As part of my Master’s Thesis, I will be looking at the use of on-line fora and how the creation of on-line communities has allowed people who do not have a physical opportunity to communicate with other people who share their interests a place to do just that.
With the rise of Web 2.0, we have seen the internet become a place where people are able to interact on a global scale about things that they may not have been able to talk about locally. The availability of on-line fora for these people to share their ideas, talk about a topic of mutual interest, and get to know others in the community has resulted in great projects such as Wikipedia. Social Media interaction and crowdsourcing have also helped in the creation of projects such as the Haiti earthquake relief to great success.
The internet also allows people who would have otherwise been a recluse to talk about their common interests, passions and hobbies with other like-minded people. The fact that people can join an on-line sewing circle, or discuss the latest game or film and review it, means that there is the possibility for an instant connectedness to appear with those who hitherto would not have had anyone to talk to about these things.
I am a frequent forum user and am also a moderator on Ireland’s largest forum dedicated to tabletop wargames: W-Ired. This forum was set up in 2009 to allow people from all over the country to have a central hub where we could talk about the games we play, the rules and miniatures used in these games, show off our painted miniatures and discuss upcoming events that we may wish to attend.
This may seem simple enough, but there is a depth to how this forum has developed and what it is worth to those who frequent it. Not only has it proved to be an outlet for the above, but it has grown to be a place where friendships are developed, advice given, birthday greetings offered and received, and the occasional sports league organised. The forum has developed above its initial outline and become a staple in the lives of many people who would not otherwise have had such an outlet to discuss their hobbies, their life and allowed them to participate in a community.
I was introduced to the world of Wahammer 40,000 by my now brother-in-law when I was twelve years of age. He was the only other person I knew who played and I didn’t have anyone else to talk to about what became a life long passion until I was in my late teens, as he and my sister moved away shortly afterwards to go to college. I did have an understanding brother who occasionally put up with my chatter and even tried out some games with me once or twice, but it was a mostly solitary hobby, which is ironic considering the game requires you to interact with the people you are playing.
When I moved to the city to go to college, everything changed. I was able to meet people regularly who shared the same interests as me. They took the time to explain things I did not understand or was getting wrong, but they also encouraged me in my passion for the hobby. Not only that but here were people who had also read the same books and watched the same films and television that I had growing up. These people understood my references, laughed at my jokes and shared in my passions for things that I had been bullied in school for.
This is a common story I hear from people who are now good friends of mine as a result of the hobby. Some of these people I have met in person, but most I have met on-line.
These fora offer a way for people to share these experiences from wherever they are and no matter their age. A safe environment in which they can discuss a shared passion. Over the next year I will be de-constructing this concept to see how it has affected those joining these fora, how it is different from the past where someone had to go to a specific shop or join a college society to experience this same sense of interaction. I will also be looking at the creation of an on-line community. The guidelines used in the creation and maintaining of this community, how moderation works and why people feel the need for this sense of order.
I will also be looking at the negative sides of the fora. How does anonymity on the internet affect this community. How differing opinions can cause a clash on-line due to textual intercourse and how “trolling” affects the content of the users posts, as well as the user themselves.
The subject matter that is discussed in this specific case study is also of particular interest due to the fact that it is the Intellectual Property(IP) of a specific company. This company has very strict policies on the use of their IP and have been known to come down very hard on any on-line body that infringes upon it, or releases information on unreleased products. The company have issued cease and desist letters to many other on-line fora and blogs. For this reason, there are strict rules in place on several of the fora I frequent to make sure that this does not happen to them. I hope to look at why the company are so passionate about what the users in most cases see as advertising, but the company see as IP infringement and how this manifests itself in the on-line community.
Due to the specificity of the subject matter, I have written two further blog posts that will explain the Background and Rules Structure of the game so that it can be made clearer why this on-line community is so important to our hobby.