Types of Governance Found in Gaming Communities

The Main Page - A Review

Governance Structures Found in Several Different Text-Based Online Communities

Ethical and Social Problems that Arise in Online Communities

Identities and Social Interactions in MUDs

Online Gaming Communities and Their Governance Structures

Governance in gaming communities runs the gamut from autocracies to anarchies. In an autocratic system, the sayings of one character, or of a relatively small sub-group of the larger community, are law. Positions of power often go to those with seniority in the organization. Founders of gaming clans for instance, are often also its leaders. Initiates are often discouraged from arguing with clan leaders. Senior members often believe they are in a good position to show other players how to have fun, and more importantly to the seniors, define what aspects of the game are considered worthwhile fun. LambdaMOO, the famous MUD, operated in such a way back in the days when wizards still ruled. They envisioned LambdaMOO as a place where programmers can create fun objects in peace and strove to keep it that way. Even though some new members might have different ideas as to what was fun, the wizards inevitably set the standards for culture in LambdaMOO. 

Purely democratic governance is also popular. Direct democracy has some advantages online over its offline versions. Because the net frees players from physical constraints, all voters can potentially be informed and there are no physical barriers to voting. Many communities are organized with egalitarianism in mind. For example, in a Jedi Knight II clan called the New Temple, top level administrative decisions are decided by all non-initiate members. Conflicts of interest between owners and members are largely non-existent because the clan uses community funds to rent a server, instead of using a memberís machine. The in-game administrators appointed by the larger community have absolute authority to enforce those rules during play, but they do have to answer to the larger community outside of the game. Inevitably however, real life does influence the power structure. For instance, temporal constraints make a difference. Not everyone can make the weekly meetings or has to time to read the forums. As with many discussion-based communities, the loudest tend to exert more influence.

The pacing of the game does not seem to affect the likelihood of a community developing an autocratic or democratic system. Although one would think that a fast paced game would require central leadership, keep in mind that although in-game play might be directed in an autocratic manner, the governance of a gaming community extends beyond the game. For example, in Planetside, a popular MMO, an on-the-ball squad leader may seem autocratic in-game due to the militaristic setting of the game. Outside the game however, the clan might be very relaxed about its organization; decisions about the clan may be made by informal get-togethers of non-initiate members.

When analyzing governance and associated ethical issues, it is useful to keep in mind that real power is usually concentrated. The administrators of the system, the owners of the server, and the occasional savvy programmer are usually the only ones that can provide others with the technical solutions. Thus, however the online community organizes itself, it all comes down to convincing the technicians to actually implement what the players want. Sometimes, this fact is hidden because the technicians are neutral parties, or perhaps are bound by some sense of duty to the community. But it pays to remember that unlike real life, in online communities power really is concentrated in just a few peopleís hands.