What do the following words conjure:

Friend, spouse, lover, workmate, team-mate, colleague, buddy, father, mother, mentor, partner, husband, wife, grandmother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, mate, nephew, niece…

We know what these words signify: forms of relationships. We know intuitively what it means when someone describes another person as “a friend”, “their husband” or “my son”.

The very use of those words conjure expectations about the nature of those relationships. Parents should be loving, workmates professional and team orientated and friends should be interested in your life.

In some ways we are defined by our relationships to others. We draw identity from being a “good father” or a by being a “supportive friend”.

The phrase, no man is an island is very much true. We thrive when we feel part of a group or a community. Evolution shaped us in this manner. We all crave, need and desire interaction with others. It what makes us human.

But what does this mean in the context of online gaming?

Social networks: the foundation of all MMOs

Instinctively we search out relationships and communities when we enter virtual worlds such as WoW, Aion and WAR. These virtual communities are fuelled by our ancient, instinctive desire to group and share our experiences with others.

The basic unit of social organisation is “the guild”, a collective of players who agree to group, share resources and form a community of interest. Guilds are made of “guild mates”, players form an association very much like the medieval guilds of old.

But what do you call the people you play with, and how do you characterise your relationship to them?

Defining the relationship is important, as it sets your expectations. You know what you expect from your spouse. But what do you expect from your guild mate?

What’s in a name

Well, let’s start with definitions. I searched the internet for a definition of the term “guild mate” but could not find one.

So, I thought I’d create one myself:

Guild mate (noun)

1. An individual member of an association of players in a massively online game (MMO).
2. An individual within an MMO you frequently play/group with.
3. A person with shared interest in online gaming who a player frequently interacts with.

Variations: guild member(s), guildie(s).

I think that’s about right.

Guildmates are very much like sporting team-mates.

You have a shared interest, or passion in a particular MMO. You frequently group to run dungeons or complete quests. What do you value in your guild mates? For me it’s skill, communication and respect.

However, it’s important to remember guild mates are not (always) friends. You can spend years grouping with some one and not know anything about their life. You may not even know their real name, just their avatars handle.

Are these relationships real?

Yes, as real as any others I’ve listed above. But they’re new form of relationship, peculiar to the internet age. A person can be a guild mate for a few weeks, months or years. But what links you is the interest in the game.

The term “guild mate” characterises a new form of relationship spawned from the world of online gaming.  

With time, a guild mate may become a friend. If not, don’t worry. 

What’s important is enjoying the shared experience of running Naxxramas in WoW and flipping a Keep in WAR.

So, what do you guys think? What are your expectations for your “guild mates”?