It’s not every day that you get to say that something moved you so completely as to significantly change your life.
When I first meet people in any context and they ask what I do, there’s a lot of confusion about the term “Community Manager”. Some people think I work in real estate, some people think I do communes in the forest (don’t ask, it’s a long story), and when I put it in the context of being in video games, there’s almost more confusion. What could a video game need a community for?
One of the things I’ve realized as I’ve done this job over the past six years (counting my volunteer time) is that the question of community in terms of video games or any other business model is not well understood by corporate types, but it translates into something profound for those of us who approach it from a very human perspective.
When I first got the slightly sadistic idea to have the community members submit essays in order to get a spot on the guest list, I kinda figured we’d have some geeking out and excited squeeing, but I don’t think I really grasped that it would actually mean something to someone besides me.
That’s not to say that I didn’t think it would be important to someone else, but seeing other people’s response was just mind-blowing.
The reaction to our art – both the stuff that was made by our guys in-house and by the artists who were inspired by the limited screenshots – was massive. People who were previously only fans of the Lewis Carroll novels became fans of the game by seeing it, hearing about it and playing it. But the best part, hands down, was watching dreams come true.
This is what being a community manager is really all about. This is my emotional cookie.
As our community members arrived at the art show at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles, I introduced them to Ken and American and RJ, and I got the biggest rush out of watching their faces as they actually got to talk to their heroes. For these folks, it’s not just about a great video game. It’s about a whole story that has meant so much to their lives on a personal non-gaming level, and seeing them connect on an even deeper level with the respect and admiration they already felt was incredible.
I watched a kid’s future go from some kind of amorphous question mark into a solid path with real meaning. I watched another kid realize that not only was he not alone but that he had more family and support than he might’ve previously imagined. I watched another kid emerge from a shell and get to realize that these heroes were human beings – and when you realize that your heroes are humans, you yourself are given permission to be a hero for someone else some day.
The American McGee community (or Spicy Horse community, if you prefer) is not the first online forum that I’ve managed. Previous experiences were more personal, though, with more of a grass-roots origin, so meeting in person back then was a lot more informal, easier to manage. Heck, some of you might even remember the Magestock “festivals” that we held out at our place in Wyoming – all populated by people we met online through the forums. Getting to see this community come together in real life in just this one limited little event made me realize again that while growing an online community has its challenges and its perks, the real magic happens when we become human to each other again.
That is the ultimate goal, I think, for community managers – to build the trust and respect and loyalty necessary to make that transition from the online world into the material one. For businesses, that might translate into sales and the bottom line, and for activist groups it translates into signatures on a petition. Regardless, though, the final test of a community manager – both in terms of building the quality of a community and in being a representative of both community and business – is to face the people from the community in the material world and be able to say, “Hey, I know you, and I care about you as a person.”
I refuse to say “in real life” anymore because the online world is real – but it’s not material. We can meet on a bulletin board or Facebook group or chat, and we get to know each other some. Then we talk on the phone and know each other a little more. When we make that final step to being able to touch each other’s sleeves and hug and smile face-to-face…
That is when the magic happens.
And you know what a fan of magic I am.
(More later, when I’ll tell you about my awesomely serendipitous random encounters, and about the ghost on the 11th floor.)