Monday, June 9, 2008

"The Barkada That Plays Together, Stays Together!" A Nine Moons column post

The seed for this column came from a slightly panicky email I received from a good friend of mine, who is a writer attached to the Creative Writing department at the university where we both studied:

I’ve been asked ... to write an article about online communities, and in looking around the web I realized that MMORPGs [Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games] have their own community of players called guilds.

Now, since you’re the only hard-core player I know, I was wondering if you could help explain to me how a guild is set-up and how having a guild affects game-play.

The comment on my gaming habits notwithstanding, haha, I gave him what help I could. Afterwards, I found myself continually returning to the topic and the answers I gave him:

Most MMORPGs encourage players to form a group, commonly called a “party” – as in adventuring party – in order to help each other reach desired goals within the game: to kill monsters, to find items that are either tedious to collect or extremely rare to find, to venture into new areas, etc. However, on the whole parties tend to be a temporary arrangement, and once the group’s goals are accomplished, the former party members often go their separate ways.

What happens when players want to have a more permanent grouping? That’s where the “guild” system comes in.

In the Philippines’s online gaming communities, the word “guild” is commonly used to refer to permanent player groupings. This is partly because that was the term used for that particular game mechanic by the first MMORPG introduced in the country, Ragnarok Online (RO). Other MMORPGs have different names for this permanent player grouping, such as “faction” in Granado Espada (GE), or “clan” in Perfect World (PW).

Overall, though, the word “guild” seems to be more commonly used, as is the case with World of Warcraft (WoW), currently the world’s biggest MMORPG with over 10 million players worldwide.

Many games also allow guilds to enter into treaties or alliances with other guilds, making the permanent player groupings even bigger!

There are any number of reasons to band together in a guild: your barkada gets together in a single online game to keep up the friendship. A group of the strongest players in a game band together in order to stay at the top. Crafting / merchant characters band together to share resources and discuss the prices of the items they create and sell.

And sometimes it’s just plain better to be in a guild. Many games include mechanics that not only allow but require guilds to engage each other in wars over disputed territories, or to meet each other in designated battle arenas. In some games, both happen at the same time! So you better believe there’s competition between guilds in a game, both to gain new recruits and to further improve / strengthen themselves.

And then, of course, this being the Philippines, here’s the best part of being in a guild: meeting up! Eye-Balls, or EBs, are practically de rigeur for all-Pinoy guilds and gaming groups, and they often get together, not only to meet the new members, but also – and more importantly – to have offline fun.

Here’s my story as a gamer who prefers to play in a guild, and I’m sure that if you play computer or console games, you may have experiences similar to mine.

I’ve been part of a barkada that became a guild; and I’ve also experienced the opposite, joining a guild that took me in as part of the real-life barkada. This is where all the pictures come in!

Ragnarok Online: the Vikings
These guys were originally friends of my boyfriend. I’d been hanging out with them for a short time before signing up for Ragnarok Online, and becoming a member of their guild. Initially, there were about two or three other girls who were also in the group, but eventually they drifted away from the game and from the group, leaving me as the lone female.

The Vikings, denizens of Iris server, were a “Boss Guild”: a guild that specialized in hunting the biggest, baddest monsters in RO. On weekends, we’d all get together at an Internet café and spend hours finding, and then trying to take out, the bosses and their attendant mobs. We had a designated leader who outlined the strategy and tactics required to take out each boss, and gave us commands to do certain helpful things such as heal injured comrades, protect the more vulnerable ones, and so on.

And after a night of boss hunting we’d go out to have breakfast together and kill a few more hours, just shooting the breeze and having fun out in the real world.

I still remember all the jokes we cracked about me having a posse of bodyguards: it’d be way too early in the morning, I’d be the only girl, and I’d be walking along with eight or nine guys surrounding me!

The group has since left RO and gone their separate ways in the world – our leader now works in Hungary, dear God – but we all still consider ourselves a barkada, and the remaining members still go out on the weekends from time to time to play computer games, although they’ve all switched over to Defense of the Ancients (DotA) now. Doesn’t matter – we still play together!

Granado Espada: From Æphemeral to WrathOfGod to Takhisis
After quitting RO, I bounced around from online game to online game, but never found reason to stick with anything until Granado Espada came along. The game’s unique mechanics and lush visuals made me stick around; and eventually a friend invited me into his faction.

I rose to become the vice-leader of Æphemeral, helping to lead and manage an international membership. But some time after I joined, the faction leader faded out of the game, and eventually the members were dispersed.

In order to fulfill a task I was doing in the game community at the time, I joined one of the strongest and most renowned factions in Cervantes server, WrathOfGod. Their specialties included both boss raids and the Colony Wars, GE’s version of the territorial conflicts mechanic. I spent many Sunday nights online with the members, doing what I could to help advance the faction, even though I was pretty low-level at the time.

I left WrathOfGod and Cervantes, and eventually settled in Carracci server with the dominantly Pinoy faction Takhisis. At the time that I joined, the members included many fellow GE bloggers. As Takhisis had been established for quite a long time (the faction recently marked its first anniversary), they were already a close-knit group, and I was honored to have become part of that group.

Special Case: Gaming Journalists
A special subset of online gaming communities in the Philippines is comprised of the growing number of bloggers and journalists who report all the news that’s fit to print from the online game companies. There is already an organization of such gaming journalists, called the Asian Gaming Journalists Association.

It could be said that this group is a guild in the medieval sense: a group of professionals who work together to define their work and set standards for it.

I always found it slightly funny that I became a recognized part of this group at a press event for RO’s first free-to-play server, Valkyrie.

Special Case: Gamer Girls
This is sort of a mini-advocacy of mine: the recognition of Pinoy girls as gamers. Until recently, popular culture held that “there are no girls on the Internet”, and certainly none to be found in online games; but maybe we girls are now gaining ground and respect as gamers on par with the overwhelmingly male demographic.

Some games have begun to bestow the recognition that is due upon the female segments of their communities.

In RO one of the most famous guilds was the Shadow Maidens, who actually did have a rigid screening process that required applicants to be female in real life – and to prove it to the guild membership. The popular dancing MMO Dance Battle Audition counts the all-female Dream Girls Club as one of its biggest organizations of players.

And GE hosted a Tribute to the Ladies at the end of March this year, as a fitting send-off to International Women’s Month.

I hope to return to the topic of gamer girls again in this column, perhaps in the near future.


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this mostly personal account of life lived as much online as offline, and almost always in the company of fellow gamers. If you’ve any feedback or comments, please feel free to email me at Hope to hear from you soon!

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