Earlier this week, GAMElitist’s Professional Layabout, Patrick, posted an interesting column. You should definitely go check it out here. It raises the idea that games have become a social activity to the point where a community grows up within the context of gaming for the sake of gaming with others.
I’d quite like to post a response to that article, so here we go:
Gaming communities are no longer just the glue that holds people in the thrall of a game. They have transcended that particular definition with the advent of games as awesome as Minecraft.
You see, with Minecraft, the community is not confined to blocky walls of Notch’s creation. Rather, it has branched out beyond what began as a collection of small servers where people would meet to chat and play together and became … something else.
Take a look at the Voxel Box server, for example. On that most prestigious of servers, the community evolved to contain architects, artists, builders, programmers, engineers, inventors and writers. On this one server a huge variety of talents are employed within the community for creative purposes. Even more intriguing, the Voxel Box community has completely burst out of Minecraft. They have their own YouTube channel and more importantly, a wiki.
It is this wiki that is possibly one of the most interesting products of this particular community.
You see, while there are builds posted on this wiki and menial pages like updates to the server, the primary function of the wiki is to tell stories about the Voxel Box. Think for a second what this means. There is now an entire website out there dedicated to producing stories based off an in game world that a community has created.The stories that it produces can exist entirely separate to Minecraft.
The stories on this wiki don’t need Minecraft to survive, they are merely inspired through the creations of the community in Minecraft. The result of this is that Minecraft could be deleted from every computer this community owns and the community would still have the ability to stand firm. They have created the means by which they can all stay united. Their community identity is preserved through this one wiki.
Now this is NOT an article about the greatness of wikis. No, no, no. Generally speaking, wikis are incredibly annoying – in particular the fact that Wikipedia has so much information on it, but no way for you to tell what is valid or not makes it a pretty annoying resource to encounter (especially when they delete my entries, cough, cough). Rather, I think that the community’s creation outside of a game is the point to focus on.
Furthermore, the Voxel Box is not an anomaly among gaming communities, let alone within Minecraft. Another awesome community I have witnessed is the Hatventures community. Not only are these the guys who make all the Minecraft trailers, but currently in development by members of their own community is a game that stands alone from Minecraft, but the winning of which will gain you access to their Minecraft server.
This is awesome. A community has gone to the time and trouble to not only produce entire series of innovative videos, but also have created their own, fully rendered 3D game.
I would further argue that the idea that games are surpassed by game communities is not exclusively spawned by Minecraft. There are many other games which do such, Command & Conquer being one such example. Within the Command & Conquer community, everything from fan art to motion comics to mods which make the game almost unrecognisable (but still good) have been created.
I’ll say it again then. Game communities are no longer based around playing games specifically. While this may start off as a common interest of those within the community, the communities then have the potential to do far more than just share an interest. These communities are establishing themselves way beyond what any game designer originally intended. Gaming is ceasing to be so much of a clan system, and more of a series of nations.
The best part about these nations though, is that their borders are considerably blurred.
Sure there is inter-game rivalry between games like FIFA and PES, or CoD and Battlefield, but ultimately, as communities go, gaming communities are pretty open ended. Hatventures make Magicka videos, the Voxel Box have released a non-creative adventure map, even the staunchly RTS based CNC community have modded Command & Conquer 3 to be a weird grenade-throwing multiplayer battle. Between the game nations there is a flawless and positive immigration. Well done, gamers!
I suppose the reason for that is that despite our communities surpassing games in so many ways, games are still the one pass time every member of those communities enjoy. So as well as being amazing artists, programmers and writers, gaming community members also seem to know how to have fun.
I am not trying to say that Patrick is wrong. In fact, I believe he makes a neat and succinct point. Game communities often are the glue that binds you into games and can even make it that much more fun. However, I also believe that recently, certain gaming communities have far surpassed this function and have gone on to do bigger and better works than game communities have ever done before. They have exceeded expectations on many levels.
The real question then, is what happens now? Gaming communities have surpassed the constraints of the games that started them. They have the power to unite hundreds of people. They now have the power to make an impact, to boycott, to protest and get themselves heard.
How long is it before they begin to make an impact on the world?
I’m hoping sooner, rather than later.