Lessons from 10 000 hours of gaming
Since 2006, I have been an active World of Warcraft player and a proud leader of the guild Starlight. We are not known for being a big guild, or famous for our content progress; we are known for having a strong community of smart, caring and creative members. Recently, that community feeling and what it means to people came into focus with an article posted by first NRK, and now the BBC - https://www.bbc.com/news/disability-47064773
Looking at thousands of comments on this article from across the internet has been one of the most emotional experiences in my life. It has made me ask myself, "What have I learned from the 10,000 hours that I have invested?"
Gaming is social.
When I was a kid, games were colored bricks and jumping plumbers, today gaming is joining with others to solve challenges, discuss tactics, collaborate and share stories, and we do so across multiple platforms, in different ways. From these experiences and social interactions, relationships and communities are being formed. As a individual I have the opportunity to choose which of the communities I want to be part of; which are the communities and relationships that give me joy and energy. I have the opportunity to do so across economic, social and cultural barriers - on a level that would not have been possible in the past.
Relationships formed through gaming matter.
When I lost my father, it was like a physical blow. When a guild member lost the battle with terminal illness, it also felt like a blow to me.
When I lose contact with a player, there is a feeling of loss.
The relationships that form through gaming need to be nurtured, cared for and respected, in the same way as a relationship from outside gaming.
To nurture a relationship means first and foremost admitting to yourself that these people matter to you, and that you matter to them. Then you need to treat them accordingly.
It is not the skin or the name.
When you are creating a character to play in a game world, you are often given a myriad of options like choosing if you want to be a hard-hitting warrior, a magician or a healer that can save a group from certain death.
Then there is the choice of appearance, height, skin color, age, hair; usually, all options are idealised - muscular, flawless skin, etc. But when everybody has the same broad shoulders, the same perfect teeth - those traits no longer stand out; instead, it is your actions and behaviors that do.
Does somebody come across as arrogant, helpful, a problem solver, always laughing, willing to listen or somebody who always lashes out? These are all things that people have control over - unlike the colour of their skin, appearance, gender and the myriad other factors that people use to judge each other. Seeing only what is under their control makes it easy to decide if I want to spend time with them and build a relationship.
It makes me think hard about how I present myself; at the workplace, at the bar, at home. Am I showing by my actions that I am somebody who is genuine? And somebody I can be proud of being?
It gives me the chance to develop my behavior and see how others react, how am I as a leader, how do I give advice, coach people or even listen to others.
In life, It is not the skin or the name, but how people choose to present themselves that is most important.
Knowing when to say "we" versus "I."
It is the players of Starlight who build and maintain a good community, and they do this by embodying the spirit of care, inclusion, and trust. Understanding that it takes a group to shape a community, rather than the action of one person (even the leader) is essential. One person might harm a community, but it takes a group effort to build one. It also means that while I as leader wrote the community standards, it was "we" that made them become a reality. In my experience, the same is true for any team or group. One person might stake out the road, but it takes the group to walk it.
Part of helping the group to walk the road is knowing when to give credit and celebrate successes - the answer being "as often as possible." When we overcome a challenge in the game; when we arrange an event that gets positive feedback; that’s the time to talk about what worked. We can build on this to tackle the next challenge. Praising the people that contributed positively, even if things didn’t go perfectly, helps build a good community where people trust each other enough to take risks.
Be transparent about your energy and needs.
Nearly every community I have ever been part of, professionally or privately, have had a few core people - the "doers" - the ones others turn to, the people with all the answers, the ones who are quick to offer their help. Among these amazing people, the ones I most admire are the ones that combine that strength with the ability to say "Right now I need a helping hand."
We all have times in our lives when things are hard; when we lose focus or interest or patience. To recognise when is happening, and to master the art of asking for help is often the difference between somebody who has the resilience to continue year after year and somebody who can push out great amounts of energy only to crash and burn - leaving people shaken and wondering "What happened? Why did they suddenly change?"
It has taken me forty years of living, twelve of those years spent running an online community, to finally be smart enough to realise that I too need to master the "art of asking for help." People will not run away because you admit that you struggle at times. Instead, people will rise to the occasion if given a chance.
In closing, it is not the challenges and rewards of the game that keep me coming back and working to improve. It is the friends that I experience the game with. Over the years I have learned much, both from them and with them. I look forward to the next 10 000 hours.