It’s the Community, Stupid


A recent discussion on a Facebook page has planted a seed in my mind which, in typical fashion, has grown shoots, leaves, branches, arms, legs and all manner of other appendages.

The subject: gaming communities… and the conditions which help them to flourish.

I’ve written at length about gaming culture before, primarily of a competitive nature, but the subject of how best to nurture a gaming scene is different enough to pique my interest.

Back to basics

The question which prompted this post was one I found myself asking as I read the Facebook Discussion mentioned above.

That discussion focussed on how a competitively-minded person might forge a competitive gaming group – a subject worth discussing in its own article at a later date – but many of the points read across very easily into a wider question: What’s required to support a gaming scene?

I’m going to assume that a game worth playing is a given.

Beyond that, there are a few things which suggest themselves:

  • The equipment to play the game – Dice, Magic Cards, miniature soldiers, replica buildings, gaming software etc.
  • A suitable place to play the game – a tabletop, a garage, a function room, a game server.
  • A group of players – other people who want to play the game.

The last point is, rather obviously, critically important. If you want to play a game, but have no one to play with, you’re stuck at square one; you can’t play at all, never mind play regularly, or for prizes and personal development.

Put simply, you need a community.

How do I get one?

If you’re lucky, it’s already waiting for you. Perhaps it has already coalesced around a gaming store or a club – great news, because all an interested player needs to do is discover it. Navigate to http://www.google.com, pop in some geographically relevant search terms… And you’re off to the races.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the possibility that no-one is playing organised games in your area – or at least not in the way you want to play. In such a case, you are going to have to force the issue.

To understand how this kind of effort unfolds, I spoke to a friend who has undertaken just such a project – we’ll call him ‘Doc‘ – and I’ll explore some of his insights as we progress.

Establishing a community – motivations

Building a functioning community from the ground up is a daunting task, on paper. What motivates a person to start down this road?

Doc was pretty clear on the subject: “I had been out of my hobby for a decade, but I wanted back in. The members of my old gaming group weren’t into the idea, so I had to go looking.”

At the outset, he established some goals:

  • To play regularly
  • To establish a group of 3-4 regular opponents
  • To be able to game in the comfort of his living room

“This meant a couple of things,” Doc told me. “I had to find people that I got on well with and whom I could feel comfortable inviting into my home, who shared my interest in the game. I still wanted to go for it, though. It seemed like a pretty fun, empowering thing to do.”

Lesson 1: If you’re setting out to build a gaming community, you must ‘want it’ enough to take the necessary steps – and you need to have a clear vision of what you are aiming for.

Establishing a community – first steps

Doc began to explore the gaming landscape in his area. It quickly became apparent that there were 3 different pools of gaming interest:

  • Local games stores and their customer/player base
  • Local gaming clubs
  • Less formal groups which were closed or invisible to those on the outside

“Some exploration of the stores and clubs quickly revealed that it was tough to find the kind of people I was looking for,” Doc explained. “The importance I placed on the social chemistry within the group meant that it wasn’t simply an open door policy. The other groups were inaccessible. I realised I’d need to try something different.”

He began posting on popular internet forums related to his hobby, being very clear about what he was looking for; established a Facebook group; and continued meeting people face to face through the store/club route.

“Ironically, for such a socially focussed activity, face to face meetings were probably my least successful venture,” he observed during our conversation.

Lesson 2: Approach your project methodically. Visit clubs and stores if there are any nearby; become part of online communities that might contribute to your own community; be open and honest about what you’re looking for. There’s no point in hinting and hoping.

Momentum and consequences

Doc’s efforts paid off, delivering a small, friendly group of gamers with a similar outlook. But things didn’t stop there; his Facebook group continued to grow in membership, some more active than others, but all with a shared interest in the game. However, this did lead to a dilution of his original vision.

“I was more successful than I had anticipated at attracting interest,” he admitted. “Did I get what I originally wanted? Yes, quite quickly. Did it grow beyond my ambitions? Definitely – but this did mean that the social chemistry aspect fell by the wayside. The group became progressively more like a standard gaming club.”

As the group transitioned into a Facebook-powered open door phase, Doc began to feel the absence of a ‘code of conduct’ or other means of establishing norms: “When we were just a few people, the way we interacted was determined by just a few close personal relationships. There was never any need for rules or moderation; that became a problem as membership exploded.”

Eventually, after 2-3 years of involvement, Doc stepped away from the group he had built. “I recognised that it was no longer what I’d set out to do,” he told me. “Once that was apparent, bowing out seemed natural; I kept contact with the close group of players I’d wanted to establish and left the larger group to others.”

Lesson 3: Don’t lose sight of your goal. If what you’re building starts to change, make sure that it’s a change you have decided on or are comfortable with, rather than a drift into uncomfortable territory.

Reflections on the adventure

I asked Doc what factors he felt had helped and hindered his efforts to scratch-build a gaming community.

“For me, the most important positive was having the right chemistry in my gaming fraternity. Being selective about who I played with was quite important, although that might be different for other people doing something similar. The most negative impact came when big personalities came into play, as the group was expanding very quickly; because we hadn’t planned for it, we weren’t ready to handle some of the ‘wrecking-ball’ exchanges that took place.”

If he were to become a builder again, what would he do differently?

“I’d decide exactly what kind of community I was building and stick to it. If it was a tight-knit circle, I wouldn’t be afraid to be exclusive; if it was an open-door club, I’d have a clear code of conduct and strong moderation, so new members could get a sense of what to expect quickly and settle in on that basis.”

Wrapping up… for now

Since I started thinking about this topic, it’s become apparent that there is more depth to it than I can reasonably cover in a single post. The detail of how communities succeed or fail, the dynamics which exist within them… these are subjects worthy of more discussion. In particular, I think there’s much more to consider about communities of competitive gamers and how those groups interact with more casual circles.

For now, I’ll keep my conclusions high level and brief.

If you want to establish a gaming community of your own and see it flourish:

  • You’ll need a clear vision of what it should look like
  • You’ll need to be committed to seeking out members who share that vision, through whatever avenues are available
  • …and you’ll need to make sure it stays on target rather than drifting until it’s unrecognisable.

If any of you in Internet-land have insights to share on this subject, I’d be very interested to hear them – so don’t be shy.

Until next time, keep your dice tumbling, your decks shuffled and your measuring tape primed.

2 thoughts on “It’s the Community, Stupid

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