Uneasy Lies The Head that Wears the Crown

It’s really easy to let my blog lapse sometimes but then other people’s words prick me.

Lodur’s assessment that hate language is a weed that needs to be uprooted wherever it grows started my thoughts on the track of how I try to shape the gaming environment around me, but it was Snack’s fairly moving, personal account of growing as a healer and a GM that possessed me with the motivation to get up and write today.

It is no secret that I am the guild master of my guild. I’ve mentioned it before but I don’t think I’ve ever outlined precisely how or why I came into this job. It is a recent occurrence, all things considered, in the long storied history of our little guild. We’ve been around since December 2004, which is ancient in terms of guilds. We’ve been through every expansion, had several membership shifts and have gotten in and out of a lot of reputation scrapes relatively unscathed. We went from being a well-known roleplay guild on our server to part of a well-known raid team to a social guild that only old server-mates remember.

The one constant throughout most of this was my boyfriend, the former GM. For most of my memory of World or Warcraft, he was always the person running the show (along with our-then-main-tank, Edagh). There had been one or two GMs prior to him but they only lasted a short while before moving and Alex (that’s his name) had arguably been the longest-running and most beloved out of anyone. Our guild has always prided itself on being a fairly loose dictatorship, with not much need for officer-ing. Even most of the formal positions were voted in for the sake of roleplay, they were never strictly necessary. Having a guild master was a ¬†function forced by game mechanics but only meaningful in terms of having someone to look up to on the very rare occasions. Our guild was founded on fairly fun, sensible policies like “Don’t be a dick” and “Please be over 18+ years old” and “Have someone within the guild invite you” that everyone took pretty seriously. There’s only a handful of incidents (and by handful I mean 3-4) that I can ever remember someone getting booted out of the guild. I have a very warped view of what it means to have guild drama, for that reason. Our guild has always been pretty stable on the surface, and I owed a large part of that to how Alex ran things. He’s just one of those guys you can’t help but like and want to not tick off. But underpinning that was a sense of wanting to do right by everyone in the guild, regardless of who actually was in it.

So it is in that vein that I was promoted up to an officer position fairly early on in my WoW career. It was for my outspoken nature when it came to representing the “under-60” crowd. I felt that many people in the guild who weren’t at max level were being silenced to some degree, so it was my spunk even as a pathetic level 40 that earned me a spot that I’ve held since late last year. I took the whole notion of being representative really seriously, being passionate for this group of people playing a video game. I got into raiding and graduated up to being not only a guild officer but an officer in the guild collective we were a part of. I liked being a “people person” and helped recruit for the raid as well. I was a morale booster and definitely someone who drummed up participation by knowing everyone on the server. The only real wrench in the works was that when Cataclysm started looming on the horizon and Blizzard basically forced our collective’s hand. The raid team decided they want to be a guild and proceeded to suck most, if not all of the officerships out of the four constituent guilds to form the officer crew for the raid guild. By that point, most of the officers for my guild had quit WoW or gone casual, so all that was left representing our guild on the raid team was the GM and myself. And we were not leaving our guild – we had seen what it was doing to the other guilds in terms of cohesion and membership. Alex was pretty firmly in the idea of “the captain goes down with the ship” and considering that a large majority of our guild was a social community and not related to our raid team, we stayed. It almost cost both of us our raid spots, truth be told, but in the end, we pushed to stay on even as officers. It caused a lot of underlying tension as we were part of a raid team that had benefits we couldn’t immediately access or use, that we were seen as being fairly traitorous to the cause, but I digress. It wasn’t until the raid officer squad was pared down to people who could access the guild’s officer chat that I felt the sting of abandonment. I was basically asked to step out of a position of several years just because I couldn’t see green chat. But I dealt with it. My guild was always going to be more important to me than the raid and I think everyone knew that.

Shortly after, Alex quit raiding to work full-time and play other games. I felt kinda alone but kept on with the raid team and as his involvement with WoW scaled back, I found myself running the guild more day-to-day, in whatever capacity was actually needed. Our guild never NEEDED a ton of babying, just the occasional guild invite for alts, managing the guild bank and handling crises. I always told myself that our GM would be back, I was just keeping the seat warm.

As Cataclysm wore on, it was pretty clear that my boyfriend wasn’t really coming back to WoW in any capacity for a while. There was a joke between myself and one of my friends that once Blizzard implemented the protocol for the “chain of succession” mechanic, that I’d take over the guild. We counted down the 30 days since Alex last logged on and on the fateful day, I kicked the guild master title to myself with very little fanfare. It was a foregone conclusion at that point and I had already done the job in all ways but having the name/power. I thought, “Well now I have the tools, I’ll keep on what I’m doing and the guild will be here intact until the real GM gets back.”

It’s a funny business, this whole “realness” thing. I had always, always looked up to our GM while he was here so I couldn’t even imagine anyone BUT him doing the job. Here I was though, the captain of a ship and I was steering it into uncharted territory with the promise that the actual captain would be back at the helm any day now. That is no way to sail and that is no way to run a guild. I needed to be not only the GM that the guild wanted, but the GM that the guild deserved. I needed to start doing things my own way and not the way that I thought Alex would want things. It was a bit of a weird internal conflict and definitely a hard one to think about especially considering that he is someone I live with and care about. But it had to be done. Deep in my heart though, I knew that I had been doing it without explicitly saying so for a while. There had been a lull in membership just due to our casual “know someone else in the guild” chain of dynamics, and it had started to perk up once I had started inviting more lady friends of mine from various places. It was a seed that had been planted deep inside my head somewhere along the line and I was finally acknowledging it growing back there. Questions still troubled me, however: what did I want that flower to be? What had I hoped would blossom? How would I leave my mark? What was really important to me and how could I transfer that to the guild?

The joke going around had been that we were becoming a space for “wayward women” and pulling people out of abusive guild or social situations. It wasn’t untrue though. One of the first waves of people to come into the fold were a small group of women whom I consider my closest friends. We all had banded together snarking a particularly rambunctious Livejournal community and they started trickling over once some of their guilds turned out to be not what they wanted socially or had to quit raiding, etc. But it started becoming a reality once more and more people started turning up. We’d mention off-hand how we were lady-friendly and suddenly someone would want to roll an alt. Then they’d transfer over. Then they’d transfer all their alts over, their SO or best friend would come with them. If Blizzard had some sort of referral plan for transfers, race/faction changes, I would be a very rich person right now. We had a magnetism for a certain crowd of dispossessed, affable outcasts. It was easy to see why – we were laid-back and didn’t tolerate a lot of nasty business that other guilds seemed to traffic in.

That was when I discovered where my true guild heart lay. It was in making sure people felt safe and happy in the guild. This coupled with my growing passion for feminist theory and social justice issues meant that we were not going to allow disrespectful/hate language or shitty jokes. The guild never had much stock in them to begin with but given that we were starting to become up to our ears in women, queer individuals and the like, I wanted to make it abundantly clear to everyone that this wasn’t going to be tolerated. No slurs, no sexist language, no rape jokes. Lodur’s post makes a lot of sense to me because if you want to grow a garden (to extend my plant metaphor), you have to weed out problems that strangle the growth. I believe with all my heart that -ist language across the board disallows people being able to be who they really are. Our guild is founded on respect and you cannot respect someone if you use language that puts them as a lesser being, an othered group. We’ve had some personal sloughing and education on what these concepts are (as far you as you can in guild chat) but overall, it’s been pretty stable and easily implemented. I didn’t want to tout this guild as a place where you could be comfortable and have abusive language sneaking in the cracks. The more nebulous and harder parts of “safe and happy” were where I feel I’m still failing, but doing better with. “Safe and happy” means a lot of different things to everyone, whether it is certain activities being done (like PVP, raiding, roleplay) or more abstract concepts like “open communication” or “emotional stability.” I’m still working on that – getting everyone to open and push for more transparency in our social interactions given that most of us are pretty socially awkward. It’s been going well but we still have our knots to undo.

The other big change I wanted to see other than a more socially aware personality was our own identity back. We had soldiered on so long as part of a now-defunct guild collective. With my final resignation from the raid team, as well as its eventual collapse, I felt we needed to stand out and have our own space with our own ideas and rules. We had come first, we were the ones still standing. With some help from Vitaemachina (for our own Mumble server) and my guildmate Bee (who donated webspace and set up our message board), we finally felt like a separate, real guild with our own little home and place to socialize. I also pulled up some of our veteran members into higher ranks and elected a couple more officers to handle invites when I wasn’t on as well as disputes. My sincere apprehension towards raiding seriously as well as some of our guild’s relative inexperience with raiding meant that I didn’t have the time or energy to attempt organizing raiding but LFR eventually kicked those gates back open and now we have a very successful (if late-blooming) 10man team run by our officers (with me giving some raiding tips here and there). We just downed Heroic Morchok the other night and I couldn’t be prouder. We also run Firelands so one of our mages, Probata, can get her dragon staff (so I’m not the only dragon in the guild). Guild members as well as myself have kept a nice Saturday night Fun Run tradition, got another priest a Vala’nyr and plenty of wicked cool raid drop mounts for people. (No phoenix yet though.) I’ve AHed enough crap out of our guild bank and gotten enough kickback from guild perks to help our second rogue purchase the first part of the dagger legendaries and we’re working with Bee to get her the first set. All in all, I feel we’ve grown bigger and better together, not just because I was at the top of the guild list.

Snack’s post really highlighted a lot of intense emotions for me, though. It doesn’t hurt that he’s had to hold my hand through some of the dark nights when I felt like I couldn’t be a guildmaster to my guild. The hardest part of power, if you are not the corruptible type, is worrying about if you’re abusing it. Worried if you’re doing the right thing. While I’ve not lost a lot of sleep over it (though I can sympathize with that sentiment in my heart), there’s been moments when I’ve been a shitty GM and have wanted to barf because of it. I’ve fucked up deciding who got a retro legendary, I’ve mishandled internal conflicts within the guild, I’ve slipped up in being impartial. In short, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I know that I’ve tried my best to be who the guild wants me to be, but I still sometimes slip into this mode of thinking that I wasn’t cut out for this. Leadership isn’t just doing the right thing but also being the right person. How could someone like me be a GM? I’m notoriously anxious, secretive and emotional. I’ve kept myself and my business closed off even from my officers and closest friends for well over 3 years now and it’s caused some friction. The hardest part is forgiving myself for all of these things. Being so close socially means that it’s hard to remove yourself emotionally when you do something stupid. It becomes less like mitigating a bad business decision and more like a personal failing. There’s not a day that goes by though that I don’t think about my guild and smile proudly to myself. I’ve been in the same guild for my entire career and this is why: it has accomplished something that I feel so many other guilds do not do, which is be a place for people to do what they want, be themselves, and feel cared about even while playing a video game. I couldn’t imagine gaming life without these goofy folk in my life, much less in Warcraft.

So this is not only a treatise to all of you other scared, new GMs out there. It is not just a mantra to myself to give myself more space to learn and grow as a leader. It is a love letter to my guild for not only teaching me how to be a better person, but letting me become on. It is for all the nights you guys put up with me accidentally removing myself from a raid, dodging shitty disagreements, forgetting to change the guild notes or being moody without saying why. It is my adoration for you that spurred me on to make the guild a place where you guys could be happy and I try my hardest to do that for you every day. You make me laugh, smile and even cry sometimes and I’m not too distant to admit that. Gaming is something that people always shit on because the people on the other sides of the screen aren’t “real” but you guys really are. I’ve lived with some of you, met some of you at Blizzcon, are going to meet in the future, or may never meet. But whether it’s hearing your laughter on Mumble, or seeing Pom’s dog pictures on Twitter, hearing Cass make really off-colour jokes, Lept’s eternal sighing over gear that won’t drop, or Met and Odacaer’s adorable puns to eachother, I enjoy it all and I’m glad I have them with me whenever I log on.

I might not play WoW forever, but I will enjoy it until that day comes, whether I’m guild leader or not.