Over the years playing video games online, going all the way back to my busted ass 56k modem typing strategy to my friends over starcraft, to asking the guys I gamed with last night “You guys want to jump for Severny? The flight path isn’t going near it”, I’ve had online “friends.” But, how often do we actually think of those people as other people somewhere in the world also holding a controller, instead of just another party member to help us do better in a competitive game that we happen to get along with? I think a lot of us would actually be able to say, we know quite a bit about the people we play with. Even though I’ve never met several of them, although I’ve met a few of them, just by talking to them over the months and years, I know their job, when they are stressed out because their baby is sick, when their wife broke her hand in the accident, when the adoption finally went through, that they are finally going to pursue their dream to be a professional chef, when more than one of them died over the years and I found out through DM’s from friends that new them in real life, and so on.
I know that I used to just kind of play with the people I played with and thought of them as just another sentient being who happens to be on the same game at the same time as me every night. That all changed when a series of events happened back to back. First, a girl that one of the groups of people I used to play gears of war got sick. She needed a bone marrow transplant, but it didn’t work out, and she died. I’ll never forget one of her real life friends who also played with us, popping in the party that night sobbing, telling us what had happened. Less than a month after that, the person who had taught me how to play gears of war, the guy that the other group I played gears with used to joke was actually my dad, also disappeared. I realized that those people all occupy a space in my life that could easily be on par with a real life friend in some aspects.That’s when I started thinking about why people for a long time kind of looked down on “online relationships” versus in person relationships.
If you’re a gamer and you’ve been connected to any of the various gaming services that can connect us (Steam, Discord, Twitch, Xbox Live, PSN, Battle.net…etc) you’ve probably got at least one friend online that you know as much about as any of your friends you know in person. These are people you’ve shared a varying degree of emotions with, over the course of many won and lost games, and discussions about life. I don’t think the stigma is as bad now as it has been in the past, but I think we should really look at the way we think about the people we decide to spend our time with, time being the only thing we are every really given for free in life. Don’t take those people for granted, some of the best, and absolute fucking dumbest conversations I’ve ever had have been with these people. When my mom killed herself, some of them messaged me daily checking in on me, even though I was handling it well, just to make sure. Things like that really show that human interaction and human emotion aren’t limited to a physical presence.
That said, two of my best friends in my personal life are people that I only knew as faceless entities for years on the internet. Two people that I lived with at various points in my life, both times helping me out of situations that would have otherwise dragged me down mentally and professionally. I just spent several days with a friend of mine I’ve played with for nearly 10 years and just finally met for the first time, having one of the better vacations I’ve had in a long time. So, the next time you get online and you see a username that makes you feel good to see, when you jump in that party with the same three people you’ve played with for the last 2 years, that you make time for several nights a week, you’re bullshitting about your lives and your families, or when someone’s status says “offline for a week” and wonder what’s going on, realize that those are marker signs of friendships and connections. If people disappear for a while, check in. If you’re willing to invest months and years into playing with the same people when they’re around, spend some time reaching out when they aren’t. Just because you aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean the thoughts, ideas, time, jokes, or stories mean less. And, if you get to, I’d say take a god damn chance and meet those people if the logistics are right. At the best, maybe you get to do some fun shit that you’re into with one of your friends like when I recently got to sit front row at an NXT Live show in Cleveland. At the worst, maybe you end up somebody’s skin suit for the rest of your life.
Roll the dice!