I wrote this in response to a post on another forum likening bad guilds to cults. There was a fair bit of backlash to the post, but I thought it was right on the money:
People create cults.
People, not computer games, the people.
Wherever you have some kind of volunteer organisation you need some way to keep people wanting to stay. Since you can't pay them (like work) you need to find other holds to keep people in your group, working for your group, and in line with the group's ideals.
Less able people will use emotional blackmail to keep people in line (ie threats = fear, promises of Phat Lewtz = greed, peer pressure = guilt etc) and this is a negative way to run a volunteer organisation. This is a lot of what is on that cult list, control over peoples emotions to turn off their decision centres (yes, if an person in authority makes a statement/decision, people actually dont question it... FMRIs and at least one study is out there to show its true).
There are plenty of tactics you can use to run a guild CONSTRUCTIVELY but unfortunately this requires study, patience and understanding of human nature that most people playing a game, or after power, just cant be bothered with.
Even those of us that DO study these things resort to cultishness every so often because it is the easy fast answer to get a situation back under control. However, those that rely on those methods as their ongoing guild philosophy will eventually crumble and implode as all the sensible normal people leave. This is evidenced by many of the posts here.
So yes, As a guild leader I have been VERY AWARE of the cultishness within my guild. And it is cultishness - I have witnessed cultish behaviour from my guildies and I do try to encourage the good bits and stamp out the bad bits. One of my fears at one point was that I had created a cult of personality. If I disappeared, would the guild survive? So I put in place self monitoring mechanisms to ensure that didn't happen.
Being cult is not a bad thing - in fact, it is necessary to the continuing existance of a volunteer organisation (ie a guild), but the type of cult and the extemity of the cult is where you have to decide where to draw the line as a leader, and what you want from a guild as a member. The first step is to accept and understand that cultish tendancies can be a good thing.