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Oct 01, 2006



I'm also dealing with trust issues on my server right now.

I wrote a paper about how a raid group I run with has been able to hold it together even in the face of loot and other drama due to a commitment to hanging out and having fun. This was last Spring. Over the summer, the raid group fell apart from even more drama. My conclusions from the paper were at jeopardy. Yet my guild is stronger than ever.

I think part of the thing we have to realize is that all guilds and all raids (which may or may not be made up of a single guild) will eventually fall apart. Those basing their trust on friendship over loot *maybe* last longer. That's maybe a conclusion?


Something I should add. I make the statement that all guilds (and raids) will fall apart because I think people get tired of *each other.* Not just that their goals have changed and the goals of the game have changed, but actually... just get tired of hanging out with the same people all the time. I think that's what happened with my raid group. As we started getting on each others' nerves, we had to ask ourselves why we were raiding. Was it for the friendship (which was now at risk)? Maybe it was at first, but now it's for loot. And the loot just isn't good enough for people who aren't so focused on loot. So, it isn't that our interests changed... more that we wanted a break from *each other.*



the shared and intimate experience of (complex) contingency is a powerful source of belonging and trust
[those who know each other outside of a game] want to capture the immediate and contingent (protean) feeling of being together in contingent circumstances, something like the frisson that applies when an atmosphere of intense possibility brings those involved closer together.
I agree with all of this. Early on in the development M59, we wondered if we needed to make a game at all. Why not just make a social space where people could hang out? At the time there was a graphical chat room called "WorldsChat" that we were concerned about as potential competition (later we learned that many of their employees spent their day playing the early beta version of M59). We looked at various games and this chat space, and eventually came up with a hypothesis very similar to yours, that socialization alone is insufficient -- interpersonal connections are forged through contingency, especially overt danger, and that game mechanics must support this. "Look out, there's a monster behind you" provides all sorts of excuses for easy interaction, social reciprocity, etc. We called this the "circle the wagons" effect: you can take a disparate group of strangers, throw them into a series of highly contingent situations (e.g. a wagon train) and eventually they will meld into at least a temporary micro-community -- a pick-up group that has the potential for a guild, which could become a community. (We could have as easily called this "the platoon effect" but we were looking for something less militaristic at the time.) This is part of why, IMO, social-heavy games like TSO have not done well; there is no "carrier" for the socialization as there is in more traditional games.

Your point about the strain that differing levels (and goals - levels vs. loot, among others) puts on this is a good one too, and I think is an enduring failure of game mechanics. Some games have tried to address the level-gap problem (e.g. CoH's sidekicks), but it remains an important issue, and a barrier to enabling any two players who want to share experiences within a game from being able to do so.

Mark said: all guilds and all raids ... will eventually fall apart

Not necessarily. There are guilds that have been around for many years that persist by both organization and in effect by renewing the contingencies by hopping from game to game. In the case of such guilds, for their members the guild is both a means and an end. For those of us who are less serious about a game or a guild, this is difficult to sustain, and once the guild is no longer a means, its status as an end in itself falls below our threshold for sustaining interest. This probably does happen to most guilds. I'd say it's likely a multiplier in the ennui many players feel too: the game is still inherently as much fun as it ever was, but without the old guild, well, not so much.


"The seeds of treating the group as a means, rather than an end, were there long before, but now find full flower as players come to realize in practice (if not in discourse) that their only chance to continue to "progress" is through acquiring (specific) loot (which itself has very clear gradations). This is such an overriding concern that players will willfully sacrifice the powerful experience of small scale and tactical grouping amidst contingency for the large scale and less intimate (because more bureaucratic, strategic – I’ll leave this aspect for another post) experience of raiding, driven all along by material desire."

This is painting with too broad a brush by assuming that all guilds succumb to this built-in dynamic. It describes a portion of large guilds, but certainly not all, and maybe not even half. Levels are markers of status, and loot is as well, but in many guilds they are also markers of contribution to the group. There is a difference. Player X gets the uber pants of damage. Everyone gathers around and congratulates that person and is slightly envious, but are often also genuinely glad that they have them because it will help the group. And now the pants go into action (Go ahead, quote that out of context!), helping the guild accomplish its goals.

In other words, truly cohesive guilds transcend this basic "loot as goal" mechanic to become "equip people to accomplish a team goal." And the goal stays what matters to all concerned, even while individuals still enjoy the sparkly new pants.

What I'm suggesting is that in a guild destined for oblivion the guild is the means and the loot is the end. That seems to be what the OP suggests. But in a good guild that will last--often held together by both these shared experiences and out of game ties--the loot is the means and the group success is the actual end. Guilds that have reached that point will persist, thrive and likely hop games together.

Interviews in our recent G&C paper suggested this.

My experiences over the past 2 years in WoW guilds do as well. When I get some epic item, I'm not actually excited that I have it. I'm excited that I can contribute and will be able to remain a helpful part of a team.

I take another special case as evidence of this: the player who re-rolls a character. I've seen this many times in my long-term guild. In a good guild, everyone defies the mechanics of greed and leveling inefficiency and helps that person out because they know the person is a good investment. Long-term, that person will be reliable in raids, able to help the group, and is good company. In those cases, the loot is the obstacle that the group must overcome to enjoy their friend's company in the endgame again.


you can take a disparate group of strangers, throw them into a series of highly contingent situations (e.g. a wagon train) and eventually they will meld into at least a temporary micro-community

When I read that, my first reaction was "the TV show Lost!", even though I didn't watch past the first two episodes.

Incidentally, my own philosophy can be read such that what keeps any collection of persons together is the social contingency brought to the table by each person as an inherent part of being more than meets the eye. My belief, here, is that a willingness to "play the game", so to speak, or to deal with this contingency, can bind persons together for their own sake.


I've been with a set of people that began in the same guild, imploded the guild, moved to other guilds, jumped servers, came back with alts, etc etc etc. There's a lot of drama in the social network game. In my experience though, it has rarely, if ever, been about the loot. It is almost always stepping on someone's feelings. (Here's an interesting aside, it's also always been the men who get pissy and take their ball and go home. ...could be an anomaly...but it's an interesting one.)

In our cases, even people who got annoyed at each other got over it (and even joined the same guild together again). We did not know each other IRL before and we do not, for the most part, know each other now in real life. I do not think the people in my various guilds log in for the social experience FIRST, although they will often log out if their buds aren't on at the moment (with the exception of hte lunchtime solo'ing experience). Yet, they aren't there for primarily for the epics or the killing either. I think the game + the social experience transforms into something greater than the mere sum of the two aspects. And, either alone is insufficient cause to be guilded. The social transforms the game experience. The game supports the social experience, giving what would otherwise be strangers, a set of shared objects (experiences, stuff, toons) to engage around.

Many of us have moved our 60s to a large endgame guild in order to always find a group with some level of competence we could trust. But, we came as a fair sized group and so have a sense of buddies while we busily make new buddies. Interesrtingly, without an overt call for it, we also have maintained alts, mid-range and lower, in the smaller, cosier guild. This lets us keep in the mix with our friends who haven't hit or won't be hitting 60s soon. Since the alts tend to be new race or class toons, or even different faction toons, this also gives us new fodder with our old friends.

A guild is just a loose organization with a lot of churn. The churn can be good, bringing in new energy and interesting people in. The churn can be bad if suddenly you don't know anyone in the guild and might as well be on the LFG channel when you want to do a run.

I wonder if Nick has data on average / stdev of guild sizes. I wonder how many guilds are built from groups who know each other IRL, as much of TN does, i.e., who come online as a group.


You went from... "the fragmentation of the group is basically inevitable" to... "we want to capture the immediate and contingent (protean) feeling of being together." And I'm going whoa.

I've seen this pattern before: all those data on people playing mmo's solo, and all that research and hearty wishes on/for the guildies in their groups. Why try to explain why people group when it's fairly clear that the game design forces them to do so?

If fragmentation is so widespread, obvious and, as you claim, inevitable, shouldn't fragmentation rather than unity be the more fundamental concept to explain?

We spend zillions of dollars each year teaching human beings how to read and write, and relatively nothing teaching them how to procreate. Because, though literary and procreation may each have its place, one seems a little more fundamental (i. e., built-in) to the species than the other. We spend zillions of whatever (design/research/efforts/dollars/discussions) on community managers/relationships/guild aids/social software -- teaching (and, yes, often forcing) players to group -- and relatively nothing on teaching players to solo, cause, you'd have to think, like procreation, they already pretty much have that down.

So, why explain play in terms of group activities instead of in terms of anti-group activities, particularly when soloing is so antithetical to all the grouping biz? Once again, is grouping really the core concept in playing games? In play?

Cause, look at it, once grouping becomes the core concept, here's we say...

"For those of us who are less serious about a game or a guild..." [like, deep down, all of us, maybe? Isn't that what play is: not being serious?]

"In a good guild, everyone defies the mechanics of greed and leveling inefficiency and helps that person out because they know the person is a good investment." [The rational man. Yikes.]

"The social transforms the game experience." [Really? Or does the game (play) experience transform the social? Personally, I'm betting on/hoping for the latter.]

It is good to see acknowledgement of the fragmentation of play. But you don't have to treat that fragmentation as a problem or a blip or an anomaly. It could very well be the thing itself.


I'm certainly not saying that grouping is "the core concept in playing games." I think that gaming together in the way I described has important effects in terms of trust and belonging. This implies nothing about the nature of solo gaming as somehow secondary. In fact, in my view, attention to our engagement with contingency as fundamentally human leads us to be able to connect these things together quite powerfully. After all, if engaging contingencies to develop a reliable disposition to act in an unpredictable world is a core part of being human, then we would expect that solo gaming is powerfully immersive and that doing this with others would have powerful social effects.


Linda->"I wonder if Nick has data on average / stdev of guild sizes. I wonder how many guilds are built from groups who know each other IRL, as much of TN does, i.e., who come online as a group."

We looked at that explicitly in the Games & Culture piece and found that about 1/3 of guild members were there with people they knew in RL beforehand. That paper also happens to have Nic, Nick, Eric and Bob's data on guild sizes in a graph early on. Between that, the PlayOn website and Nic et al's paper in the issue, you have a fair amount of data to answer your questions.

David->""In a good guild, everyone defies the mechanics of greed and leveling inefficiency and helps that person out because they know the person is a good investment." [The rational man. Yikes.]"

LOL, sorry about that. I didn't mean to sound like such a banker. I meant to say that friendship often makes it worth mucking through a design that works against the group.


[Finally gets a second to digest the replies...]

Thanks for the very thoughtful comments. My text-producing ability is severely curtailed atm (/hears cries of relief from the audience), so forgive any brusqueness in the following; it is accidental.

@Mark: You write that, "all guilds (and raids) will fall apart because I think people get tired of *each other.*" This is interesting, in that it essentially turns the source of social fragmentation back onto people themselves (as in Sartre's quote, from the play No Exit, "Hell is other people"). I guess I'm ultimately unpersuaded by this, as I think people are fundamentally social, but, then again, I'm an optimist by temperament. On the other hand, I'm also saying that this sociality doesn't magically persist; that it is realized in practices which are both supported and undermined by different game architectures.

@Mike: It's very enlightening to hear the connection between these ideas and similar thoughts from the designer side. It's the grappling with calibrating contingencies in this way that marks, in my opinion, the distinctive art of game-design. Just fascinating. Thanks.

@Dmitri: You wrote, "truly cohesive guilds transcend this basic 'loot as goal' mechanic to become 'equip people to accomplish a team goal'" (emphasis added). But then, I would say, the nature of the group has changed, and the nature of trust and belonging that are generated through that guild change. Of course there are exceptions, but I'm going to have to leave a fuller set of assertions about raiding and intimacy to a different post, as I noted.

@Michael: I think you're right, of course (love to see "social contingency" there!), but I would add that the performative contingency is just as important, since it is not only the reading of ultimately enigmatic others, but also the acting amidst those other's actions (a "dance" of a sort), that generates these effects, imho.

@Linda: Thanks for the perspective. I think that my experience with a group that started with RL connections (of a sort...hmmm...let's say, "out of WoW") definitely shapes my take in the OP. The more typical guild, grounded in game-only connections, would require some adjustments to this account, no question. (Whew! Thank god this isn't a research project! ;-) )


"@Dmitri: You wrote, "truly cohesive guilds transcend this basic 'loot as goal' mechanic to become 'equip people to accomplish a team goal'" (emphasis added). But then, I would say, the nature of the group has changed, and the nature of trust and belonging that are generated through that guild change."

Sorry to be dense, but I don't follow. If the group exhibits trust and belonging while surmounting these obstacles, in what sense does that mean the guild changes? It seems to me that the speedbumps that cause these things are both shared experience and evidence of the trust that must be there. No?


The same golf group (or bridge group) can stay together because the game is always different.

However, in WoW or similar MMOs, raid instances are basically static. Once you understand a raid zone it is the same game each time. Buff-Debuff-cast x spell-lots of dps-repeat.

So, if the game is the same and the people are the same boredom follows. Boredom leads to players raiding with other groups. Drama usually follows.

The more 'hardcore' a guild is the faster these events will happen. A casual guild might last longer because they never 'master' the game. The game always provides new and interesting encounters for them.


Dmitri! You know you've got me at a disadvantage atm, given my unfortunate run-in with the [Joyce Chen Cleaver of Wrist-Laceration(tm)] (Dang! No color option in comments!). As I've said, the discussion of the nature of raiding practice, belonging, etc, merits its own post (and for which I hope to call in some collaborative help!).


@dave: Exactly on point. Which raises the question: Why aren't WoW 5-man instances more contingent, and therefore re-playable? That is, why is their variation limited to a few pats, mixing around of mob types, rare spawns here and there, etc? Again, it's probably linked to the game mechanics themselves (the level system in particular), which make credentials stand in for increased competence, and beyond that the idea of more, more, more (loot, content, size...Progress!). Since in a few levels Maraudon (or wherever) becomes significantly easier anyway, then instead of a field for wide-open and continually fulfilling small-group gaming it makes more sense as an exercise, an étude, to hone a narrower set of tactical practices that serve as a better foundation for the discipline required of raiding to come. (But hold on, here I'm getting ahead of myself again...)


I have on several occasions pointed to raiding alliances with other guilds and said that this leads to guild splits. This is quite simply what I saw while running with power gamers and hard-core guilds on my last server. I did not mean to suggest that the alliance itself was the cause of the break up, but rather a symptom. On that server people began to want different experiences from the game as they began to reach level 60. This is what ultimately led to the split up of the guild. In order for the level 60s to have fun they found it necessary to form an alliance with other guilds. This was simply a roadside stop on the way to the split. By ignoring the guild and having more and more shared experiences with people from the raiding alliance they formed a new social circle that allowed for the easy formation of an instantly ready to raid new guild. This was all despite the fact that many of these people had rl connections in the original guild and had been together as a group for around 3 years from before WoW was released. The original post in this thread was very thought provoking, but I cannot say that it makes me feel any better about seeing raiding alliances between guilds. (On a higher note, I hope you feel better soon Thomas and can come back to WoW because my level 60 priest is getting bored and needs another lbrs run.)


Rest assured, Krista-Lee, I wasn't thinking that *you* were making that claim. And the case you mention here is illuminating indeed, given the long-term rl connections.

(Thanks for the good wishes. If I could map enough abilities to my 8-button mouse I'd be there tonight. Unfortunately, WoW seems to require that I move my toon around as well. Hmmm...maybe if I just /followed the tank?)


dave wrote:

"The same golf group (or bridge group) can stay together because the game is always different.

However, in WoW or similar MMOs, raid instances are basically static. Once you understand a raid zone it is the same game each time. Buff-Debuff-cast x spell-lots of dps-repeat.

So, if the game is the same and the people are the same boredom follows. Boredom leads to players raiding with other groups. Drama usually follows."

This has been exactly my experience. By contrast, I've gamed for many years now with the same group of friends. The trick I think is that we hop from game to game--WoW to Battlefield 2 to Civ IV and so on. The novelty of moving not only from game to game but also from genre to genre is quite refreshing. Thinking back to WoW right before we canceled I do remember many of my friends becoming quite peevish when the boredom of doing raids started to set in. As a corollary, once a critical mass of my playing group decided to leave about 90% canceled their accounts.


I've always thought the strength of end-game relationships is so much weaker simply because of the number of people involved. Most people have a handful of close friends, not 40-50 of them. The small-group mode of play in WoW matches this scale of friendship and dependency. So, players grow up in small groups, and develop strong bonds to the others that they level up with.

When you get to the end-game, you need 40 people, but you only have 5 or 10 of you who've grown up together. How do you progress? You find other small groups and band together in a sort of federation. But what I've seen happen is that these federations fall apart quite easily, and the fracture lines couldn't be more obvious: they break apart into their constituent cliques. All it takes is one person in one key clique to feel they've been mistreated. Then his or her 10 clique-members /gquit and there's a hole in the guild you could walk through.

I guess the means-to-an-end thing is at the root of it. In the end, it's just plain easier for 5-10 people's desires to coincide over a long period of time than for 40-50 people's desires to coincide. This is especially true in WoW, I think, where advancement is seen as nearly a zero-sum game.


I agree, and think that that's probably the best thing about WoW's capping of raid groups at 25 in the expansion. That number will allow smaller groups to persist without adding that bigger layer of social ties and management structure.


Guilds seem to be almost essential in order to really do well, or experience as much as can be experienced in games like WOW. However despite this the formal rules and structure of guilds as set out by Blizzard are weak.

In effect guilds are treated purely as collections of individuals. This might be ok if the guild is small and doesn’t seek to do many activities in game but many do not limit themselves this way. If the guild wants to own resources collectively, such as items or materials gathered during a raid, or for a raid a player must volunteer to store these items on their account. If a guild leader wants to kick some body, or promote/demote, change the guild colours they can without any supervision or permission from their members. In effect the guild is set up to be a dictatorship. Of course this does not mean that every guild is, but it definitely encourages this to be the case. What happens if one of these scenarios occurs? Nothing, as social pressure or persuasion is the only way that guild crimes can be punished. There are no enforcement mechanisms.

So why not create a guild or clan system that has more built in tools to encourage accountability, to provide security, maybe even democracy? Traditionally the state, or society creates formal or informal templates for which to structure communal activity, so in the commercial sphere we have legislation that sets out basic company structures, including detailed rights, responsibilities and privileges as well as enforcement structures. Traditionally the CFO doesn’t own the bank accounts of a corporation, nor does the CEO or Chairman own all the physical assets of the company so why should this be the case in a game? Surely it would be possible to code some rules to at least echo this?

Of course that being said I’ve found the main reason my guilds or guild alliances have broken up or suffered significant player loss is personality conflict. But I can hope that a better designed structure would mitigate this.


Quoted from Thomas:
@Mark: You write that, "all guilds (and raids) will fall apart because I think people get tired of *each other.*" This is interesting, in that it essentially turns the source of social fragmentation back onto people themselves (as in Sartre's quote, from the play No Exit, "Hell is other people"). I guess I'm ultimately unpersuaded by this, as I think people are fundamentally social, but, then again, I'm an optimist by temperament. On the other hand, I'm also saying that this sociality doesn't magically persist; that it is realized in practices which are both supported and undermined by different game architectures.

Yeah, I suppose I would agree. (Thank god for my optimism always finding a way to quelch my depression!) But with lots of caveats.

First, from my personal experience, I got really annoyed by this one guy on Ventrilo.. and then he kept becoming more an more important to the raid, and talking more and more every week... agh! (Maybe it's just me....) :)

Second, though, keeping a guild together requires A LOT of work, and I would say even more work for a raid composed from several guilds. I'd also argue that it really depends on what the goals of the raid are... are they focused on loot and downing Naxx or are they there to "hang out" (as my raid's members continually kept saying). I am amazed at how long my raid lasted on just hanging out (about a year) and I think our turn-over was less than one would find in an uber guild's raids.

Ultimately, I believe how the raid was managed has a lot to do with why it fell apart, and my guild members' talking about this for a long, long time and how our guild is managed differently makes me think that my guild won't be following the raid's implosion and falling by the wayside any time soon.


Juan said:
"Of course that being said I’ve found the main reason my guilds or guild alliances have broken up or suffered significant player loss is personality conflict."

Yeah... I was basically saying the same thing. I'm glad it wasn't just my experience.


I was struck by one of the concluding sentences of your article which reads "the game ultimately makes its players choose between treating their guild as an end in itself, or as a means to an end, and that too many choose the latter to sustain belonging."

Over the past nearly 11 years, The Syndicate has been internally watching guilds come and go and compiling our own statistics and watching the trends of the industy. That statement really does get to the root issue. There are hardly any guilds around today that were here 10 years ago. There are very few today that were here 5 years ago. More than 99% of guilds implode between 3months and 2years.

When you take that knowledge, coupled with the fact that one of the largest reasons players leave games is due to the drama over the breakup of a guild (certainly real life issues, boredom etc.. are also all big causes), this problem should be one that the development community takes a vested interest in working on. Guilds imploding = players leaving gaming = lost revenue.

It is a difficult problem to tackle though. How does one design a game that puts the emphasis on the guild being the end goal with the game being a tool to support that goal, versus the guild existing for the end goal of the game. While it can seem counter intuitive, having the game support the guild ultimately means players stay longer because guilds last longer which means more revenue.

For 11 years The Syndicate has grown and adjusted such that our SOLE focus is the guild. The games we play are entirely there to serve our internal purposes. That focus has been a big factor in not imploding and has led to a huge retention rate with more than 80% of the guild being with us for 1 to 11 years. We maintain a huge UO presence of several hundred people even after 9 years. So the model does have some basis in fact... when a guild sticks around longer, its members keep paying for a game longer.. which means more revenue for the developer/publisher.

How do we change the paradigm that 99.999% of all guilds exist for the game, rather than the game serving the guilds? That certainly is the multi-million dollar question. But it would be a useful problem for a developer to take on because if you can extend the life of the average guild by even a month or two, that can translate into a sizeable return on investment.


That's a very illuminating case, Dragons. Fascinating to hear how such an established guild sees these issues (and even more, has found it valuable to compile statistics and otherwise watch these trends in depth). I think that the next-gen techniques and practices of online belonging and solidarity are being worked through right now in the handful of long-persistent, very successful guilds like The Syndicate. I'm glad to hear that you concur with the nature of the architectural influence as well (Dmitri et al's piece in the most recent Games & Culutre gets at that issue too). Thanks for the comment.


I'm a relatively new WoW player having recently come over from CoX, and I've noticed guilds in WoW are far more fluid than guilds in different games. My EQ1 guild stayed whole for well over a year, and same goes for my first Supergroup in CoH. I've only been playing WoW for a few months and several guilds have dissolved or become so inactive people just leave. My best guess is because advancement in WoW is so easy that people who do not raid have no need for a guild at level 60.


TM learn to punctuate please. I love to read these posts but it is important to write clearly and concisely. Avoid verbosity, no matter how complex the idea, show your understanding by keeping the language simple. I'm sure your English teacher would have a fit after reading this sentence:-

"But the point is that, for those small groups who do hang together through a game for years and years, it is, from their point of view, very much about the being together, and what is more, the gameness of the domain itself seems to be central to that."

The poor structure of the concept is mirrored in the poor structure of the sentence.

Unfortunately, the same wooliness of speech is echoed in your assertion: "the shared and intimate experience of (complex) contingency is a powerful source of belonging and trust". What on Earth does this mean? Contingency has two quite different and precise meanings. Complex contingency is used in statistical treatment of data tables and also in the phrase "complex contingency operations" recently created by the US government. Either way your use of the phrase is unclear. If we drop the word complex, bracketed for some reason unknown, we have the more common use of the word contingency referring to an unplanned event. If that is the definition you are using then the sentence is no more than a very flowery reinteration of a very obvious truth. Does we need to point out that shared experience, intimate or otherwise, builds bonds between people? This whole lengthy article whilst containing much obvious truth is packed with unneccessary retoric. If you just relayed your experiences simply and to the point, leaving out the "smoke and mirrors" it would have been far more usefull and I am sure you have much that is interesting to say.

Or, am I(lets have some brackets), just talking, a load of old, embunctorial and melifluous grammar!


EF - While TM's English teacher might have had a "fit" about his sentence structure, I suspect your spelling teacher would twitch at the errors in your post. He might suggest you practice spelling the following words: reiteration, useful, mellifluous,unnecessary,rhetoric

Further, TM acknowledges in his post that much of what he says is common knowledge.


The sentence structure of the quoted quibble is not problematic. Restatement of obvious truths becomes surprisingly necessary when connections to and from them are non-intuitive for the people reading it.


Thanks for the support, Volk and Michael. I would add, E F, that this post is part of an ongoing conversation about contingency and games here on TN. I'm using the word in its philosophical connotation, and there is a good reason for it, but to replicate the argument here would be superfluous. If that conversation is not something you want to be a part of, that's fine, but it makes no sense to suggest that that is somehow my fault. As far as whether we do need to point out that the "shared experience [of contingency, I would add], intimate or otherwise, builds bonds between people," I would say the entire history of nationalism, class and race conflict, religious persecution, and other horrors of institutionally-driven belonging would suggest that this is something worth saying and remembering.


Well you did not let me down guys, I thought there would be a small support group here.

Firstly my spelling, humble apologies it has always been poor and when I try to type too fast the typographic errors make it worst still. Of course Volkhammer misses the point on purpose I hope. I don't bother to correct typos because they seldom impact on understanding; in the same way Volk's lack of a full stop does not bother me. The point of course is that really terrible punctuation does affect what you would probably call "understandability" and I would call the ability to understand. Especially when you are having what, you at least believe to be, a philosophical discussion. Try spell checking TM's article and you will fine several words which don't exist. However, Volk's point was clearly made and for that reason is totally valid.

Michael uses TM's approach in that he expresses his statement with a strange added vagueness. He suggests that there are truths and that there are connections to and from them and that these connections are non intuitive. Lets consider a connection to a truth:-

The sky appears blue to me sometimes, I may consider this statement a truth and I may associate this truth with some other piece of information, I make a connection. Is this connection "to" or "from" the truth, meaningless, now I am waffling. He could have just said "sometimes you have to re-state truths when they aren’t intuitive", although this is probably to very worst way to produce understanding. Surely, we should always aim to communicate rather than just say something that sounds a bit intellectual.

As to TM's response, well he starts off well. "hey! if you don't like our chat sod off" completely clear and valid sentiment. Then, however, he slips back into the same vague style. To my knowledge, philosophical use of the word contingency refers to Modal logic where the word has a very precise meaning. In that respect your statement "shared experience of contingency" has no meaning. As to your habit of using appalling punctuation, you make no comment, perhaps you do not see your errors or fully appreciate why we punctuate.

Since this is a public forum I assume I am free to comment, especially when I had spent quite some time reading your article before realising that it was "rather a small beer in a very large glass".

I did not however, mean to interrupt a private discussion. I am an engineer, well academically a physicist, and I overeact sometimes in an effort to promote clear speech. I will not comment further.

Apologies for any spelling mistakees.


E F: Unless you are willing to entertain the notion that your understanding of things like the philsophical meaning of contingency might itself be limited by your experience, then there is no point in your participating in this discussion. This does not, of course, mean that you aren't free to do so. Alas, there is no meeting of the minds, apparently. That is, unless you would like to do more than lob ungracious attacks.

As for my punctuation, I freely admit that my blog posts have a tendency to sound more like how I speak than how I ordinarily write. (I think one can get away with more asides and parentheticals in speech than in polished prose.) I endeavor in my published work to achieve a different standard. I'm not sure it would meet yours, but then again, you have given me little reason to care.


E F: I must admit that I am overcome by curiosity on one point from your comment. Which words in the original post "do not exist"? If I'm going to be run out on a rail for less than perfect prose, I'd prefer at least to understand the charges in full. ;-)


E.F., you may want to review your post's punctuation marks. If you'd like, I can provide a listing of grammatical errors, including punctuation. I can't promise to be comprehensive, but I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the subject. Despite the mistakes I can see, I believe I understood what you said in your comment. Your idea of "clear writing" seems to not only be flawed, but a double standard.

As a physicist, you may appreciate the significance of statements such as, "We might soon have a unified theory of everything," or "The Large Hadron Center is going to answer questions posed by supersymmetry," true or untrue as they may be. However, you should also try delivering these statements to other people, who might react, "And I care because...?" The kind or courteous ones say, "That's very nice," and try to avoid you. I know, because I have been shouting from a mountaintop for five years, and have gained maybe an inch of progress. That is to say: none.

These facts are, to them, a small beer in a large glass as well. Does that make the endeavors of the mathematicians and physicists striving towards those goals any less significant? I would think not.

In any case, this is indeed a public forum, and you are indeed welcome to participate and contribute to the discussion.

You didn't. You dismissed it and said it was not worth talking about. That it was obvious, and disparaged it. This is a public forum. This is plain to see, since there is no end to the spam that appears on it. What were you contributing?


I said I would not say any more but it is difficult not to.

Disregarding all of our typos or the odd poor piece of gramma, your punctuation and sentence structuring are terrible. We all have flaws so lets put this aside.

I AM trying to participate but there is a way of speaking which is designed to keep people out and to make the writer feel intellectual. Its purpose is often some sort of social bonding between the contributers. You can often identify it by very poor structure and excessive use of uncommon vocabulary in lengthy sentences which, under scrutiny, mean little or nothing. I trying to determine whether TM is saying something new to me or just waffling.

Just explain to me what you mean by the word "Contingency" and I will be happy. clearly you are not using the most commonplace definition:-

Contingency: definition "something that might possibly happen in the future, usually causing problems or making further arrangements necessary"

You suggest that maybe i am just limited in my experience and imply that you have a meaning that is unknown to me.

Very well, give me a dictionary definition of what the word means to you. Share it with me.
Tell me, and any other readers of similarly limited intellect, what "experience of complex contingency" means in plain terms. The phrase does not makes sense with any definition of the word contingency that I can find. You said you are using the philosophical meaning.

Are you talking of Modal logic? Are you talking of Fiedler's theories? Are you talking of Contingency Tables? Are you talking of Financial Contingency Analysis? Enlighten me and I will study and correct my ways.


Well, that's another thing altogether, E F. You certainly showed no signs of being anything but dismissive until this comment. I put a link to another thread in my first comment to you, above. That was my first effort to direct you to how you might enter the conversation. For starters, however, you might also look here; if you'd like a philosopher's take on this that inspired my ideas, you could look at the 8th chapter of Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. In short, however, contingency as I use it is that which is not necessary. I speculate that the gap of understanding here may be the result of you holding a determinist view of the universe, which is fine, but utterly incompatible with this anti-positivist account. I could of course be wrong.

I also wonder if you are familiar with only analytical philosophy. My ideas about contingency are tied not only to MacIntyre, but also the American pragmatists (Peirce, Holmes, James, and Dewey) and the continental phenomenologists (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty). The range of possibilities you lay out doesn't encompass these schools of thought, as near as I can tell.

NB: I am heading out of town for the weekend, and may not respond promptly hereafter.


EF: As a game-playing, non-academic, pseudo-intellectual who is regularly "allowed" to participate on this site, and has, in fact, been encouraged to do so once or twice... and as someone who writes for a living, in a variety of styles... let me give you one piece of advice:

Do not go down the hole with Malaby. Or, if you do, take a lunch and plan to spend all day. And don't go down mad... he don't take that bait.

You say: "...there is a way of speaking which is designed to keep people out and to make the writer feel intellectual." TM writes that way because he *is* intellectual. I don't understand everything he says. Sometimes, if I ask nicely, he says it again and again. Then, sometimes, I understand. I don't always agree, but he has been nice enough to explain things on this forum upwards of three to five times until I get them through my great thick haid.

He studies this crap. Hard. It's his job. It's not mine. So I have found it helpful to approach even our disagreements with at least a hint of humor and fraternas.

Just a friendly thought. from someone whose punctuaion and spooling is lawyas, laways prefect.


Lol, Andy.

/tips cap in appreciation of the kind words.


Don't worry Andy I have no intention of going anywhere with TM. I now understand the situation. Don't worry about not understanding what TM says all the time, I am sure there are many others in that camp.

I admire many great philosophers and of course philosophy is a vital pursuit for the human race. However, for my money TMs work is overcomplicated and shrouded in vague use of the English language under the banner of philosophy.

Do a search for metaphysical sites and you will find hundreds of people spouting pseudo-scientific or pseudo-philosophical rubbish about all sorts of subjects. If you talk to these guys they are generally very calm. They don't get upset regardless of how much their theories are criticised after all they "know" the truth, you are just misguided or ignorant of their secret knowledge. They will often have many followers and published works and they use this as a justification of their work and a validation of themselves. Read their articles and you will find a cascade of uncommon vocabulary, words strung together randomly designed to blind the readers and create a myth of their own knowledge. Of course they offer ready explanations, which take the form of even greater torrents of mis-used vocabulary. They all have a few phrases they have made up like "quantum perception coefficients", and they actually feel superior if you don't know their meaning of the phrase. Quantum is a great favourite in fact, you find it everywhere.

Of course TM is not one of these but if he keeps overcomplicating his writing he will start to sound like one. Some if not all of the greatest theories are expressed in the simplest words.

"Every object remains stationary or if moving travels in a straight line, unless acted on by a force" Issac Newton (law of inertia - modern translation)

An incredibly important principle in very simple words. It pre-relativistic of course but that does not distract from its beauty. So come on TM show your not a "wordsmith" ...simplify, simplify.

Now my turn to apologize, I have enjoyed a little sword play on this site but on Monday I must depart on a 3 month expedition. It is remote and I will not have internet access often enough to use it casually. Have fun and remember one opponent is worth ten supporters.


May I suggest as plane-reading fodder that you grab the latest New Yorker and read Adam Gopnick's article on Darwin as a writer ("Rewriting Nature")?


@EF: I don't like circumelloqutiousoverloquationary bombastafpontifitudinous piffilizing verbonitude any more than the next dude. And, yes... there is a beauty to simplicy. But there is also a beauty to complexity when it is required. The English language contains almost a million words in the common lexicon. Most languages top out around 2-300,000. And yet, in all that nearly 1 million set of words, only one really means: periwinkle.

So, sure. When simplicity is called for, get out the big, red pen. I write headlines and ad copy for a living most days. Those have to be, in most cases, pretty pithy. People won't sit still for long marketing copy... unless it's very, very good. Even then, ya gotta drag 'em in with short bursts, usually.

But we often use the round-about language as a tool to help us narrow in. The big adze before the fine-grained steel wool.

If you can take what TM has written, and come up with a way to say it in fewer, clearer words... I can guarantee he'll send praise your way. I know this because he and I went round-and-round the mulberry bush on a couple issues, and several times he had good things to say about my phrasing as we honed the language down from "more words" to fewer, and "fuzzier thoughts" to "sharper."

But just because words are long or unusual, or the grammar is complex, does not make the thought invalid.


After reading the entire post I am left to wonder why it is that when my spouse reads it here the concepts expressed are "genuis", meanwhile the same concepts discussed between myself and one of my RL-friend guildmates over a beer are the product of drunken overthinking.


To quote Bull Durham: The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness.


Quite entertained to see the ripple effect of thought permeate in a discussion.

This is effectively my first post on TN. I was brought to this article via a post on the WoW forums. Just wanted to share my reflections after reading the OP and the subsequent responses.

I run a relatively young guild (3+ years). WoW was our first game migration. The original inception of the guild was within the FFXI gaming universe. From my own personal experience as a GM I see plenty of correlation of what has been stated here to what has transpired with my organization in the past.

MMORPG games are for the most part static. It was mentioned in one of the responses that this static nature of the game coupled with the static nature of a set organization eventually leads to a "break" due to boredom. Games such as Golf and other activities are defined by rules and a setting. The experience itself however is very dynamic in nature. You may be consistent in your strokes and game but you never play the same exact golf game, in the same exact hole the next time you step into that same exact course.

WoW however is built in such a way that encounters are scripted and designed to provide consistency. It is this approach that allows others to follow the best and skilled individuals down the same path of success. One result being to receive the same recognition and perceived course of advancement within the game.

If WoW took the approach of completely dynamic encounters. The individual player would have a much larger investment to make in terms of accountability but would also provide the needed perception of the game not being "stagnant". But I seem to have digressed from what I intended to share.

We have experienced as an organization multiple instances where the existance of our organization was in jeopardy. I found that after each episode the membership base became polarized. I've found that the members who felt vested in the organization argued more in tuned with the party line for the greater good of the guild, regardless of their personal opinion about the subject matter. Those who were less vested argued more from an individual standpoint, often using "Their" experience, "Their" progression, and "Their" enjoyment of the game as a whole.

It's been quite a long day and while I write this last line I'm not quite sure I have effectively conveyed my thoughts. I'll revisit this again to review and try to post a more concise reponse if this does not do the deed.


It's quite interesting to see someone else's reasoning on why WoW guilds break up. Mine has been through almost two years of being together, although it's changed a great deal to continue that way.

One thing I don't think you mentioned in your OP is that fundamental personality differences or unresolved conflicts can sink a guild faster than anything. If and how the guild reacts is what may prevent a split up. Our guild had a great deal of drama regarding how "hardcore" we would become as we went into 40 man raiding. The guild leader was of the opinion that it had to be "fair" to everyone, and that we shouldn't push loot so far, and that it wasn't right to have a baseline of skill or gear required for admittance. One of the officers, on the other hand, advocated a DKP system, attendance requirements, and gear prerequisites for coming on our raids. We eventually settled that argument, but the same basic difference cropped up. The GM wanted an egalitarian system where everyone had a chance, the officer wanted a competitive system that would give us the fastest advancement possible. He eventually left and joined a raid guild.

His guild is currently having issues with cliques as people reach 70. The problem is not so much that the cliques exist, it's that they're not acknowledged. If the drama isn't solved, it's conceivable that they might break up over an issue that could easily be fixed.

On the topic of cliques, I think the best thing in-game guilds can be compared to are high school groups of friends. People (singly or in groups) often migrate in and out of these larger groups. Occasionally, these split over drama-lines, more often, a group of people (seniors) get up and leave, gutting the group of critical members which then causes it to die. New recruits (freshmen) are both necessary and annoying, and aren't really accepted until they've been around for a while. Additionally, there's always those odd people who seem to do better alone, or in small pairs/trios of friends that don't follow clique lines.

Just my 2c.

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