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Digital Communities

January 24, 2014

Dear Reader,

I read two very interesting posts yesterday.  The primary post, by Belghast of Tales of the Aggronaut, discussed why his experiences led him to believe that our group of blogs was not a community.  The second post, by Rowan Blaze of I Have Touched the Sky, responded to Bel’s with skepticism but acknowledgement of important points.  I left a comment to Bel on his website, but the topic stayed with me afterwards and, like all great blog posts do, really got me thinking, so I thought I’d take today to further develop my ideas on the topic.

As with many debates, the true core of this is semantic.  What Bel means by community and what I mean when I use the same word are inherently different.  That’s what makes some debates so frustrating: two people talking past one another not realizing they’re really talking about two different things.  It’s also what can make debates so rewarding, when you and another person find a way to expand the understanding of the other by sharing your personal connotations of words.  As an English professor, I love watching this sort of thing (and, of course, taking part in it as well).

To the point, I absolutely do think our loose collection of blogs is a community, and I think labeling it as such is important.  By labeling it, we remind ourselves that even when we disagree, there is a commonality that we share.  It gives us some ownership not only of our own blogs, but in all the blogs out there with which we identify.  That ownership isn’t meant to imply any creative control, just that we feel motivated to participate in, cultivate, and defend one another (even if defend = disagree, which is absolutely can).

Bel notes that the “one anothers” in our community are often strangers with whom we’ve decided to identify based solely on pixels through a screen.  Of course, there’s legitimacy to that argument. The ability of the Internet to replicate a form of dissociative identity disorder is startling, so it’s no wonder that our ties to people we only know through pixels might be thinner or more fragile.  However, while of course there’s millions of years of evolution, mirror neurons, public personas, and fear of shame that may change our face-to-face behavior, in the end, we only know our “real world” friends though the masks that they put on, as well.  Sure, over a long enough period of time, those masks may vanish and one may learn the true nature of his or her friends (for better or worse), the fact that you can never be that sure didn’t inhibit the relationship in its early stages.

The same can be true of our digital relationships.  In a brief and enjoyable Twitter exchange, Bel said (I have no idea how to display just his tweet, so bear with me),

I responded that that sort of reaching out was precisely why I think labeling it a community was so important.  If you’re just writing in a room of strangers, why bother?  But when those other writers are part of your community, well.  Now we have a reason to build.

Belghast’s post is exactly spot-on in every example he provides.  We’ve all felt the “chill” of suddenly being alienated from people we’d considered friends when we leave a particular group, and it can take time to grow into whatever new group we’ve joined.  In that meantime, though, isolation can set in.  I’ve seen a lot of other bloggers talk about this upon quitting their blog or taking a break from games.  We’re all likely guilty of such an accidental shunning as well.

It’s never been intentional, of course.  With so many blogs out there in our community, when someone steps out, it’s far too easy to slowly (or even quickly at times) forget about them.  I’ve gone back and looked at my “hidden” links (because I never delete a link in case the blog comes back), and here’s just a small list of people I’ve lost touch with who were “good blogging buddies” in my past:

Runz from Runzwithfire

Jamin from Shattered Beginnings

Nube of Lonely Pally

Rhii of Oh My Kurenai!

Issy of Jaceandco

…and plenty of others.  Some of those people were my top commentators for a time, and I’ve allowed them to just… fade away.

And that’s the dark side, the somber side of communities.  They’re as easy to leave as they are to join (if they’re harder to leave, they’re probably cults), and often, making the choice to leave ends your time with the community members.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that great friendships can’t form that outlast whatever community brought them together.  I have friends in guilds that I quit long ago, and I do keep in touch with some people I met through my blog who aren’t around as much any more (Krel, for example.  How are you?).  Those rare opportunities are part of what makes having a community so important; that “reaching out” to which Bel alludes happens because of the commonality, in spite of the fact that we all know how ephemeral our membership may be.

So however you may think about community, or however you may want to label our little group of blogs, remember that the words don’t matter, the intentions do.  Feeling that group membership, knowing that you’re a part of something, and the enjoyment you get out of it while you’re there should always be leveraged against the knowledge that it’s only for a time.  For right now.


Stubborn (for now)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2014 8:11 am

    Nothing’s forever 🙂 that’s the one big lesson we’ll have to wrestle with all our lives. really the hardest of them all.

    As for me, I’d just like to highlight that community is a two-way street. and that’s something people love to forget. not in reference to Bel now but really in general, I sometimes come across very (very) vacuum blogs, keeping completely to themselves or very small circles, who at some point will complain about the wider community. frankly, that makes me raise a tired eyebrow. if you make it very hard to be found, if you write about topics nobody can possibly comment on, if you hardly reach out…..well, that’s a case of raising your own walls around you and not rejection of any kind by your peers. I know the insecurities of writers and the way that affects our perception and I truly empathize. but we must hold ourselves to the same standards we expect from others. the MMO blogosphere I’ve come to know is a crazy giving place at times and giving back, no matter in what small ways, has a dynamic of its own.

    Maybe it’s that I’m just so not used to this type of genial and kindred environment in my real life, that I perceive this so differently. maybe I’m a dreamer. 🙂 but it’s the community that has kept me blogging.

    • January 24, 2014 12:33 pm

      I haven’t come across a lot of blogs like that, but I have no doubt that your point is genuine. I personally can’t imagine a reason to keep a blog hidden (unless it was truly just for personal or small-group use). And then to complain that the community’s not welcoming – well – that’s just nuts. With Blog Azeroth and the New Blogger Initiative, I’d argue that the community’s become more accepting and helpful than ever.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. January 24, 2014 9:11 am

    I’m with Syl on the nothing lasting forever. It seems very sad for me to automatically discard relationships as wasted or worthless once they end! I’ve had seen so many people come and go in my young life already, and they all left their mark and had some sort of impact on me, even if our relationships didn’t last.

    I lost so many readers when I switched to blogging about SWTOR (if Bel thinks the general MMO blogging community is quiet, he should try blogging about a specific non-WoW MMO for a while, heh ;)) but I wouldn’t hold it against any of them – it’s not a reflection of me or them as a person; our interests simply diverged. I also still feel part of the wider MMO blogging community because even if these bloggers don’t want to read my SWTOR-specific stories, nothing stops me from reading other people’s wider MMO stories and commenting on their posts. 🙂

    • January 24, 2014 10:20 am

      …and this is one of the remarkable things about you and your blog Shintar, but then I’ve told you this before. 🙂 I am frustrated at times that I can’t comment in the same way anymore on your SWTOR blog, simply because I lack knowledge, but you will always remain one of my oldest blogosphere buddies. and I’ve not forgotten.

      It was a comment by Wilhelm that said this beautifully over at Bel’s; a community is like a wider neighborhood and community doesn’t mean we all/always need to interact in the same ways, as closely or as often. it’s still a community, depending on how you see it.

    • January 24, 2014 12:35 pm

      Well I’m glad to say that while I admit to not having kept up with your blog as much, that we still check each other’s sites out from time to time and drop in on topics that really catch us. I consider you a blogging buddy, and that we were part of the same community (and still are, on a broader scale), is precisely why I want to keep in touch with you. That’s why it’s so important to keep calling it a community even when it lets us down. Without the label, there’s no reason to keep trying.
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Krel permalink
    January 24, 2014 9:12 pm

    I’m around. 🙂

    For me, as a blog consumer and not a producer (if I had more time I might but I don’t, so I don’t…) – I have two types of “gaming” blogs I read.

    The first group typically covers a variety of games and sometimes personal stuff – Hardcore Casual, TAGN, and of course Sheep the Diamond all fall in this category. this group tends to be fairly stable – although I remove blogs from time to time, it’s more likely that they’re being removed because they’ve gone dormant, not because I’ve lost interest in what they’re saying. I am far more likely to comment on posts on blogs in this group.

    The second group, what I would call single-game blogs, tends to be much more transitory and focuses pretty much directly on what I am currently playing, from EVE to WoW to FE, SWTOR, WoT, etc.

    Nowadays I am playing the occasional game of World of Tanks but my heart’s not really in it. I’m mostly following Star Citizen and interestingly it’s the first time I’ve gotten into listening to podcasts. I know most people are not nuts about space sims and since there really isn’t anything to play yet I don’t expect my general interest gaming blogs to talk about it all that much. I expect that will change as they get closer to releasing the game.

    • January 27, 2014 12:09 pm

      Yeah, you’ve certainly gotten me interested in Star Citizen, but like your last email said, hopefully it won’t become plagued with EVE-like players whose sole purpose is to cause grief in others. I like the concept of the more “open” themed universe; you often see open world, but that on a broader scale would have been impossible to do until now, so I’m excited about giving it a try.

      Thanks for the comment!


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