Since its premiere on July of 2007, the web exclusive series “The Guild” has been using the medium and expanding its portrayal of a group of gamers to challenge some of the conventions and stereotypes about these hobbyists in other media, while at the same time creating some new ones along the way.
The web program centers around a group of gamers who have social interactions through a fantasy massively multi-player game similar to Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. The show is the brainchild of Felicia Day, a writer actress turned entrepreneurial producer who is an admitted girl gamer in real life.
It has been chronicled in many media outlets that Day wrote most of the scripts and conceived the idea for the web show after feeling guilty over being non-productive during a period of her life when she would spend eight hours immersed in a daily routine of playing a Wow-like mmo. In the show she portrays the character of Codex, a meek and reserved young woman who finds confidence in her online avatar, amidst her guild of players. A guild is a collective of video-gamer role players who band together to achieve certain in game objectives which are usually too difficult to complete solo. It’s like a virtual gang for gamers.
While some of the portrayals of the various characters in the guild are typical of the media’s perceptions of gamers, mainly anti-social people or dysfunctional geeky misanthropes, Day also manages to break away from some of these misconceptions by driving home the notion that gamers are not just old men living in their mother’s basements, but people who come from all walks of life, ages, professions and backgrounds.
The notion of an attractive girl gamer like Codex exists is the first stereotype tackled and dispelled by the program. Despite the fact Codex is seen as less than perfect, it is her frailty and her humanity that people can empathize and these are the qualities which give the character some credibility and which make her appealing to a wide audience, as well as the core gaming demographic.
In an article by Tyler Wilde of gamesradar.com, the features Community Editor says that there are seven stereotypes of gamers people hate including the frat boy gamer, Role playing game snobs, non-existent gamers crated by marketing companies, and devil children among many other categories. Some of these gamer types are featured prominently in the Guild.
In one of the most interesting episodes (at least from a sociological perspective) of the animated TV Show “Southpark” entitled “Make Love Not Warcraft,” the plot surrounds a mystery player who is running around in-game killing innocent players and generally not following the rules of the game which specify that you can’t kill another player unless they agree to duel with you.
“Whoever this person is has played World of Warcraft for nearly every hour of every day, for the past year and a half,” says one of the characters in a whimsical bit of dialogue. The player had become so powerful and reached such a high level in the game that even the admins or game developers where unable to discipline him or her.
While this might seem as clever bit of hyperbole employed by the show’s writers, a recent study of American household revealed that the average gamer of MMORPGS (massive multi-player online role-playing games) spends 22 hours a week playing these games, versus seven hours watching television. Hard-core gamers, of course, can spend a lot more time than that playing their favorite games.
“We are dealing with someone here who has absolutely no life,” continues the game admin portrayed in the Southpark episode, which serves to highlight the most common depiction of hard core gamers in popular mainstream media. Namely, that of a person who is anti-social and addicted to video game playing so much that they ignore their daily interactions with others.
One character stereotype of the devil children who have little regard for manners and who make the community of gaming a less than favorable place to be in (especially in games like wow) is fully displayed in this episode of Southpark.
The Guild extends this stereotype, but not in the form of one of the main character players but in the form of Bladezz’ little sister, a precocious pre-teen savvy in the ways of the adult world but still too young and immature. Bladezz’ sister torments him in every way and it is partly to escape his family situation that Bladezz retreats to the comfort of the game and his guild.
How does the portrayal of gamers contrast to the Guild? In the guild, unlike the Wow players depicted in Southpark, the players are of various ages and backgrounds and in some cases they are more social and less isolated than the media would have people believe them to be.
For example, the guild features a character code named Tinkerbella (she doesn’t trust her teammates enough to tell them much about her personal life outside the game so her real name is unknown to the viewer) who is a pre-med student and though she appears to also be addicted to gaming, it doesn’t interfere with other activities she engages in like shopping and dating and exploiting guys for her financial gains.
Despite these character flaws, this character is reminiscent of real time players who are also female and attractive, quite the contrary to the stereotyped personification of the anti-social (and predominantly male gamer depicted in media portrayals.) For example, in the documentary film “Gamers” filmmaker Ben Gonyo interviews Nikki Harper, who runs a gaming guild with her boyfriend.
Harper is a young, attractive raven haired female gamer, the antithesis of every gamer depicted in film or television. In this respect, Harper is similar to both Tinkerbella and Codex because she has a social life away from the game. She is probably closer to Tink, because Codex still has anxiety issues around other people while Harper seems grounded and more confident. Another girl interviewed games with her boyfriend who is a D.J. and they often partake of cosplay at various raves and events.
Why would this girl be attracted to playing wow? Perhaps for the same reason others get sucked into playing these games. “It’s exciting to do something, or to maybe do something that you’ve never done before, and that you maybe can’t,” said Harper referencing the allure of many mmos.
What is the perception of the typical geek gamer and their lack of a social life? The public thinks of these people in almost a caricature-like way, a soda next to them to keep them awake, a pizza box next to them in case they get hungry during long gaming sessions late into the night. They are thought of as socially awkward and people with laptops and pasty white skin who don’t like to engage in physical activities.
One mom gamer said that she just doesn’t sit at home, she will go to a friend’s house with her laptop and play the game there. The filmmaker also interviewed Jennie and Chad Smith, a couple of married gamers who spoke about their hobby at the latest Blizz Con, the biggest gaming convention annually held in Anaheim California.
“BlizzCon is definitely my Christmas, It’s [like I am] a little kid in an adult package, if your your mate doesn’t play, chances of the relationship lasting are slim to none,” Smith said.
These people resemble the character of Clara, who prior to marriage and having children, according to the show’s lore, was a wild party girl and former cheerleader, whose social ties in the outside world are now sublimated by her virtual reality world.
“It’s not like I’m holed up in my mom’s basement, I go out and socialize with my friends,” said Smith. Her friends also happen to be gamers and because she has kids, she doesn’t plan on going out much during the week.
Thus, the Guild’s new stereotype of the mom gamer or the domestic partners engaging in a virtual world that they can both share outside their real life world is grounded on reality, but is a ground-breaking portrayal nonetheless.
Paul Martino was a statistics professional interviewed in the documentary. He said his social abilities declined when he was in high school for three years when he was playing a popualr mmo called Everquest. He admits it was a somewhat damaging experience for him because he wasn’t socializing or interacting with others off line. Bladezz is the character that most closely matches gamers like Martino.
Bladezz is a high school student who spends most of his time outside of school in his parent’s basement playing the game. Because he is yet to fully mature, he directs lewd sexual innuendos at his female guild mates and like Martino appears to have few social activities outside of school and gaming.
In later episodes he is seen working at a restaurant, but he only takes the job in order to pay off debts he incurred when Tink used her female charms to scam him out of material goods. Even at his job, he is seen simultaneously flipping burgers and playing the game on his laptop when his boss is not around.
Interestingly, even within the stereotype-rich Guild, existing stereotypes get reinforced or replaced by new ones and specific type of gamers are portrayed in a different light than other gamers.
For example, mmo players may be thought in an even less appealing light by society, even by other more casual gamers or by gamers who participate in other genres. In one episode, Codex is made to feel inferior by another girl gamer who is more assertive but who plays console games and first-person-shooters, games which don’t require as much role playing and whose style are more military or strategic in nature.
New York Best Seller Science Fiction novelist turned game developer R.A. Salvatore says the hero is not the guy with the biggest gun but the one with the biggest heart the one who stands for what he believes in even when times are tough.
This statement might help to explain some of the strong attraction some people have towards these types of virtual realities. Namely, they have the need to not just be passively entertained as with watching a movie or a television show, but they have a desire for active participatory entertainment. They also want to be the hero.