Building a Community to Play in a Whole New Way

Reflections on an earlier transformative moment in my life and how it relates to my path forward

I’ve been stepping back and reflecting upon my life as a whole the last few days, trying to see the larger patterns within it. And in the process I’ve realized something remarkable that I hadn’t noticed before. What is that? That the transformation of my life didn’t start offline with the Dot-Com Bubble bursting in 2001 but rather online five years earlier within video game communities.

This kind of stunned me when I realized it but it’s true. You see back when I was transitioning to playing team-based first-person shooters online around 1996 (i.e. Quake Capture The Flag and later Counter-Strike), I noticed a certain toxicity to players and even communities back then that are, if anything, even more pronounced today. Because of this, I was pretty picky with regards to joining “clan” communities who were forming around the game.

Fortunately though, I was able to collaborate with like minded people in running a clan together at first and later, I even created my own clan community, putting a lot of my unconventional thoughts and ideas from books I had read (i.e. Steve Perry’s Matador Series, Miyamoto Mushashi’s Book of Five Rings, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, etc) into practice in innovative ways (i.e. a team as a symbiotic group just relaying situation awareness thus not needing centralized command and control).

It’s funny because when I looked back at these experiences before this recent realization, while I found them to be exciting times, I never really thought of them as transformative. But they were because I was effectively seeing a limited mindset out there that I didn’t agree with and I was fostering and creating a more evolved mindset within the communities I was managing and even creating.

And I think this was a defining moment in my life because I was actually taking leadership over something that I thought was extremely important. So a lot of people may look at it as though I was just creating a community around a video game but it was so much more than that. I was creating a different culture, a different way of being, from the norm. And that took a helluva lot of guts and courage to do for someone who was pretty highly introverted prior to this. So these experiences really brought me out of my shell which I think lead me to take leadership positions offline within the work world as well.

Yet at the same time, I think this is why I’ve found my life so frustrating up until now. In effect, what I achieved within these video game communities, even up to the mid to late 2000s when I was helping to cultivate and manage a 300 man World of Warcraft guild community, I’ve been unable to achieve and replicate offline within the work environments I’ve been within. So it’s frustrating seeing this potential and possibility for a new way of working and being unable to get others to perceive it within the offline world of work.

What I’m also realizing from this though is that this frustration caused a regression within me that even affected my online identity as well. By the 2010s, even though I was still active in video game communities, I gave up trying to create and cultivate them, even though I had been successful doing so in the past. And what I noticed was this built up more and more frustration and anger within me.

For example, while playing World of Tanks Blitz around 2015, I started seeing this ongoing degradation of the community, as more and more players entered the game but there was less and less interest in learning the basics of it. Instead people just got stuck in their limited fixed mindsets and blamed others for their frustrations. In effect, the very thing that I was doing in blaming others for the degradation of the community, rather than trying to create a positive, learning community to do something about it.

Later when I jumped to Eve Echoes in 2020, it felt like there was this amazing possibility of something truly unique and different, as I’ve never felt this empowered in a game environment before in the sense of being able to forge my own unique path within a game environment (due to its sandbox nature). But then starting in 2021, not only did the “corporation” communities within the game get more toxic but the developer of the game began to intentionally design this amazingness out of the game, so as to maximize profits (to the point that today the game and community is an empty shell of what it used to be).

Today, in reflecting upon this all, it feels as though everything has come full circle in terms of toxicity. Not only are video game communities more toxic than they’ve ever been, because people are trying to escape the reality and frustration of their daily lives, but you actually have game developers taking advantage of this toxicity, so as to profit from it, by psychologically manipulating the addictive, lower level psychological needs of their player base (i.e. gambling with loot crates, etc).

But offline work environments aren’t any better. While not as toxic as online gaming environments, the toxic leadership within them is definitely making it psychologically exhausting to work within them, as it’s being touted as one of the main reasons why people are leaving their jobs today.

All that said though, where am I going with this post and where are the feelings about it trying to lead me?

I think what my inner self is try to point out here is that I will never feel like I’m living a meaningful and purposeful life until 1) I start getting back into playing the “game” again, 2) start playing it my way, and 3) start building and leading a community around this new way of playing, just like I did back in 1996.

Yet at the same time though, I have this feeling that whatever I create, it won’t just be something offline in the work world nor something just online in these playful virtual worlds but perhaps something that is a hybrid of both.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for The Adventure of Your Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

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