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Guild helps anxiety-ridden players get by with a little help from their friends

Guild helps anxiety-ridden players get by with a little help from their friends
We've all sweated through those teeth-grinding firsts: that moment when you step into your first guild raid or zone into your first Arena or even first click into the Dungeon Finder without the moral support of your best buddy. Sometimes WoW can seem like an intimidating, unfriendly place. But for players with social anxiety, those feelings persist, blocking them from the ever-expanding range of activities the game offers. Some tremulous players, however, have found a way around this roadblock: a guild designed especially for players with social anxiety.

... To be quite honest, I had doubted the idea of a guild created for the socially anxious or shy. I expected everyone to be quiet and to stick to themselves or to be divided into tight, unapproachable cliques.

I am pleased to know that I was incorrect in my assumptions.

After my application was accepted, I was invited into the guild and welcomed warmly. No one asked about my spec, gear level, age, gender or location and I doubt they ever will. At the same time, any questions I had the courage to ask in guild chat were answered in a polite and constructive manner.

In the brief time that I have been a member thus far, I have seen every request for help answered (even if it was a polite decline), and the kind of generosity and friendly interaction one should expect from a guild. I have not felt the isolation and awkwardness associated with being the "new guy." There are also guild events on many different nights of the week, so everyone has a chance to do something regardless of scheduling.

... With that said, if you are considering Swords, give it a try. There's no pressure even if it's not for you. You never know unless you try.

-- Kuro / Anatole


A group forms
Main character Cantafrond
Guild Swords for Everyone
Realm Wyrmrest Accord (US – Horde)

WoW Insider: How did you come up with the idea of forming a guild for players with social anxieties? And the obvious question: Is this player you?

Cantafrond: Credit where credit's due: [the guild] Paranoid on Emerald Dream (EU - Alliance). As far as I know, they're the original social anxiety guild. ... The more I read, the more excited I got, thinking I had finally found myself a guild... until I saw they were located on European servers -- at which point I kind of did a /flip desk emote in real life and thought, "Someone needs to start something like that on a US realm." Didn't think I'd be that person, a year later.

But what actually urged me to start Swords for Everyone was my long, long journey to becoming an endgame tank. For the most part, my anxiety in-game has always been pretty mild, but tanking used to terrify me. Stomach pains, shaking, nausea, hyperventilation whenever I even thought about queueing. And if I managed to get myself into the dungeon, I spent the entire time obsessively thinking, "Don't mess up! Don't mess up! You're messing up! ... You're dead." When things went wrong, even if I was in no way responsible, I felt so ashamed, so embarrassed. I just knew people were cursing me under their breaths, laughing at my incompetence.

I gave up trying to tank when I joined a regular Halls of Lightning group around the end of Wrath. Gave the group my usual, "Hey guys, I'm still learning how to tank. Let me know if you have any tips to help me improve," to which someone replied, "Here's one: Drop group." I didn't try tanking again until 4.3, with easier dungeons and improved threat. Somehow, some way, it all finally clicked, and I broke through my fear and my terror. And it was amazing.

Jane McGonigal's "Gaming can make a better world" speech (which I also found through WoW Insider) immediately came to mind, and I thought, "I can help other people do this. I can help someone else break their fear. Me playing too many video games can actually do something to make the world a little bit better, a little bit brighter." With the help of Mer, the GM of Paranoid, who basically gave me the blueprint for a successful guild, I started Swords for Everyone.

Supportive raid environment
Reaching out must seem like an impossible task for most new guild members. How do you help ease them into the guild?

It really is hard. But it's not impossible, and the only way that we can help people and the only way for them to get any benefit from being with us is for them to make the first move. To take the first step. If they do that, then we can get them along the rest of the way.

I respond with a personal message to every application we get and do my best to hold a very, very informal interview with applicants before they join, just to address any of their fears and give them an idea of what to expect -- including warning them about the "Welcome!" spam they're going to get when they join.

We send welcome packages to everyone. ... We're also working on implementing a mentor/guide system, giving all of our new recruits someone to turn to if they need something but guild chat is just too much for them. Someone to pull aside and say, "Hey, I'd really like to see what Black Temple is like, but I'm really uncomfortable asking in guild chat or whispering Cantafrond, the group leader, because he's really intimidating and it seems like he has a heart of stone. Can you help me out?"

It seems like most of these issues are first-time concerns, that most of them would be solved after players have tried whatever's been intimidating them (random instances, the Raid Finder, a Battleground, whatever). Do you find that's common, or is there a broader issue with ongoing social interaction for most members?

Almost everyone gets nervous doing something for the first time. It's instinct. For some of our members, yeah, all it's taken has been a couple of guild runs and they're no longer afraid. Once they know what they're doing, figure out their rotation, and learn the fights and they get some confidence, they're good to go. They're perfectly content solo queuing, even though they were scared to death of it before.

But social anxiety -- the fear of socialization -- is just like any other phobia. It's not a one-time thing. ...

It's not the dungeons or the raids or the Battlegrounds themselves that concern our members. It's the people in them. It's the constant apprehension of what others are going to say. Every new face, every different group renews those fears.

It's important to combat this perception that seems to be out there that people who have social anxiety have that anxiety and nervousness because they don't know what they're doing or because they're just bad players. They don't struggle due to lack of effort or preparation; there are physical side effects that sometimes limit their performance -- shaking, migraines, tunnel vision, forgetfulness, all sorts of symptoms that can hamper them.

And it's not a matter of "manning up," which is a popular response to the issue, because people with anxiety disorders are literally hardwired to react that way. You can't tell someone with a peanut allergy to "man up" and get over their throat's swelling shut after they accidentally eat a peanut. Their body is programmed to respond like that. It's the same thing.

Support group
So how does Vent fit in? Does the guild use Vent on a regular basis for events or even casual, ongoing chat?

Vent is kind of a "that which shall not be named" situation for us. We don't use it right now, but there's a lot of upside to having it -- you can't overcome your fear if it's not present for you to overcome, and the reality of it is, you need some form of instant, hands-free communication to perform well at higher levels of endgame content (raiding, Rated Battlegrounds, Arena, etc.).

Basically, Vent for us is like a landmine left over from a war -- you can't just ignore it. ... Those who aren't afraid of it are going to get frustrated by being "held back" by not having an efficient, effective, instant form of communication for complex, fast-paced events in game. Those who are afraid are going to feel pressured to use it or excluded if they don't.

The compromise we've tentatively come to involves having a Vent server and having Vent as an option for groups to use (so long as it's a unanimous agreement). It'd be a sign-up based system, where groups would request certain time slots for events. During that period, the Vent server would be enabled, but once the event (or the time slot) ended, it'd be shut down. That way, we can still reap the benefits of having voice chat without forcing people to use it.

Guild chat will always be our primary/official method of in-game communication. The second we open up a Vent server to casual conversation, like I mentioned earlier, that's when people are going to start to feel pressured or excluded. It's not fair for members to miss out on guild content because they're not comfortable with Vent.

Is there much socializing on the guild forums or other online spots like Facebook? Do you find many members developing out-of-game or even offline friendships as well?

Yeah. We have a tight-knit community, and our forums are always pretty active, albeit closed to the public (like most guilds). We do have a hidden Facebook group, but I think people having to see pictures of me kind of killed its momentum and whatever progress it was making. It's stalled a bit, for sure.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that it can be hard for people with social anxiety to open up. It takes a bit longer for us, at least in my experience, to trust the other person that you're bonding with. It's something everyone faces, but our process is more prolonged. You can definitely see the friendships forming, both in-game and out, but we're a really young guild still, so I think people are still feeling each other out.

What about real-life meetups? Ever had one?

We're actually in the middle of planning one right now! Problem is, we're all pretty spread out. We've got members from Australia all the way to England and all throughout the United States and Canada.

How does the guild handle behavior issues? In light of members' heightened sensitivities, how often do you find policing player behavior to be necessary?

Well, we're all here to avoid the less savory members of the WoW population, so we really haven't had many problems with anyone. That's not to say we're a utopia or that we never have any issues, but we all want to maintain the safe, understanding environment we've created. No one wants to put that in jeopardy.

... But in the event of a conflict, we address the problem directly, in private. People who do cause trouble (intentionally or not) usually realize they're not a good fit, and after some discussion, remove themselves from the guild, and everyone moves on.

Free and easy chat
I do find that we spend a lot of time ... counseling, I guess might be the closest word to what I'm looking for. We depend on text to communicate, which isn't the greatest tool for expressing the finer points and nuances of language. I think we have a higher rate/incident of misunderstandings than other guilds do, because yes, our members tend to be more sensitive but also because many of them have to deal with paranoia (and similar nervous/anxious conditions). Social anxiety frequently comes hand in hand with other mental or emotional disorders.

And again, whenever there's a problem, we deal with it privately and directly. We never pamper or cater to anyone-- we do what we can to help them out through reassurance and comforting, but it's ultimately up to them to settle the issues on their end themselves.

Do a significant number of players graduate to other social guilds after you help them ease into the game, or do most or all of them stick around?

We do have a moderate amount of turnover -- a lot of people joining on alts or lowbies to see what the guild is like. ... It's hard to say for sure right now, though, due to people taking breaks because of summer and because there hasn't been any new content in over half a year. That, and we're also still a young guild. We've only been around for three months. So I'd say our roster is stabilizing.

As for graduating, the only place to really graduate to would be a progression raiding guild. You're not going to find anything in any other guild (except for heroic Dragon Soul) that we don't already offer. I know we advertise as a social guild, because our emphasis is on people rather than taking treasure from dead dragons, but most of us are serious about playing the game. We know our classes, our rotations, our lore, and we want to explore and experience content just as much as anyone else. ... We actually have far more veteran players who have been playing since launch and know what they're doing than we do newbies who haven't been past level 10 yet. A lot of us just haven't been given the chance or the right environment to flourish and thrive.

But if someone wants to move on because they're more comfortable in-game and they want to see what's out there, that's great. If someone comes to me and says, "Hey, I think I've overcome my fear of grouping. I'm ready to try a serious raiding guild," that's awesome. Go for it. ... But at the same time, we're not just here to fix members up and send them off shiny and new. We're not a factory. Swords is a complete guild that aims to provide members with a permanent home. I'll be here until the end of the World of Warcraft, the guild itself will be here, and I know a lot of our members will be too.

So you're not here to "fix" people?

No one is here to be cured. We're not here to cure. We're not doctors, nor are we patients. We're WoW players who've come together because we all struggle with similar things in game. Our primary goal is to get members involved in content they've never been able to experience before. But if there is someone whose anxiety we can lessen, whose life we can improve a little bit by them being with us, it's something we're going to wholly dedicate ourselves to.

We've got members who, before joining, had only done a dungeon once or twice before being driven away from LFD for good. Now, after running with some guild groups, they're perfectly fine solo queueing. Sometimes that's the only place you can find them, in an instance. We have a member who, even with years of playing experience, had never spoken in any guild's guild chat before. But since finding Swords, he posts on our forums regularly, takes part in normal conversations in chat, and joins every guild event he possibly can.

Successful group
We take people through LFR all the time, people who never imagined that they'd ever be raiding, even in its simplest form. Some of the most fun I've had in the game is directing those members through the fights as they happen. I've got macros set up to whisper things like "Use Heroic Will NOW!" and "Switch to Elementium Bolt! Switch to Claw Tentacle! Single-target DPS the Blistering Tentacles!" just to keep anyone who's inexperienced or unsure from being overwhelmed. And it's an amazing feeling to have someone pull you aside and say, "I thought I was going to have wait two expansions to kill Deathwing, when I'd be able to solo him. Never thought I'd see his HP at zero while he was still relevant content. But we just did it now. Thank you."

So no, we don't set out to cure our members, and though we're not going to be able to help everyone, we do everything possible to aid those that we can in overcoming their issues. And we've had an impact on people.

That's where the whole "making the world a better place with video games" comes into play. That's what fascinates me. I don't care how real or how fake the game is. You can argue that killing Deathwing isn't anything more than pixels and a random number generator. Sure, whatever. But the joy, the pride, the happiness, the excitement that comes from doing that, when you've never been able to do it before? That's real. That's genuine. And that affects people in a positive way.

... If you allow them to show themselves that they're a good tank, a good healer, a great DPS, if you help them write the blueprint for breaking their fear and their worry by doing simple things in game, like joining groups or running LFR -- things they've never been able to do before -- that's something they can use in other aspects of their life. They can go, "I was too afraid to enter a dungeon because I didn't think I was capable of healing a group, but I just healed the worst, most undergeared tank ever, Cantafrond, through the trash in the Bronze Dragonshrine in End Time with no CC. If I can do that, I think I can make that phone call, or go to the grocery store, or apply for that job."

I know I probably sound ridiculous and crazy, and all my officers are most likely rolling their eyes at me, but that's how we can use video games to make our world better. That's what drives this guild. And that's what Swords for Everyone is all about.

Learn more about this guild at Swords for Everyone swordsforeveryone.enjin.com.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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