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volume 1, issue 2

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Guest Editorial:
Whose Community is it, Anyway?

 

 

 

By Stephen "Blue" Heaslip

 

 

hen loonyboi asked me to cook up a guest editorial for his new endeavor, I gladly grabbed my chef's hat and started cooking. The assignment appealed to me because several incidents had put me in mind of posting some form of opinion piece (not something I indulge in often) with a rant on the subject of community. This thought was inspired because it seems that some of the goodwill and camaraderie associated with the loose group of folk once known as the "Quake Community" has dissipated. Now with the advent of "rumor" sites, some of which can get quite nasty at times, the subject of what's happened to that community goodwill seems more pertinent than ever. Since the spirit of community is something I feel strongly about, this was going to be one of those pieces that would just write itself, where I could spout off about the causes and effects involved in this.

It's the stories that you think that will write themselves that present the problems.

In thinking this issue through, it became clear that while this is a subject that inspires passion in me, it is also a complicated topic, worthy of a sociologist, not an uppity webmaster, so I feel like I'm kinda in over my head here, but I'm still going to dig into this a little. The problem for me was that the conclusions I ended up drawing after thinking this through were not the ones I thought I would have, making this an educational experience for me.

First, for quick reference if you're not familiar with the "Quake Community" of old, at its inception it was remarkably civilized and unified. Incidents of what were perceived as anti-community behavior were quickly met with a unified front, and several worthy causes were pursued vigorously. These incidents included a brief boycott of Electronics Boutique for selling retail European copies of Quake in US stores (when it was only available by mail-order through id), a huge campaign against Actura Software when they started ripping off the work of level authors whose work was up on the Internet, and many noteworthy occasions where there were almost completely unified efforts behind causes. This was the case even when we were probably in the wrong, like the hate campaign against some Scandinavian guys who justifiably registered the domain quakeworld.com for their Quake site, drawing the community's wrath because there was already a fan site called Quakeworld. If an incident with a domain name happened today, I imagine the reaction would be: "well, you should have registered the domain first if you wanted it." Altogether correct, but also indicative that a sense of togetherness is no longer there (for some reason, I think the elevation of principle over the letter of the law makes this a particular example of the community's unity at the time).

Now the loss of a sense of community that made us all feel included is partially attributable to more diverse multiplayer options available to the online Quake player, with NetQuake, QuakeWorld, Quake II, as well as countless mods all providing areas to find disagreement. One of the defining factors of a community is the common interest, and obviously the greater number of available choices make for less common ground. My focus here, however, is on what may be an outgrowth of that, but goes beyond simple disagreements over the best way to play, and has to do with the loss of the goodwill we all once shared, replaced more and more by instances of certain cynical nastiness, once unique to USENET newsgroups, but now more and more evident on websites. To be corny, a loss of innocence.

I had a very different idea of where I thought this was heading when I said I would write this, so having committed to the topic, this is where we are. I thought I was going to turn out an article that would describe the effects of turbulent forces like hyper-competitive commercialization, spiteful jealousy, and just plain bad will as factors leading to the downfall of a once tight-knit group. While those forces are certainly present, they are not causes, they are effects. This is probably obvious to a lot of people already, but I think it's a natural outgrowth of our little community becoming what's analogous to a city amid the boomtown Internet's rapid growth.

With little neighborhoods becoming big cities overnight, to push the analogy to the breaking point, we now have big city issues, including crime, anti-social behavior, and even poverty, as we see more of the smaller websites decrying a world of haves and have-nots. So our evolution into a society leaves us forming subcultures: communities unto themselves. This has been going on for some time, to the point where we see sub-sub-cultures: the old school Quake DMers versus the Quake II crowd, rifts in the once quite unified TeamFortress community, and assorted "anti's": folks who are anti-PQ, anti-Thresh, anti-Shooters, anti-Quake, anti-Unreal, oy!

Part of what promotes incivility, alienation, and indifference in the big city is said to be the relative anonymity afforded by the faceless crowds. As our community has grown to city-size, the still greater anonymity offered by the Internet certainly seems to help exaggerate the problem. What we see on the Internet reflects what we see in everyday life, and there's no real reason to expect otherwise.

The other thought I come away with, as I look back thinking the examples of bad behavior seemed so awful at the time, and now they seem so tame: I take this as a lesson to appreciate what we've got. I've heard the Internet described as the only known example of working anarchy in action, and its freedoms are well documented. While we criticize a more homogenous and commercialized 'net, it is not as if "The Man" has completely taken over. An individual still can run a gaming site from his home and get noticed among the big guys with their venture capital and their huge staffs, and there are still people every day able to make their voices heard to a large chunk of the community (or the society, or whatever it is) of online gamers. This tells me that these are still great times, there's room for many diverse voices, even (or especially) the ones we disagree with vehemently.

I thought I would end up indicting the nasty elements out there: the rumor mongers and the bitter bashers, but ultimately I celebrate them (we'll leave the discussion of accuracy, responsibility, and balance until some later date). You can't have a little anarchy, like you can't have a little liberty. Our original little tight-knit community may have exploded because the growth of the Internet caused an inevitable flexing of the freedoms that allows, but at least we've still got some of our anarchy left, and I think it leaves us with more community now than we may have in the future.

- Stephen "Blue" Heaslip is the webmaster at Blue's News, and one of the "founding fathers" of this massive gaming community of ours.

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Credits: Guest Editorial logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Whose Community Is This, Anyway? is © 1998 Stephen Heaslip. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and indicative of the deterioration of the values of our community.