For the Theories of Networks course, my proposed object of study is the guild system in Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, such as in World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. Guilds essentially allow players to form small to large groups, with smaller questing and dungeon parties being formed either on a need-basis or more permanently. Unlike more traditional Role Playing Games (RPGs) on video game consoles where a player usually ventures into the virtual world alone as a single character (like Assassin’s Creed) or as a group of controllable companions (like Final Fantasy games), MMOs create environments that encourage player-player interaction within the game as certain activities like raids and dungeon boss battles are easier to navigate when players take on different roles (the healer, the tank who draws enemy attention, and the character classes that do damage-per-second are some of these roles) in order to enhance the effectiveness of the group. Guilds are not only for questing and raiding, but are also ways for new players to be mentored by veteran players and come with a number of perks and opportunities that a lone player would not have access to, such as item trading. Though MMOs do have an underlying storyline driving the game world and creating overarching goals for players, it is the interaction between players that comes to embody the bulk of their experiences within the games, transforming individual gameplay from a solitary experience to one with a seemingly infinite number of connections. One of the biggest draws of guilds is the communication nexus that exists between members, as players find not only companions within the game worlds, but also connections outside of the games, through general discussion forums on official game websites, guild forums, in-game channel chats, social media like Facebook, and personal emails and phone calls.
Though MMOs and their player-centric guild networks lie outside of the realm of traditional English studies, I think they are useful for the discipline for two reasons: 1) the collaborative and mentoring environments established by guild members could help create cohesion among students in academic courses, and 2) the way guild members build narratives with and against one another over the course of the games could allow scholars to look more closely at how people, consciously or unconsciously, apply narrative elements when working together to enrich the overall experience for (almost) all of those involved.
In regards to the guild-style interactions being applied in gamified as well as in traditional academic courses, guild members become the framework or nodes of the network, with certain veteran players taking officer-style positions within the group, creating a fluid hierarchy. Each player who is invested then becomes a link to other players, taking on battle and questing roles and keeping in communication within their parties. The mentoring aspect of the guild network is also interesting in that players voluntarily form relationships that benefit new and more experienced players, creating connections to pass on knowledge, tips, and items like healing poultices, weapons, and armor so that the guild as a whole improves. Undergraduate students could benefit from this two-way connection that guild members can be very good at creating and maintaining, as the mentoring between not just teacher-student but also student-student could go a long way in building a more cohesive learning environment.
With the narrative aspect, guild members build upon the games’ overarching storylines and create a space for their own characters and guilds through interactions and activities, such as the creation of individual origin stories explaining how each character came to be part of the group, and completion of major and minor quests, which links the players further together because of mutual experiences. What happens in the games does not exist as a discourse only in the game; those players tend to communicate with one another in other channels outside of the official game space, making their experiences part of the connections that bind them together. Often, in-game companions become friends out-of-game, creating real world links that enrich player interactions because the players are no longer strangers but comrades. Their networked narratives, crafted by both in-game experience and more personal communications, happen in real-time as, together, they achieve game- and guild-driven goals.