FAQs – the death of socializing?

FAQ Hell

Resnick has me wondering: if I turn to an FAQ or a guide, am I destroying the social nature of WoW?

Resnick claims that if “a system allows a worker to find information on her own without consulting colleagues, there is a positive time efficiency gain. There is also a negative effect from losing opportunities to build and maintain ties with colleagues, which might be useful for other reasons beyond the immediate task.” I can go to a wiki and get answers quickly and concisely, but I lose out on directly interacting with the community.

I’m reminded of my initial experience in WoW. When first starting, the game gives you some minor assistance in the form of pop-up windows with basic information about the buttons, the icons, and the interface. However, this information is sparse and doesn’t answer many of the questions a new gamer might have. The game encourages players to ask each other questions and solicit advice (in particular, by grouping new players in the same region and designing quests which overlap, players are given plenty of opportunities to run into other players at approximately the same level who likely face similar problems, or have encountered something akin and can provide help).

If, however, my brand-spankin’-new character is following a walkthrough that is comprehensive enough to cover these and other questions, I have no real need to interact with others to ask for help – it’s right there in the guide. What happens to the community then?

Or, can we think of it in another way, and extend community to include that guide (and, by extension, its author) as part of the community? They were at one point a participant – they had to in order to get that information – and they must understand the community enough to be able to communicate with them. So, is community bound by synchronous (or only mildly displaced synchronicity) participation? Or does the community extend to those who have participated previously?

I susppose a rough analogy might be a high school student body. I share a common characteristic with those who graduated a decade before me – we walked the same halls, had some of the same teachers, we’re even bound by a mascot – so we are, in some senses, part of the same community. Still, I feel more disconnected from them that I do with those I actually walked those halls with, and interacted with directly.

So, I guess my question is: how, exactly, do we define ‘community’? Is it bound by space and place, by time and collaboration? Or is it something else, something like Gee’s “affinity space”, where we share a common interest?

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