How Leading (but not playing with) an Online Video Game Club Taught Me Lessons about Leadership and Service and Happiness

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If you ask my wife what it means to learn and to be successful, she’ll say it is to have fun. Have fun and play like you mean it. I had always thought this was a silly motto until last week when I learned a lesson in leadership from a video game forum.

On a well-established video game forum, I began discussing a game called Guild Wars. The game requires cooperation to achieve certain goals. These goals were established in a series of “missions” that finished a “campaign.” Each mission was like a chapter to a book — or, in other words, the campaign.

This is fun because in order to accomplish anything you need people who know how to heal you and position themselves in a way to survive a powerful monster. Each mission is a tactical puzzle that has a high fail rate. One of the most popular sayings in the game was: “plz rez me.” This translates into: “Please revive me [I died].” The community is the core element to this game; however, the game was released in 2005. So the community had gone off to newer, flashier games (not necessarily “better” games though that is something left to philosophers to decide).

Thus there came a clear and present need for a revival of sorts (at least before the game goes offline). This was my first lesson in leadership. Without a clear and present need, there is no need to lead. In the past, I found it very difficult to get dedicated followers for newspapers, reading clubs, and math study groups. I had to learn a few things first such as, most people don’t like those things.

Though a person may say he can lead a certain group, a true leader doesn’t elect him or herself. A true leader is chosen, and if someone steps up and fails, then people choose not to follow that person. In this I have an example: There was another group that intended the same result as mine. They wanted more people to play the game. Within two months, they raised 13 members. I raised 40+ members within 3 days.

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This is all I did: I invited everyone who had posted in the forums to join my group. I set up a date when we’d start playing. I welcomed all critique and feedback and promoted a member who wanted to start “teams” of groups and set out to have them play right-away instead of waiting for everyone else.

Within days, we had a newly elected moderator and a few team leaders who were actively playing the game before I even opened up the game client. I was amazed and slightly embarrassed. I didn’t have time to play with anyone, yet the club flourished. I was actually one of the least active members in the club, yet I retained respect from all members (including those who led the group in-game), I updated the announcements, kept in touch with volunteer leaders, and I planned events all while moving and going out on many dates with my wife and generally enjoying my real life.

In the end, I wasn’t able to play Guild Wars. Yet I’m still the acting leader and am updating things. No one seems to miss me in-game, and the events seem successful enough to generate continued interest. People love playing something they played years ago. It makes me happy to facilitate that. It makes me happy to serve those who simply want a good time, and it’s easy to do that.

And I suppose that’s the most important lesson. I can lead things. But it might take some planning in advance. Next time I try to invite people to a philosophy reading club, I will focus on the group and not myself. I will listen to their feedback and try to accommodate without losing sight of the main goal: to have intelligent discussions that edify.

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