Dictators, Real Exclusion
Inclusion, exclusion and citizenship in clan
What could possibly be more fun than playing a computer game? Playing
a computer game with your friends! This simple attitude can be held
responsible for the emergence of computer game (as of now abbreviated
to 'games') communities called 'clans'.
What I would like to do in this chapter is to give a brief overview
about clans: what are they and what do they do. But more important,
I will observe how clans deal with the concept of citizenship; this
will undoubtedly pose questions about inclusion and exclusion, which
will be the focus of my study. To perform this analysis, I shall
look closely to a clan that is focused only on America's Army, and
have an interview with one of its leaders.
What are clans?
|"Since the beginning
of online multiplayer capable games, groups of warriors on the
Internet have banded together calling themselves clans. These
clans take part in team play on the Internet against other clans.
While some view clans as being primarily a Quake [one particular
computer game - RO] phenomenon, in truth they are forming for
nearly all games which can be played online." (-1)
In the quote above, the word multiplayer is mentioned. This means
that multiplayer games are suitable to be played over some form
of network, usually the Internet. The development of the commercial
Internet made it possible for gamers to play games against other
people instead of playing it against the computer itself. This was
a huge success, and currently almost every new game supports this
multiplayer bliss. Battling against real people transformed playing
games from an individual experience into a social experience. As
a result of this sudden change gamers did what every human does
when encountered with a collective sphere: they began to form groups
in which they felt 'save'. And behold, clans were born.
So in short, clans are gatherings of players, sharing their enthusiasm
for a game. What's more, the clan only exists because of the game.
These groups can consist of merely a handful of people to as much
as thousands, all enjoying the game together.
To the novice clans may seem as a small by-product of the huge
games business. However, Judith Hertz, a well known game-analyst,
has a different opinion:
|"It is this web
of relationships between players that sustains the videogame
industry (...) These group dynamics are best represented by
the vast network of self-organised combat clans that vie for
dominance on the internet. No game company told players to form
clans - they just emerged (...) and have persisted for years."
According to Herz, the social culture that is displayed in clans
cannot be underestimated. Anne-Marie Schleiner, another expert on
game culture, extends the value of clans from the virtual to the
material world, as she says:
games can be very social (...) Sometimes the social bonds developed
in these clans extend beyond the game into friendship and players
offer each other moral support through personal hardship and
help each other find jobs" (
Some even express their enthusiasm about these game communities
by wrapping them into a McLuhanism, as Cindy Ahuna does when she
have become an extension, a new medium of human touch"
So although the idea of a clan is indissolubly linked with the
computer game itself, it also goes beyond the game and creates a
new platform for intense interaction. But how is this being together
in a social environment in daily practice experienced by the members
of a clan: what do they actually do?
Two activities stand out. One of them is playing the game itself
of course. When we take America's Army as an example it comes down
to this: a couple of clan members schedule for a certain game at
a certain time (in some larger clans members are chosen by clan
authorities). The players meet before the game in chatboxes to discuss
their tactics. At the specific time, all the players choose the
same side so that one side is completely occupied by members of
one clan, and the fun can begin. The second activity is conversing
about the game and the clan. This is usually done on some sort of
online forum; in fact, many clans have incorporated a small forum
into their clan homepage, so they can do their business in private,
without many onlookers. The area under discussion can range from
team tactics to bloating over a recent victory to current affairs
in the world, be it the material or the virtual one.
So far we have seen that a clan can be seen as a kind of community,
but is it possible that there is a sense of citizenship involved
in these game-orientated gatherings? How developed are the rights
people have in clans anyway? And can these rights and duties influence
the inclusion/exclusion-structure of clans? Before these questions
can be asked, let alone answered, it might be useful to make a clear
definition of citizenship.
So what is citizenship? In his book 'Citizenship and Social Class'
T. H. Marshall defines citizenship as
|"a status bestowed
on those who are full members of a community. All who possess
the status are equal with respect to the rights and duties with
which the status is endowed" (
They key concept in Marshall's idea of citizenship is that of 'equality'.
This implies two things: first, that the quality of the given rights
and duties improve. Second, that the quantity of people upon who
the rights and duties are bestowed grows. Marshall divides citizenship
into three kinds of rights. First civil rights: rights that protect
the individual. Next are political rights. These rights ensure the
individual to be included in political empowerment. Thirdly Marshall
mentions social rights, a variety of liberties and privileges that
support proper participation in society for the individual.
Beside citizenship, which advocates equality, Marshall also mentions
social class. Social class, according to Marshall, is a 'system
of inequality', and consequently the opposite of citizenship. It
will be interesting to see which of these models have influenced
clan communities the most. Or perhaps it is even necessary to ask
ourselves if clans can be held capable of making such a division.
Herz thinks clans are sophisticated enough to do so:
developed their own politics, hierarchies and systems of government.
They are essentially tribal - each has a name (...) its own
history, monikers, signs of identification" (
In recent history, the concept of citizenship has been interwoven
with the concept of nation states; inclusion and exclusion of citizenship
have been linked to nationality. In the virtual world where clans
reside nationality is no longer an issue. Or is it? In the next
section, I will observe citizenship in clan communities that are
dedicate to America's Army. Of course it is not likely that each
and every clan has an elaborated, well-documented record of their
constitutional rights and duties. Therefore I will focus on one
particular example of the exercise of rights, namely that of inclusion
and exclusion. Especially in games as America's Army, where you
play together with a team, it is important to have a strict admission
policy; a bad player will damage the image of the clan, and, also
important, he/she does not only endanger his/her own life, but also
those of the team mates. But as the organization is not being hampered
by any existing laws, an overview of the amount of effort that clans
put into recruiting can be quite revealing. I will perform this
overview by examining a specific Dutch America's Army clan called
-UBF-. I've had an interview with one of the founders of the clan,
mister David B. Nieborg, and I will use his answers to comment on
clan culture as a whole and inclusion and exclusion in particular.
The interview with D.B. Nieborg
RO: Mister Nieborg, what was the reason
to initiate a clan for the America's Army game?
DBN: Well, primarily just for fun. We just thought
that being together in a clan would be entertaining. But it also
was a challenge for us; we wanted to see if we could pull it off.
RO: About the name of the clan, what
does it stand for?
DBN: The '-' at the beginning and end are convention:
they show that we are a computer game clan. UBF is an abbreviation.
Initially it stood for the location of my co-founders and me: we
lived in the same building, in Units B & F. Of course when others
began joining the clan, the original abbreviation could no longer
hold. So we changed it into United Beer Friends, which is very appropriate,
The original meaning of UBF shows that the founders felt connected
in some way by their shared location, and they used this as a clear
sign to distinguish themselves from others: after playername, clanname
is the main identification key in online games and discussions.
It is interesting that, when other people wanted to join, the founders
decided not to stick by their original name, and by changing it
they valued the inclusion of other players above the shared experience
they had before.
RO: What is in your opinion the main
function of the clan?
DBN: To make childish jokes, haha! But seriously,
to play America's Army in a team. It definitely beats playing the
game by yourself, it's much more fun.
In this statement, Nieborg acknowledges the importance of playing
America's Army in a team, and therefore justifies the act mentioned
above: rules and regulations are fine, but if they hinder the social
structure of the clan, they can be adjusted.
RO: Do you think that the clan also
has some purpose besides America's Army?
DBN: Yes I do. Some of the clan members are friends
of mine in real life, so the clan functions as a communication device
between them and me. We are also planning for a Clan LAN party,
but that is closely connected with the game. A Clan paintball session
is also in preparation.
RO: Could you describe some of the
activities players in the clan community exercise, both related
as unrelated to America's Army?
DBN: Within America's Army, we practice every Monday
night. And of course we play together online, although that is on
an irregular basis.
Outside the game, well we must live up to our image, so we drink
a lot of beer together!
Nieborg shows here that the social impact of the clan is not to
be underestimated. The simple fact is that the virtual clan cannot
be seen apart from the material world. -UBF- originated because
of the relationship between the founders in real life, the connections
that tie the clan to the material world are indeed very real.
RO: How many people are there in
DBN: So far 12, but I expect two more to join at
RO: Do you know all the members personally?
DBN: Well, that depends on your definition of 'personally'.
I know four of them by face, the rest of them only by playing America's
Army and chatting.
The difference between the beginning of the clan, which was extremely
localised, and the dislocated state the clan is in recently, is
striking. This development can be regarded as a positive one, because,
following Marshall, the inequality of localisation has been overcome.
RO: What are the requirements for
someone to be accepted into the clan? Does someone have to be an
America's Army expert?
DBN: If we know the player in person there are
no requirements. If we don't, the player must have some skill in
playing the game. We don't have any firm rules about this, but an
honor of 20 or higher is necessary. ['Honor' is the equivalent of
'points' in America's Army. If you play well, kill many opponents
and make few mistakes, your honor will rise. It can be seen as a
reflection of your skill in the game - RO]
Of course, while certain inequalities can be discarded, others can
come up just as easy. Once more is shown that the ties between virtual
and material world are not easily broken. A relationship with one
of the clan members can automatically result in inclusion, while
strangers will have to prove themselves. The custom way to prove
yourself is to show that you possess the right skills. This usually
comes down to playing a few matches against resident clan members,
who can judge whether you will make it or not.
RO: Are there any requirements that
are not specifically linked to America's Army? Take for instance
nationality or gender?
DBN: Yes, this is a Dutch clan and we intend to
keep it Dutch. So no foreigners. Women are certainly allowed to
be a member of -UBF-.
It seems that the delocalisation I mentioned earlier is not definite,
but has merely expanded. However, I'd like to point out that it
would not be sufficient for most people to be in a clan where the
only connection to other clan members is America's Army itself.
The localisation at micro-stage has been removed, which means that
clan members don't necessarily have to know each other in the material
world. But as a result, clan members will search for new ways in
which they can relate to each other. One well-known example is the
gamegrrrlz, a clan that consists entirely of females. Besides gender,
localization will also be used to identify oneself to another. Therefore,
the broader localization that -UBF- displays can be understood in
terms of identification.
RO: Who judges candidate-members?
Function or status within the clan is sufficient.
DBN: All the members do. However, the three originators
of -UBF- have the final verdict.
RO: So do you think that there is
a certain hierarchy within the clan or are all the members equal?
DBN: Oh we have definitely a dictatorial regime:
the power lies with the Three Founding Fathers, as we like to call
To speak in terms of Marshall, the social system of -UBF- is a
mixture between citizenship and social class. On the clanforum,
various topics concerning the clan are posted, and clan members
can give their opinion about them. For instance, of late there has
been a discussion concerning the size of the clan; should the clan
grow or remain the same size. Although the executive power will
remain in the hands of a few, 'ordinary' members can voice their
opinion. An outstanding example of this interplay occurred recently,
when the Three Founding Fathers have announced the new clan BasicRules.
After the announcement, a topic on the forum was opened where clan
members could give their opinion about the new rules. The posts
showed that there was quite some resentment against the 'you shall
not swear'-rule, which resulted in one of the founders explaining
the rule. Eventually the rule was slightly adjusted. Although clan
-UBF- is a bit of an extreme example, other clans show a tight hierarchy
too. The clan 'Rogers Ranger' for example, has a supposedly small
group of people who run the clan and have a significant amount of
power. On their website ()
for instance, the following can be read:
Rangers will tonight take on PoT on Pipeline, this is the
starting line-up: =RR=Pyrial69, =RR=Winters, =RR=Maddhatter3
Report in 15 min. before the game on IRC."
This shows a clear chain of command, in which players are chosen
by the leaders, and are told when to meet. If one does not do what
is ordered, he or she will undoubtedly face certain consequences
(although it seems unlikely to me that they will be severely punished
or even excluded).
Besides this hierarchy, which deals with the clan structure, there
is another highly visible hierarchy in clan -UBF-, namely that of
America's Army itself. The clan website shows an overview of the
clan members, including their rank in the game. This rank shows
how well the clan members perform in America's Army. The relation
between this rank and the clan hierarchy is unclear: a high 'gamerank'
does not necessarily indicate a high position in the clan hierarchy.
However, I can imagine that outstanding players will eventually
increase their power in clan hierarchy as well, because other players
will see them as an authority.
RO: What are the rights clan members
DBN: Well, apart from those presented on our clan
website the clan members don't really have rights.
Upon viewing the website, I was surprised to find only a page with
rules and duties instead of rights. In fact, the only right I could
find was that clan members were allowed to play under the 'tag'
-UBF-. But when looking closer, it appeared to me that the first
rule of -UBF- could also be seen as a right: 'Playing America's
Army is about having fun, so make sure that your play will not irritate
others. Everything goes as long as it's funny.' This duty can be
paraphrased as: 'Everybody has the right to have fun'.
RO: And what about duties?
DBN: Clan members are forbidden to 'votekick' each
other off; they have to play America's Army at least once in a while;
and they must joke around. [To 'votekick' somebody means that you
initiate a vote to kick somebody out of the game. It depends on
other players in the game whether that person is kicked out. The
votekick rule is designed to protect the game from players who deliberately
annoy others - RO]
So these duties are intended to ensure 'the right to have fun'.
Especially the 'votekick' is an interesting subject, as it is a
kind of mini-exclusion. The rules state that 'Loyalty to your team-mates
and the clan is the most important thing there is, so to votekick
a fellow clan member is forbidden, whatever the reason may be'.
The image of the clan is of great importance, and to have a votekick
between fellow clan members is seen as a great humiliation. This
exemplifies the severity of punishment through exclusion.
Finally, the interplay between rights and duties is a remarkable
one: both opposites are blended together. By failing to fulfill
ones duties, one automatically violates the rights of somebody else.
RO: In the history of -UFB-, have
there been any members who have left the clan, either out of their
free will or by coercion?
DBN: No, not yet.
RO: Is it possible for a member to
be involved in another clan at the same time?
DBN: Absolutely not.
RO: What are the consequences?
DBN: If we find out about it we will immediately
kick him or her out of the clan. We will do this by removing the
player's name from the clan website.
Nieborg's fierce reaction illustrates the common thought in the
clan community that a player can be affiliated with only a single
clan. To violate this statute will result in immediate and definitive
exclusion, which is an unusually strict rule for the virtual communities.
This attitude can also be found in the real world in relation to
nation states: people are expected to be a citizen of one country.
Although double nationalities are possible, it is regular to have
only one. In this case, the absence of nationality in cyberspace
has an unexpected effect: the clans themselves are becoming the
states, the groups that people search for by nature.
RO: Thank you for this interview.
DBN: You're welcome.
It was my intention to give a brief overview of the implementation
of both rights and duties as inclusion and exclusion in clan communities.
Although more extensive research has to be done before conclusive
results can be made, a couple of outcomes are remarkable.
First of all, almost every clan has some form of hierarchy. Although
most are not dictatorial, even the Three Founding Fathers of -UBF-
are concerned with the well being of their clan members, some form
of inequality exists throughout clan communities. When it comes
to inclusion and exclusion, the power lies with the powerful. With
rights and duties, the same story can be told.
My view on this development is that this form of inequality is
not in contrast with the demands of the clan members. Although they
do not share the power of the few clan leaders, 'ordinary' clan
members are not displeased because what they get in return is valued
more by them: freedom. Most 'simple' clan members are involved with
just the two activities I mentioned earlier: playing the game and
talking about the game. Of course having power in a clan has numerous
advantages. But as is well known all over the world in all kinds
of communities: with great power comes great responsibility. This
power and responsibility are more often than not time-consuming
and boring. And above all, I believe that a surprisingly large amount
of clan members, and even people in general, value freedom of responsibility
- 'Female gamers and clans', visited March 29th,
- Herz, J.C., Gaming the System: Multi-player
Worlds Online in: Game On (London: Laurence King Publishing
- Ahuna, C, 'Online Game communities are social
in nature', visited March 29th, 2003, http://switch.sjsu.edu,
- Marshall, T.H., 'Citizenship and Social
Class' in: T.H. Marshall & Tom Bottomore, Citizenship
and Social Class (London: Pluto Press, 1992, originally published
- The official homepage of clan -UBF-,
- The official homepage of clan Rogers Rangers,