Play Spaces / Military Spaces

After the interview with Talon where the tension between casual and military-style guilds emerged, I was curious as to how many MMO players actually do have military experience. I asked respondents in a recent survey to indicate whether they currently are or ever have been in the military.

The MMO sample showed that about 17% of the male players and 5% of the female players have had military experience (including both veterans and active duty). This actually closely matches the US census information where about 13% of the population are veterans and .07% of the population are on active duty.


So, about 1 in 6 players you meet in an MMO has had military experience. Even though the occupational distribution of veterans is the same as non-veterans (and thus presumably, 1 in 6 people we meet in real life at our jobs has also had military experience), the frequency with which MMO players are in groups with a player with military experience is still interesting to think about. After all, we seldom work in 20/40-person groups in real life. It leads one to wonder how much influence these players have over the player community where high-end encounters almost necessitate military-style management and leadership techniques.

Some players note the sheer tactical brilliance of players who have had combat experience and the benefit of having them to lead raid encounters.

No, I am not, nor have I ever been, in the military. Many of my real-life friends and online friends are currently serving or have once been military members. I have discovered that game playstyles (especially any PvP aspect a game may have) is extremely influenced by the military background of players. My army friends love to play Planetside, and bombing runs with them are educational to say the least. While watching my one marine guildmate run a PvP Star Wars Galaxies raid was a stunning display of precision and tactics. For them, it is an aspect of life they have already been trained and prepared for. I find them to be excellent teachers on the subject of flanking manuevers, stealth tactics and frontal assaults. [WoW, F, 29]

I was in the Marine Corps for 3 years. I would say that at least 1/3 of my guild has been or currently in the military. I think that this probably gives us better organization when the guild leader/officers gives commands during a raid/pvp because people have been in the situation before and follow orders first and question them later. [WoW, M, 39]


Others point out how the current MMO gaming mechanics are uniquely suited to players who have certain management and leadership skills that are acquired from military settings.

I have never been in the military, but have played with many who are. They tend to see each gaming session as another military 'exercise'. They tend to very much want to learn leadership skills, and don't really hide the fact that that is their goal. Military types tend to be the best of group members.. they are very good and understanding the importance of working together (technially and personally). [WoW, M, 41]

I served for a year in the Swiss military and I currently play with a friend who was in the US Navy. I would have to say that those in game that best understand tactics and how a group dynamic works best when everyone does their job are those that have some military experience. Taking orders is not something that comes naturally to most people. [WoW, M, 26]

Yes, I'm currently in the Air Force. Actually, the military made me take the game slightly more seriously from the point of view of a team player. It has made being part of a group easier because I don't question the moves or commands of the leader until after the battle/encounter. [EQ2, M, 22]


And despite the resistance of many players to Talon's comments, it does take highly-organized and highly-managed organizational structures to achieve the high-end encounters in many current MMOs - a degree of organization that many guilds lack. Yet even as many players resist that militaristic structure, it is clear that MMOs (like WoW) are structured such that these high-end raids are meant as the pinnacles of achievement. Those epic drops from Ragnaros or Onyxia are the carrots at the end of stick. It's what your supposed to be working towards, right? Has your guild cleared Molten Core yet?

So what does it mean when game spaces become military spaces? But, of course, this is exactly the reverse of what's really happened. Gaming technologies (computers, graphics, networking) are technologies that all emerged from military applications (many during the WWII and Cold War eras). So it's not the case that our current play spaces are becoming military spaces, but rather, digital gaming has always been deeply-rooted in a military logic that traces back to the Cold War - command, control, and conquer - even in fantasy worlds of elves and dwarves. It is that underlying logic that necessitates military structures of command and organization. And thus, the irony is that even as we resist military structures in play spaces, the deep-rooted military logic of digital gaming necessitates their existence.