The No Asshole Rule: Constructing a Civilized Guild

This is one of the tougher pieces I’ve written. I had to wrestle with my internal conscience about how to properly word it. I couldn’t think of anything else better than asshole. I’ll probably end up turning away a few readers as a result, but this is something that has to be written.

Every time we play WoW, we interact with various people. We interact with people in partys. We interact with players in trade chat or out in the world. And there is no place we interact more then in our own guild. Whether you care to admit it or not, most guilds have an asshole. I’m not talking about the jerk who likes to get on his fat mount and block the quest turn in guy. Or the jackass who likes to hop up and down on your fishing bobber.

No, the assholes I’m talking about represent a type of cancer in your guild. You might be aware of it but most of you might not be.

This post is intended to be a wakeup call.

Several years ago when I was just a sophomore Priest, I went into a raid instance called Blackwing Lair. Throughout those weeks, I battle hard through every aspect of the zone. I pulled off the suppression room, mopped the floor with Vaelastrasz, Broodlord, and Firemaw. Spent hours practicing and then defeating Chromaggus until I came upon Nefarian before he fell.

A piece of Transcendence dropped and I was in line for it next. It was awarded to me and the elated feeling that players received after killing a boss and getting upgrades swept over me. Then another healer in the group sent me a whisper.

“Grats on the robe. Nice to be in a guild that awards loot to undeserving players.”

The feelings of joy vanished in an instant. I went from feeling the best to feeling like complete crap.

The Two Tests

Dr. Robert Sutton came up with two tests to determine when a person is acting like an asshole.

  1. After talking to the alleged asshole, does the ““target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him- or herself?
  2. Does the alleged asshole aim his crap at people who are less powerful rather than those who are more powerful?

While some assholes are fully capable of doing damage publicly through guild chat, forums or ventrilo in front of your guild, there are some who are able to do their dirty work in private and are much tougher to catch.

12 Common Everyday Actions that Assholes Use

I’ll bold the ones that I believe are possibly relevant to you and your guild. This list is right out of Sutton’s book as well.

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s personal territory
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering e-mail flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they’re invisible

All of us have acted like assholes at one point or another. Some days we lose our cool. It happens. We just have to do a better job of trying to control. I’ve lost my temper before and I’ve said things that I regretted immediately.

But the certified guild asshole? He has a level of persistence around him. He has a history of the consistently results in one person after another feeling like crap. They feel humiliated. Disrespected. De-energized. Constricted. Suffocated. In the end, they just feel really bad about how they are.

In short, the certified asshole gets the title because they are always treating people like crap around them.

Do you realize that you spend 15 bucks a month to play WoW? Where does it say you have to spend those 15 bucks playing alongside assholes who do nothing but treat you like garbage everytime you’re on? You deserve a lot better than that. There have even been studies that have shown that interacting with assholes often can lead to physical health problems like anxiety, fatigue, anger and depression.

An asshole can have a serious negative effect in your guild because they suck the life and energy out of people through smaller and seemingly insignificant act as opposed to one or two flareups. Consider the officer who reminds a healer that “he sucks” at healing every chance he gets. Or continues to belittle them with questions like “Why are you so bad?” It’s annoying and its utterly stupid.

The human brain perceives negative interactions in a bigger way than positive interactions. Sutton states that negativity can have an effect that’s five times more powerful than a positive statement. It takes a lot of support from positive people to help counteract the energy drained by one asshole.

The No Asshole Rule

If only it were unnecessary for guilds to not need the no asshole rule. Its quite simple.

It is entirely possible to have a productive and constructive guild without resorting to destructive methods.

Set clear expectations and standards of your players. How they should act and how they should conduct themselves. The moment any one of them pushes the line or crosses it, you have to take action. If they treat people like dirt in a pickup group or master loot themselves a trinket in a run they organize, there is no place for such behavior.

You don’t have to be an asshole to get the message across to someone. It can be done critically and it can be done firmly. More importantly, it can be done in a civil fashion.

Enforce the rule or don’t have it at all

You know what’s worse then having an asshole in the guild? Not doing anything about it when the rules specifically state that such assholeish behavior isn’t allowed.

It ends up being nothing more then a paper tiger.

Why do guilds put up with it?

There’s a belief in that having negative outbursts are character flaws that become tolerated if people are talented, intelligent and harder to replace. Talent can justify guilds looting items to these douchebags and we end up sending this message:

If you’re really good at what you do, you can get away with being a really big asshole. Actually this isnt just limited to guilds as it applies anywhere you go, really. Whether its at work or at school, the philosophy appears to be the same.

If you display words about treating people with respect but allow or even encourage the opposite behavior, it becomes useless. You end up being seen as a hypocrite and as a cynic. Players will lose faith in you and in the guild itself. Assholes multiply. When players see a person acting like one and is left unchecked, they’ll give in to their own inner rage and start doing the same thing.

Either enforce the rule or don’t implement it at all.

Life is too short for you to work and play among assholes.


I do want to encourage you to pick up this book if you’re into management or leadership. Heck, even if you’re just looking for a good book to read. Maybe you’re a teacher or you work in an office. There’s a chapter on how to deal and cope with assholes. It’s called the The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Dr. Robert Sutton.

44 thoughts on “The No Asshole Rule: Constructing a Civilized Guild”

  1. If I didn’t know better, Matt, I’d think you’d been spying on one of the raids I used to go on waaaay back in the day. Having been the target of the asshole, this one hits rather close to home.

  2. I do not think certain people understand each other because its hard for them to fathom certain actions

    You see a woman getting harrassed by a street person
    What do you do?

    Think about it. The answer will tell you alot about yourself and what type of person you are

    Civilization is fine and dandy. We live in a Civilized society do we not?

    You cannot have a society without “assholes” for they are the ones who deal with those whom the rest of the “civil” society cannot deal with

  3. Interesting post, I like how you tend to mix psychology and leadership stuff into WoW. It makes it far more tangible and understandable, plus far more interesting. Perhaps this is a little off topic, but why would you think that this post would make a few readers leave? It’s not offensive, it just states your position on the matter clearly.

    Avonars last blog post..An ode to Wowhead

  4. We’ve /gkicked people who took “teasing” too far after being told to cut it out.

    Now we all tease, especially those of us who know each other IRL. But that edge between having fun and being mean must be watched (by myself especially-my special brand of humor doesn’t always translate in /g well).

    Telling someone they suck over and over isn’t usually funny.

    …usually. I make exceptions for certain hunters I raid with, but he’s good naturedly accepted his position as our guild scapegoat. He’s right up there with Searing Totem. 😉

    Ambrosines last blog post..In Which I Taunt My GM

  5. Assholes usually get away with it because they and their friends are typically among the more skilled in the guild. If you react too harshly, you risk your whole guild falling apart. But if you don’t do anything, people will start to leave as well. The only real solution is to confront the asshole’s behavior and give him a warning. If his bad behavior has been mostly confined to private chat and some guild chat, you can keep the rebuke and warning private. If it’s public (like a venomous thread on the guild’s forums), you have to respond publicly. If he fails to heed this warning, you have to act and gkick him. I’d rather the guild dissolve or take a setback that deal with that kind of behavior.

    If someone made a comment similar to the one made to your priest over loot, I would be pissed off. I’m very confident in my healing abilities so would look at his statement as what it is. The angry, jealous whining of a self-important, irrational, asshole. After ripping into him privately, I’d probably also make his statement known to the guild officers and some close friends as well. If I wasn’t too loyal to the guild, I would probably leave if something wasn’t done about his behavior. If I was loyal and had ties to the guild, I would strongly urge the officers to do something and be sure to make the guy’s life miserable until he apologized.

  6. How on earth do you sink ino my psyche…. my god man… get out… get out.

    This is one of those posts that just seems completely well timed. We just recently had someone who generally is nice in guild chat and can be nice as pie in some instances, but at this point we’ve lost at least one really good officer to this guy. Sure he wasn’t the only reason, but his attitude and types of attacks really just got to me. I was really close this weekend to just chain /gquit ing on most of my toons.

    As you said… I don’t pay $15 a month to play with assholes. I need a couple of days to see how things shift, but definitely I’m not going to put up with assholes.

    Starmans last blog post..What’s that Stat!!! -> Understanding Melee and Hunter Combat Stats

  7. I think sometimes people need thicker skin

    Ok I am gonna say something and its gonna be hella unpopular but WOW has forced me to change my behavior ….


    Growing up playing sports whether it was hockey,football or baseball. Playing games such as Doom,Quake or Counterstrike. It for me at least was a Male dominated thing to do.

    Males behave differently when we are competitive and for those males that are used to that bullshit or “locker room” talk is not a big thing. Some guys are not used to this in the gaming world because they never were part of a sports team growing up so it can be hard on them. fyi Matt falls into that category.

    Were WoW forced me to change was playing with a large number of women. This has nothing to do with who is better at the game because skill is skill but the interaction you have on your team HAS to be different. Women do not act well to Male Bravado as teammate especially when it is directed at them. I almost never direct my ire at a female teammate.

    Its interesting having to work with Sydera as an officer. She is way more concerned about peoples feelings then I will ever be. I almost always take the if you dont like it there is the door attitude.

    btw that doesnt make me right but it does make me honest in what I say

  8. I just realized something that’s really funny to me.

    Back in my old guild myself (when my main was a druid) and a guildie who kind of took me under his wing when I joined (who had a warrior and a druid) ended up fighting over the position of druid class leader. He thought I didn’t have the right to put myself in for nomination and that he should get it, and he endlessly tormented me to the point that after many discussions with the GL and the officers, they asked him to leave the guild. At that point I would have called him an “asshole”.

    The two of us didn’t speak for nine months, until one day we both eventually moved past it…the GL had asked him to come back to the guild to lead the raids on his warrior and we both realized that the class leader position really didn’t mean that much (in the guild we were in). I got used to his personality, he got used to mine, and we became friends.

    The funny thing is…that “asshole” has now been my guild leader for going on 10 months. I think in some cases it might come down to personality clashes and misunderstandings.

  9. Something I’ve seen happen a lot, both as a raider and as a high school teacher, is that the asshole, thanks to thier willingness to do whatever it takes to seem like the bigger person, will also create a small herem of people around them that further alienates the victim.

    Very rarely is it as simple as /gkick the loser and move on. Like a few people have mentioned above, you almost always run into the problem of having to deal with a whole group of people who are allied with said asshole and find thier behavior to be perfectly legit. They may not be assholes themselves, but they’ll leave if the asshole does.

    The guild I raided with in BC fell victim to this. The guild ‘matron’ or boss female terrorized 75% of the guild but was never forced out becuase she had the other 25% under her thumb, which unfortunately included one of the officers.

    At the end of the day, I find that Matt’s final suggestion is the best. You either let it happen or you stomp it out before it can even begin. One of the lessons I’ve learned from teaching high school is that the second you have to use public discipline, you’ve failed. WoW and high school are pretty close in many ways, and I’ve found that when it comes to bullying and douchebaggery, they’re practically the same.

  10. @DocHoliday aka Kimboslice: It would’ve been worse if he said it out loud over vent or guild chat. But if he did that, he probably would’ve been disciplined which is why he kept it private.

  11. “You cannot have a society without “assholes” for they are the ones who deal with those whom the rest of the “civil” society cannot deal with”

    No, Doc.
    The assholes are the ones that civil society can’t deal with.
    The ones who deal with those people… are the heroes.

  12. A recurring theme in my writings on leadership and interpersonal stuff in WoW…

    Many people in the WoW community approach things with a black-and-white view of the world. You’re win, or you’re fail. You’re #1 on [insert-meter-of-choice] or you need to L2P. You use cookie cutter spec point-for-point; deviate by a single point and you’re a mouth breather who face rolls talent selections.

    When leading a group of people, one discovers quickly that there is very little black and white in group dynamics.

    The extremes are easy to manage. If a person is a complete and total a-hole, consistently full of venom (direct or passive/aggressive), offending and insulting other players regularly, removing them from the party or guild will generally be accepted by the remaining players.

    The trouble for leaders is when the person is a borderline a-hole. Generally good to be around, but they have bad days just a tad bit too much to be written off as a character flaw that makes them human like the rest of us. Not so frequently that its a no-brainer gkick, but just enough to have people wondering.

    In these gray areas, the leader’s job becomes difficult. Behavior needs to be addressed in a constructive way, which is generally unique to the personalities involved. The end goal is to make the player aware of the behavior, the impact the behavior has on the group, and the positive change that is desired. No two situations and people are alike, so this is tough for both new and veteran leaders.

    But, dealing with challenging group dynamics is why IRL the managers get paid the big bucks. In guilds, the payment is more abstract, but hopefully its the self-actualization of having a vision and seeing a solution get implemented successfully. Plus a near guaranteed invite when there’s an over abundance of players available on raid night 🙂

    Amavas last blog post..On a totally separate note…

  13. “Few truly good players and no good people abuse others.”

    I do not see performance goals (hit this DPS or you’re out) as rude – each guild/player has to choose where on the Social…Serious Rading continum they want to be.

    I also see a big distinction between rude constructive criticism – which although it could be delivered better and more effectively, could still improve performance – and things like your above quote that clearly are not going to help anything. And unless the recipient is very secure (which probably makes the comment both rude and wrong), it will have a negative impact on performance; I can’t believe unhappy people will play a game more/better.

    GG does have a point that the abused does have a personal responsibility to not let some rude comment bother us too much. But that in no way mitigates that a guild that says anything about teamwork or respect should not allow major AHs to run unchecked. If a guild is upfront with “we take the 25 best people regardless of behavior and will gkick you if you drop to 26” then it’s ok; people can choose whether that is acceptable to them.

  14. Great post! It is important to bring leadership theory into MMO guilds. It applies there just like it does in reality.

    Putting up with cruel people who slowly erode and undermine a guild isn’t healthy for the long term.

    Sometimes you just have to take the hit and throw these folks out as soon as you recognize who they are.

    Ferrels last blog post..Another Piece of the Puzzle?

  15. Someone said ( not me – and I can’t find the quote) that power in a relationship lies with the person who cares the least. This can be applied to love relationships, or any relationship @ work, guild,
    An Asshole does not care: Hence why they are an asshole. They do not think of the impact that their actions have anyone. I don’t think pointing it out to them is going to make them a better person, which is unfortunate, Most of us who play wow are adults, and another avatar dressed in pixelated armor, telling us to change our behaviour because its hurting someones feelings is not going to have much impact.

    There are ways to depower the asshole, I’m trying to ” Thank” the people who give me feedback of a negative nature. But I believe that as Asshole in game means asshole for life, do your best to remove your interests from their path.

    Zahrahs last blog post..Ethical Use of Shadow Meld

  16. Well, why do people have to suck at everything? I’m somewhat of an asshole because I cannot stand people constantly being late to raids, not knowing how to play their class, coming unprepared and just plain ole’ wasting my time.

  17. We had some assholes who were kept in our guild for too long, and then they were booted. When they were booted the guild changed. All of a sudden people started talking in gchat again, raids were fun (Mostly, we still have some snarky moments).

    We had one guy who seemed nice until he was given power. I had been offline due to RL reasons and our guild has a policy where RL > WoW. I came back on, killed some bosses, got some loot and then the asshole sent me a tell telling me that I had no right to the loot I had.

    I’d had enough of his crap, so instead of being upset about it and hiding, I tore a strip off him. In fact, I wouldn’t put up with his crap over vent, too, and would call him out (Which would get me high 5 tells from other guildies who were tired of his shennanigans) I later found out that he’d been bullying other people and trying to not get people in runs who would compete against him for loot, and he would miraculously have connection problems if someone won loot over him.

    I don’t know why he was in the guild for so long, but I was damn happy when he was booted.

    I also was once in a hardcore raiding guild run by an asshole who is revered by the WoW community, but I won’t go into specifics lest I out myself. i hope being anonymous doesn’t make ME an asshole 😀

  18. Thank you for the post, Matticus. I’ve been running into a TON of asshats in PUGs and after a few situations last week, I decided not to PUG anymore. Sure I will miss out on any opportunity for 7.5 drops, but the reward is not worth having to read all the ugliness that’s been tossed back and forth in /raid. I know I’ll never truly understand it, but I sometimes wish I knew why people acted like that so I could come up with a better way of dealing with them. D:

    AllianceGirls last blog post..Busy Sunday

  19. Too many people misunderstand the point Sutton and Matticus make. Assholes, or bullies, no matter how skilled by themselves, affect group morale and create demotivation, insecurity and devolve collective gameplay, not to speak about higher member turnover, decrease in guild reputation and the ensuing increased difficulty in compensating for the turn-over.

    “Grow a thicker skin” nonwithstanding, a raiding group / guild has to improve as a collective. Fostering an environment where everyone is motivated to do their best, trust the others to do the same and to honestly seek to improve upon their mistakes will provide the best long term results.

    In terms of cost / benefits analysis, if your 10 men raid has 4 DPS at 5k each and one at 6k (total 26k), and the latter is being an asshole leading to one of the others to leave in exchange of an undergeared 4k player (new total 25k DPS), it’s definitely worth considering whether the replacement of the asshole (new total 24k DPS) wouldn’t be a better mid-to long term investment – first because after gearing the new player you’d be at 25k the second case too, but second because if the overall mood and motivation improves, all your 5 DPS may soon start emulating each other to reach 5.3k DPS, at which stage the raid as a whole has now a better output than in the other scenario and functions better as a team (and probably enjoys the game a lot more).

    There may be a lot more to gain in the longer term, to paraphrase Sutton, by removing any reason for your player to grow a thicker skin in the first place and letting them concentrate, instead, of getting better at their task. Dealing with bullying is a distraction at best. How many of the “deal with it” crowd put up with a new guild recruit who starts begging for gold immediately after getting a /ginvite? I recon none would. Same thing.

  20. I have personal experience with how one asshole can wreck a guild. In fact this one individual got us to transfer servers to escape him. A term that we came up with for this person was “fun vampire.” It seemed that not only did he suck the fun right out of everything, but that he had to do this to survive. He was very high on the dps meters and thus felt that he could act however he wanted. He had a cadre of people who at first were not bad but seemed to become more asshole-ish as the time went on, and they saw the fun-vampire go completely unchecked. It created a very us-vs-them attitude within the guild, with the fun vampire and his ghouls picking on everyone else, and all the others just trying to run their raids and be left alone.

    In the end, we realized that this attitude wasn’t going to go away and was pervasive in the leadership of the guild and several of us gquit. Thankfully we knew someone in Conquest and were able to transfer and join up with little hassle.

  21. Thank you so much for this, Matt. I’ve added the book to my Amazon cart and can’t wait to settle down with it.

    Our guild of RL friends is so leery of assholes that we actually have a “no outsiders” member policy. One of us has to know the new person IRL in order for them to get a /ginvite. And while I don’t turn many people away (no one seems to want to be in the uber-casual, non-raiding, just-here-to-socialize guild) I can’t help but think there MUST be people out there who’d be fun to hang out with… if only we all weren’t too scarred (that’s not a typo) to try.

    T-Sonns last blog post..Dual Spec Poll

  22. A guild asshole is like a cancer tumor. No one like having cancer, it will kill you eventually or by a slow painful death. Such is the case of a guild asshole. That individual as well will slowly kill your guild moral and loose members because of them over time. Over the long term they will infest your guild so much they may end up killing the entire guild.

    A guild asshole is a guild cancer turmor, treat or deal with that person before it’s too late. When cancer has run it’s course too long, your options become very limited. By then often it’s too late as well.
    .-= Ardent Defender´s last blog ..Blizzard New IPhone Mobile Armory App =-.

  23. The fact that there were just too many assholes to deal with was what made me, my wife and a bunch of people we know stop playing WoW.

    Some times I miss it, the game is actually great fun, but the amount of assholes is insurmountable. There’s just too many of them for someone to cope.
    We tried everything: PuGging, joining guilds, trying to set up at least a 5-man group of acquaintances… nothing works against the general idea that you have to work like crazy, farm food, gold, every kind of resource, all for maybe one chance of getting one damn piece of gear, after a few grueling hours putting up with all kinds of harassment.

    Also, to note, a guild with only one asshole isn’t the norm: usually, most players in the guild are only interested in picking political fights among each other and sucking up to the GL, who obliviously pats them in the head and lets them on with it, until they get bored and leave for a “better” guild.

    Part of human behavior? Yeah, probably, but I sure can’t afford to spend 15 bucks a month on it. I see enough of that filth on my work environment, and I swear, I can’t imagine how that kind of atmosphere can be attractive enough to people for them to mimic it in their leisure time.


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