But is the mixed review simply the cynical gamer at his best, or is it legit? In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll take a closer look at The Raid, and I'll explain why I think it's definitely worth seeing.
A lot of the feedback has been focused so far on the starring guild, Months Behind (although Double Dragons seems to be a smaller chunk of the guild that the movie focused on), but little has been said of the three commentators who participated in the project: Edward Castronova, Jesse Schell, and Bonnie Nardi. All three have done a lot of research on virtual worlds, and each helped to give some perspective on why this guild and raid content were so significant. Not only do they provide a lot of valuable insight into raiding, but they also discuss the relevance of online communities in general. Viewers are given a primer into some concepts that relate to MMOs, such as "achiever," the "magic circle," and "problematic media usage," terms that are understood in academic circles but are probably not well-known among gamers. Castronova, who is known for his research in virtual worlds and their economies, compared raiding to an intense sport and equated the downing of the Lich King to a World Cup Championship victory. Schell, who has been involved in the creation of several well-known childrens MMOs, described raiding a type of hunting party. All three explained that while there is a certain stigma attached to raiding, there's a lot more to it than just pushing buttons on a keyboard.
There are several questions that are left unanswered in the film. First, we know a little about these people when they are playing, but we know practically nothing about them outside of the game. By neglecting to explore the players' real lives and individual personalities, the show ensured that we only get to know them through their characters, which falls back into the stereotype of the typical MMO gamer who only exists in-game. Who are they, what brought them together, and what can the film reveal about their similarities and differences? Second, what happened after that last encounter? Where is the guild today, and how did it fare? Lastly, and this is probably the biggest question, why did the film end up being about one seemingly small guild when there were plenty of short videos showing other players from other guilds? Director Johnson did answer this on his site, but it really looks like the final project was a lot smaller than the one originally planned.
Even if you disagree with Johnson's portrayal of raiding, this film is worth seeing and worth the time and money to produce because it offers an important snapshot of the state of MMO endgame, and MMO players to some extent, in 2010-2011. Johnson has said that the target audience was non-gamers, but the audience that will appreciate this film most hasn't even been born yet. The virtual worlds of the 1990s and beyond have a lot of history, but there hasn't been much attempt to record it outside of things like forums and guild sites. Unfortunately, the survival of such records usually depends on the whim and desire of their owners to keep the site going, and too often, we lose those sources of written record. Yet recorded history is what gives civilizations, both real and virtual, their validity. Right now, those who have seen the premiere are busy debating whether the guild in the film is really any good and whether the colorful language really represents gamers. But what viewers should be asking themselves is what does raiding offer and where does it still fall short? Overall, I think the film does a decent job of looking at this subject, and I hope that it leads to other projects that continue where The Raid leaves off.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.