There’s no doubt in my mind that the community is what makes HNZ great. Our last site poll indicated that fairly well: with the community (and its constant activity) coming in second to “the roleplaying” for people’s favourite aspects of HNZ – and, if we’re honest, we know the roleplaying wouldn’t be nearly as fun without a great community participating in it. Roleplaying, after all, is a dynamic and collaborative mode of creative writing (like I talked about in this blog post) and if your collaborators suck I imagine you don’t enjoy the process very much, either.
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to pinpoint what it is, exactly, that makes HNZ’s community so unique and fun to be a part of. Did we just luck out and win the personality lottery? Is it a shared love of Harry Potter that unites us so inexplicably? Maybe, but I like to think that it’s a lot more than all that, too.
The first thing any new member should learn about our community is just how welcoming we are. With over 70% of our “welcome” topics having at least five replies, and many having a couple pages of discussion and welcome, it’s pretty clear that the community on HNZ loves to welcome people. We can all remember being that fresh face on the site that didn’t have a clue what was going on and needed a little help; or maybe a very well experienced roleplayer taking the plunge into a new and uncertain site that does things a bit differently than what you had experienced elsewhere. I have often recounted that, when I joined HNZ, I had no clue what I was signing up for. I found a link on Facebook and thought I’d found like a Harry Potter flash game. An excellent way for me to waste away an evening in ninth grade – registering with the username cedric_diggs I was prepared to take the site by storm! If it weren’t for the patient and welcoming community (mostly newcomers themselves) that existed on HNZ already, it would have just be a mistaken registration and an awful disappointment before moving on with life. Seven years and a couple of major life changes later, I’m still on HNZ (probably the longest night of playing a flash game in recorded history 😉 ) – and that’s because of the culture of the community that existed then, and continues to exist today.
HNZ’s assault of welcome is an amazing first impression for newcomers, no matter their level of comfort, and helps keep everybody grounded. It’s easy to become elitist, to have cliques, to snub the newcomer and favour the people we already know over those we don’t. That’s kind of human nature. It’s all the more impressive, then, that HNZ hasn’t succumbed to that. Instead, even the most prolific roleplayers can be found offering to start a fresh topic (maybe even a whole new character!) to get the newest person involved. Before I can even get to a welcome topic (a forum I have subscribed to so nobody falls through the cracks) I often find somebody else has already posted a whole message including a link to the site documentation, who the staff are that they can contact for help, and a personal offer of any help or roleplay as well. Then five more members also offer personal help and joining in roleplays. And soon enough the person we’re welcoming has no excuse to not feel included and participate in what’s going on, to become just as integral a member of the site as everybody else and has a positive experience of welcome that he or she can pass on to the next person who joins the board.
Maybe it’s the warm welcomes we received ourselves, and the love and support we find in other members of the site even today, that encourages people in our community to take time to pass on that experience to other people. It can certainly be scary joining a website like HNZ. I am not unaware of how overwhelming it can be, and with a tight-knit community it can often seem like a futile task to penetrate the existing fortress and truly feel like a member of the community: but I think we do a great job of disabusing people of those notions. It would be pretty easy to laugh off a person who joined as cedric_diggs but instead we let him become a professor, and endured him breaking into open roleplays he really had no place in, and godmodding characters, and replying to roleplays he wasn’t in with out of character comments – and forgave all of these egregious offences where perhaps a more serious community would have eschewed him or taken the ban hammer to him already. This is likely why we allow for so many chances before we take action against people who are breaking the rules – because we assume they’re not malicious and want people to just be able to learn the ropes like we got to, and experience how forgiving HNZ can be, as well, and be welcoming of differences, despite not necessarily having the most amazing past on the board; but I think I’m getting off to a whole other part of why HNZ’s community is so lovely.
It’s definitely hard to express why HNZ, as a community, is so special – but there’s no doubt in my mind that at least part of the reason is how welcoming we have been, and continue to be, to new people who join our community such that they actually can join in and don’t forever feel like an outsider. That’s no easy task, and so it’s all the more impressive that it’s the reality of our board.
This is an idea I’m going to explore a little more over the coming weeks – so look back for more excitement!
Thanks for being welcoming, HNZ, and make sure to keep it up!