I come across a very common theme when I read MMO blogs:
It’s a lament that someone is looking for a community to be part of, but somehow can’t quite find the right game or the right group, or can’t quite spare the time or effort or investment in order to belong.
It made me very curious about the age-old questions on “How do communities form?” or “How do we join a community?” or even “Why do we need community?”
Google, you may be surprised, was not much help.
I got a lot of hits on questions regarding forms, the word “community” just happening to be in some sidebar or other, whereupon which clicking will bring you to that site’s forums.
I got told that you can “join our community” by “clicking this button or this link!” (Yeah, right, as easy as that.)
And, of course, I start getting religion thrown at me when I ask Why questions.
I did, however, find a few interesting links:
- Michael Wu differentiates between social networks and communities by specifying that an individual generally has only one social network of pre-existing relationships, made up of all the people you know, while communities of various groups of people are formed around and held together by a shared common interest.
He goes on to discuss the formation of relationships between two people and how a weak tie might become a strong one, as well as further overlap and interaction between social networks and communities.
- A Social Media course website provides further reading links, where communities are defined from an economic standpoint, with social capital flowing through the system.
Still, all of this theory doesn’t really answer my main burning question on how to help or encourage those who are seeking a community to find and join one – and just how precisely they should be doing that, since it’s much easier said than done, without clear and constructive suggestions on how to go about that.
Psychochild comes at the community question from the perspective of a game designer or community manager, which is rather fascinating from a non-developer’s standpoint, to see a dev’s take on things. He’s got a lot of grounded advice on how to create, manage and/or lead one.
But what about the just regular joes, the followers, the introverts, the socially anxious, or the players like me that are more than a little allergic to leading these days? The ones that just want to be part of something, and might even settle for a zerg or one of the faceless crowds in lieu of anything better?
Well, if it’s only introversion standing in your way, David Seah’s “Community Building For Introverts” is worth a read.
He finds that it’s worth standing up to lead and “be the mayor” because that way, it’s easier for introverts to control the extent of their interactions with people and who and how many get to enter their community. There’s always a lot more followers than leaders, after all.
What if you’re like me though, and have been so burned out by the effort of leading that any suggestion towards being a nucleus or the center of something makes you want to run screaming to hide in a deep dark quiet hole somewhere away from the hell that is other people?
You see, I got good news and bad news.
The bad news is, if you want to be part of a community, if you’re feeling lonely or just a wish to maybe feel like you belong somewhere, you DO have to make some kind of effort at it.
The good news is, you don’t have to be the center of attention, you don’t have to lead.
Here’s an inspirational idea from a TED talk on “How to Start a Movement.”
You can be the Second Man aka the first follower.
You can be the guy (or gal) to join the first crazy person and offer support and validation of that idea. That reassurance and support encourages others to join in.
Before you know it, a community has surrounded you, and phew, you’re still not the freakin’ center of attention. That’s the first crazy person’s job.
Personally, this appeals to me a lot because I like being behind-the-scenes and still a right-hand person sort of figure.
But what if you don’t have the time or effort to be the Second Man?
Well, you can still be the third, or the fourth, or the fifth, or the Nth person to join in.
The important thing is, you still have to show up.
If you want to be part of a community, you have to make the effort to be there somehow.
In order for others to recognize you, your name or your face has to turn up regularly enough for people to make a connection.
Watching TV doesn’t take a lot of effort, but you still gotta sit your butt on the couch at a certain time and turn the TV on. (Even in the days of Netflix where TV comes on demand, you still have to set aside an hour to watch that show, even if it’s at an hour of your choosing.)
No one’s asking that you jump in there and start leading or become 100% active in whatever community you’re after, but you can take small baby steps of joining and belonging.
Log in. Play for whatever set time you’ve decided. Take note of the people or guild tags that play at that time. Research a guild. Join a guild. Attend events. Participate.
It’s not necessarily a linear sequence, mind you. You might go back and forth for a bit. Some days you might just only be able to do one step or two. Or not at all. Just get back on the wagon when you can.
If it’s a blogging or forum or social media-y community, then y’know… Read posts. Make an account. Lurk. Toss in a comment or two when you can. Maybe even get around to full creation of a post when you have the time.
Sometimes it’ll involve a bit of personal sacrifice.
Tradeoffs of time where one could be sleeping, or doing something else equally tempting, and maybe even personally profitable over merely being social with the community.
But you know, social capital has value too.
Regardless of whether it pays off in just good feelings or the power of reciprocal relationships to get someone else to help you out with something you need or want.
If you want that sense of community, then invest in it.