On Squad Leading:
Reflections of Leadership in Virtual Environments
Part 1

Keeping in mind that there is no one correct way to lead people in any environment, the following series of blog posts attempts to distill what I have learned about leadership in the virtual environment of online first person shooter military games.

This discussion of leadership will necessarily involve an analysis of related matters such as virtual community, conflict, communication, values, the general culture of online gaming and the specific character of the culture of the Tactical Gamer (TG) community wherein my virtual ethnography takes place. Each of these issues are connected to the phenomenon of leadership in a virtual environment. An understanding of leadership in online gaming requires that we recognize the degree to which many aspects of the online social world are interrelated. One does not lead in a vacuum and even though there is no "there" there in cyberspace, within the virtual all things are as interconnected as they are in the realm of the real.

A squad leader is best seen as a facilitator of a social experience. For all its seriousness as a genre -- war games -- in the end what individuals seek within online military games is the experience of being part of something larger than themselves in which they can play with others. Players seek out groups, groups form into teams, clans, in house squads, and these in turn create virtual communities such as is found at TacticalGamer.com. Consider the comment of oldtimer49:

I have personally known a number of WWII veterans over the years . . . they landed on Omaha, they were in the 101st on D-Day, they fought through Guadal canal, they were B-17 crew . . . have always wished I could get just a taste of what it is they experienced . . . the teamwork, the camaraderie, the chaos of battle. I am not finding a path to that through “run-an-gun” and that is why I find your work, your videos, so refreshing.

I would love to be a member of your team, but I’m afraid I am too old and slow any more. On the other hand I am an amateur military historian, understand strategy and tactics, and most importantly, can follow orders.
Teamwork and camaraderie define the type experience that is desired. This type of experience is contrasted to the dominant culture of online gaming, generally known as "run and gun" -- a largely individualistic form of play that is undertaken in isolation or in very minimally-led squads.

One way of understanding leadership is to see it as a form of experience creation -- setting the tone or mood which will colour the experience of other squad players. This is not to say that there is only one correct mood or mode of play. Squad leaders establish particular moods and experiences and other players gravitated to leaders and environments (such as TG) that they prefer. This is what I mean when I describe the squad leader as a facilitator of a social experience.

Under "normal" circumstances in the real world the institution would play a major role in facilitating, or constructing, the social experience. A leader would take his or her cues from the institutional culture (and so the type of leadership experience found within a hospital is different than the type found within a police station or military setting). In the absence of a surrounding institution and its culture/norms/ethics and so forth, the squad leader becomes the primary facilitator of the online social experience.

He or she sets the tone, establishes goals, reinforces ethics, and over time produces a micro-culture or style.

But no man or woman stands alone so to fully understand the role of the squad leader as a facilitator of a style/mood and micro-culture we will need to take into account the leader's surrounding context of various layers of virtual community ranging from TG to the In House Squad.

To be continued . . .

Dr. Strangelove
(aka E-Male)