THE WIKI: A BEEHIVE OF ACTIVITY

 

You might assume that such an unwieldy group as GoonSwarm would not be able to cooperate long enough to create a coherent, durable account of its activities—this group, after all, exemplifies Burke's concept of the "human barnyard," the otherwise cacophonous barrage of braying, neighing, and clucking (and, umm, buzzing) that can only be transcended with the aid of rhetoric. But you would be mistaken in doing so. The members of GoonSwarm have built and maintain a downright thriving wiki chronicling their exploits, located here. In many ways, the wiki platform, where all members have the capability to produce and edit content, is ideally suited for such a community in that it promotes a bottom-up model of participation (albeit a model that benefits from the occasional hierarchical nudge from above).

The GoonSwarm Wiki functions, at least in part, as the group's knowledge repository, an evolving textual record of historical matters, strategy guides, and technical advice. The front page of the wiki is made especially for new members of the swarm: it has a step-by-step process for going through the various automated authentication systems to join GoonSwarm, the skills the newbie needs to train to be useful to the group, how to make money in the game, and how to conduct oneself when on a fleet operation. This batch of information lets the new players of the swarm contribute immediately to the war effort, and quickly gain the kind of experience that the non-goon newbie could only dream of.

 

The GoonSwarm wiki, where members of any level can contribute content for purposes of training, explaining game politics, recounting history, and so on.

Beyond tactical and strategic information, the wiki also functions as a site for reinforcing a sense of community by documenting the group's common history and engaging in rather crude "language play" in an effort to build a Goon-centric terministic screen. As the worthless new player progresses into a seasoned member of the swarm, he or she (well, mainly he) will next encounter the history sections of the wiki, a repository of war stories, petty dramas, and biographies of notable Goon personalities that together serve to create a common narrative that binds the swarm. It is by this that a newbie knows who they are fighting and why, as well as what (often hilarious) twists of fate brought the group to where it is today. But more than that, Burke tells us that a terministic screen functions to direct attention (as opposed to intention) by means of selecting and deflecting reality; it frames the shared reality of listener and utterer alike, since reality for Burke is only conveyed via symbol systems—i.e., language—in order to forge identification with an audience (Language as Symbolic Action, 45). A scientific text, for example, frames reality differently than a religious one. GoonSwarm, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, maintains group cohesion by intentionally destabilizing their terministic screen via meta-awareness. Goons thus position themselves as heroes of their drama, but they are self-consciously mocking about their protagonist status, complicating the fictive space they inhabit (e.g., “It's only a game!”), which insulates the group from the sting of in-game setbacks and minimizes the victories of their adversaries. Alongside traditional group discourse meant to foster greater cohesion, Goons adopt a terminology steeped in irony, sarcasm, self-deprecation, and a playfully deconstructive attitude. This gives all members a shared (non)reality, a sense that they're all “in on the joke.”

The wiki's ethos is characterized by the signature raucous humor, the sort that can be readily found on the somethingawful.com website (a site that functions as the genesis for GoonSwarm). This weird mantra of catchphrases, scatological and anatomical humor, double entendres, gay-baiting, and other types of irreverent humor serve as a lingua franca for GoonSwarm, a common vocabulary and attitude that, in order to belong, a member must adopt. In addition to the humor, visual elements create a "brand identity" for the group as well: the iconography of a cartoon honey bee, which the swarm has wholly embraced as its symbol and mascot can be seen plastered at least once on most every page, in one topically relevant incarnation or another.

The wiki is a tool by which the terministic screens of the new bee (heh... "newbie"—see what we did there?) are synched up with those of the veterans of the swarm, as the general discourse of the average GoonFleet member seems alien and at times downright hostile to the uninitiated. Knowledge is power: this is a major theme throughout the EVE universe, and with the wiki, the group's veterans and leaders pass that power on to the lowly neophyte in a bottom-up sharing of knowledge and resources. This approach is considered an anathema to many of the self-proclaimed “Elite” players belonging to other, more strictly regimented groups within the game, but it is effective in that it gives new players an immediate sense of agency within the GoonSwarm community.

 

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