from 2009 onwards isn’t online anymore, but here’s a video I put together in 2011 to showcase my custom user interface:
This was how we chose to spend our free time, and for the most part it was a deeply positive thing. We would talk either through text chat or increasingly over Ventrilo VoIP, and conversations would always start with the standard third place openers (“how was your day?”, “how are you doing?”) and invariably shift towards the game or the guild.
We were a pretty eclectic bunch in one sense – a diverse range of ages, jobs & locations (though limited to Europe due to Blizzard’s licensing structure: UK & Ireland, Denmark, Sweden & Spain being the most represented countries in-guild), and entirely stereotypical in another: 99% blokes, and if Netflix had existed at the time we would have had identical viewing histories… we were geeks, and proud of it.
Some things became part of the fabric of the place – we had the gung-ho Exo (our very own Leroy Jenkins) who would charge headlong into a boss fight if the explanation of how it was going to unfold was taking too long, Wini the delicate healer who would almost always die more than once in any given fight, and Ronan the 12-year-old Irish lad whose immortal question “Who’s the captain of your place?” had us all totally confused until he followed up with “Y’know, ours is Bertie Ahern. Who’s the captain of your place?”
When we met for the first time, I wore a t-shirt that had “who’s the captain of your place?” on it, and yes – of course – it was printed in the WoW font.
WoW as my third space
Taking a look at WoW, and my experience of it specifically, as a third space was a pretty interesting experience.
|Neutral ground||There is a fluidity to the membership of a guild - some people came and went because we weren't their kind of people, some people came and stayed because we were.|
|Leveler||I know some of the younger members really valued the guild because they were treated the same as everyone else. We had some 17 year olds and some 35 year olds, all working together & treating each other as equals.|
|Conversation is main activity||While the game had to be good for us to want to play, it was the social element that kept us there.|
|Accessibility & accommodation||One of the reasons I stopped was my eventual move to St Helena, where internet connectivity made it basically impossible to play as I once did. Barring technical outages (or server updates), it was always there.|
|The regulars||We had a few subgroups of regulars; the officers, who ran the guild for everyone, the core raid team (a group of 10 people who would coordinate the rest) and the wider, social members. At our peak, we had 400+ members, with an average of 20-30 online at any given time, and a core group of 5 online consistently.|
|A low profile||I'm not sure that this one applies particularly well - while WoW is now considered pretty old hat, at the time it was the cutting edge MMO.|
|Mood is playful||A key to getting on in the guild was a sense of humour. We were all about the lols, before lulz were a thing.|
|A home away from home||It really did become a place I felt completely at ease. I knew the game inside out, I knew the people I was playing with pretty intimately, and knew my place among that group.|