Sophil gazed out across her once proud realm, desolate and silent now, no longer teaming with the life and laughter of her people. Once these halls rang with the triumphs and despairs of hundreds of her kin – Terkon the True, Golvar the Wise, Branchel the Strong. They were all gone now, all gone forever.
Sophil knew she’d had a hand in this. If only she’d been more accepting of Trozl. If only she’d been more tolerant of his peculiarities, he’d have been less inclined to side with the hordes when they arrived. But when the hordes stormed the gates, Trozl turned on all his old friends, driving each of them away, one by one. Eventually, even Lolkats, ever a source of light and joy, could withstand the onslaught no more and fled. Now there was only Sophil, and after today, not even she would remain. One last speech, one last indictment against the banality that ruled the day, one last bitter tirade, and she too would leave. From now on, it would be up to Google and the Wayback Machine to recall the former glory of the realm she once ruled, her old gaming message board.
Mythology is the stories a culture tells about itself. Their choice of gods, heroes and the struggles they face speak volumes about the society’s ideals, dreams, fears and understanding of the world. Norse mythology speaks of its people’s struggles against the elements and isolation. Greek mythology, while in many ways no less brutal, speaks of a complex social structure, exemplified by rivalries and conflicts within the pantheon. Egyptian mythology is fractured and sharp-edged, with a focus on the sun and death, the two inescapable facets of desert life.
Gaming communities tell their own stories and build their own mythologies, too. Each is unique, yet each shares common themes with the others. And while ancient mythology can certainly add depth and resonance within a game, it’s the modern mythology that surrounds the game that truly captures gamers’ imaginations and sparks their passions.
When we become members of an online gaming community, we are free to ignore the constraints of our everyday reality. We choose what aspects of ourselves we’re going to share and what roles we’re going to play. It doesn’t matter so much what our self image actually is, only what we wish it to be. Our interactions take on a mythic cast. The roles we choose and the selves we project speak volumes about our culture.
The elder gods arrive first. They are typically the hopeful, the dedicated followers of the studio or the genre. They bring with them an optimism and faith unmatched by all the minor deities who follow, at times unmatched even by their forebears, the developers themselves. It is these first comers who determine the mood and size of the pantheon.
These pantheons need not be limited to a single game, or even a single studio. Often they outlive and outgrow the product or team that gave them birth. They’ve even been known to migrate to their own Asgards and Olympuses when the realms they previously inhabited are struck down. Regardless of size, location or strength, if you’ve ever participated in an online community, you’re sure to recognize some of these pantheon members. Perhaps you’ve even played one of these roles yourself.
The Allfather. This god is rarely very active in the community, but when he does speak, he’s greeted enthusiastically by the elder gods. He often stops in for official announcements, either about the development process or the community itself. While he may not always be an employee of the studio, he is usually responsible for the official web site and forums.
The Arbiter. This god is often a forum moderator. Sometime he is someone affiliated with the studio, other times he is merely one of the first levelheaded community members to prove himself to the Allfather. Regardless, his even temperament is respected by the other gods, even when they don’t agree with his decisions.
The Wise Elder. Iconoclastic, witty and willing to dispense the lessons learned from a long life. The Wise Elder often does not want the hassle of official involvement in the community, preferring to remain an unofficial authority. If anyone is going to post long, drunken philosophical ramblings, it’s the Wise Elder. Although he can provide great insight, he’s often acerbic or obscure and prone to fits of extreme grouchiness when faced with disrespectful behavior.
The White Knight. This is the god most concerned with noble behavior. He’s often the first to communicate with the other gods via instant message or e-mail. Betraying a tender heart, he’s the first to ask you if you’re alright when your posts seem a bit cranky, and the first to call you to task if you’re being mean. The White Knight is often loved and respected by all members of the community.
The Fool. The fool can’t seem to get anything right. He posts old news and false rumors; he tells bad jokes. Despite never quite fitting in, he is rigorously defended by the rest of the pantheon.
The Trickster. It can be easy to confuse the Trickster with the Fool at first. Unlike the fool, this god revels in the confusion he creates with nonsensical jokes and off topic threads. His use of sarcasm and irony is often so subtle as to be transparent, and he delights in leading the hot-headed on a merry chase. If anyone is going to open the gates to the enemy when Ragnarok arrives, it will be the trickster. Even when the pantheon is amused by the Trickster’s wit, their suspicion runs deep.
The Warrior. Unlike the White Knight, the Warrior simply likes to fight. Direct, lacking in subtlety and arguing in straight lines, the Warrior steadfastly clings to his beliefs on anything and everything, regardless of opposing evidence or logic. The Warrior is often the most fanatically dedicated of the entire pantheon, lacking the judgment needed to question or temper his beliefs. He may be dedicated to the game or studio whose realm he inhabits, or he may be dedicated to another game altogether. Most of the pantheon finds the Warrior tiresome even when on the same side of an argument. Only the Trickster delights in his presence, steering him in directions sure to result in maximum carnage.
There are also Placaters, Hopeless Dreamers and the Disconnected. Whatever the game, however large the community, each message board hosts a mythic band of erstwhile gods, forming alliances that eventually fall apart due to misunderstandings and entropy.
But until they do, remember: The gods are watching. So the next time you stop by a message board to ask about hardware requirements or release dates, show some respect, or at least some good old fashioned fear. After all, you’re in divine company.
Corvus Elrod is a storyteller and game designer who is working on bringing his
16 years experience into the digital realm. He has a habit of taking
serious things lightly and frivolous things seriously, a personal quirk which
can be witnessed on his blog, Man Bytes Blog.