Blast from the Past (2009): Entering A New Age: How MMOG-Guilds Can Be Understood As Utopian Communities

The political history of ideas is not only about the history of literature in the light of political theory. It is also about the representations of existing attitudes, beliefs and convictions within a society at a given time. The interplay between a political history of ideas and political theory is obvious: Philosophy and political theory, confronted with the current forms of social organisation, continually and critically discuss the conditions of a good and righteous or at least good working community or polity.

The reading and interpretation of utopian fiction on the one hand, and developing or abnegating these works on the other is a central part of political theory itself. Authors like Morus, Campanella or Bacon concentrate on questions of ideal or optimal blueprints of and for states. Following this very utopian tradition the 20th century has seen the rise of the so-called dystopian fictions. Anti or negative utopian novels, written by authors such as Orwell or Huxley, warn about visionary projects terribly gone wrong. In the face of totalitarian horrors, the idea of utopia seems to have lost its seducing wirkmacht.

The author of this paper suggests otherwise: The idea of utopian communities is enjoying a renaissance via the existence of player guilds in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games such as ‚Dark Age of Camelot‘ or ‚World of Warcraft‘. Not only do these very popular digital games take on the forms of deep travelling experiences which are known very well from the works of utopian authors. Games like ‚Everquest‘ or ‚Lord of the Rings Online‘ provide the tools for the users to create long lasting, pervasive and fundamental in-game communities.

These guilds are based on the constructive will of a player collective. They can turn a mere bunch of avatars into an efficient group of warmongers, tradesmen or social tree huggers. Through their guild membership they share one vision and try to establish – within the framework of their group – a small but nevertheless utopian community. In the long run it is therefore possible to understand player guilds as political ordnungsmächte in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. Their utopian presence is not one of totalitarian deadlock but of performative and immersive participation.

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