Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Community through labour

Back when I was involved in an ill-fated startup company, I used to share an office with our partner company, a games studio. The guys there were a convivial bunch, all pretty young, all male, united by making games at a place that was, frankly, something of a sweatshop. They had a bit of a regular thing going where they would generally go out drinking at the local pub on Thursday nights - and then often shamble into work on Friday morning rather the worse for wear.

One day, one of the newer guys asked one of the old-timers, "Why do we do this to ourselves? Why don't we go out for a drink on Friday night so we don't have to get up and come to work the next morning?"

The response? "Because on Friday night we go out with our real friends."

What's the point of this anecdote? Keen from Keen & Graev's has been writing a series of blog posts on "Old MMO Mechanics I Love and You Probably Hate," and this morning I read part three in the series. He's talking largely about mechanics from the original EverQuest here, and the common theme of group camping, rare spawn camping, dungeon camping etc. seems to be the community this engendered.

Hanging around with a group of other players while one person goes and pulls mobs back to the camp to be killed? To the current MMO generation that probably sounds like a bad thing, that would happen if people ran out of content and were forced to grind XP. To Keen, this was "the most fun [way to level] because it allowed me to socialize with people and form a connection with others playing the game. This was a catalyst for a very, very close-knit community later."

And this is what made me think of socializing with workmates. I've worked for eight different companies in my career as a programmer and I have really enjoyed the camaraderie at all of them. When you spend a lot of time with people, working in a common cause to do something that can often be boring or frustrating, you make friends. But you know what? I've made friends doing things I enjoyed doing too, friends that I shared interests with, not just an employer. Making friends while doing something boring is a consolation prize, not a reason to do something boring.

And that's why Keen is right to predict that I would probably hate these mechanics.