This has been somewhat of a difficult entry for me to do. On one hand, it deals with something that's closely related to myself, and on the other it's something that's common to almost everyone in the gaming community. While I wanted it to be something special for myself, I really wanted to address an issue that we as gamers can all relate to. I know it's a long entry, but I couldn't think of any break pictures to use. Please spare a few minutes of your time to give it a read and comment.
About a month ago, I met up with an old friend of mine for lunch. We had been good friends in high school and it had been a few years since we sat down and had a talk. The big news on the table was his recent engagement. The meeting was somewhat awkward, we never really had a whole lot in common to begin with and it was apparent that these past two years had furthered that gap even greater. I was still playing games and not too worried about work; he was about to get married and was searching for employment. Some what of an uneven battle field.
Halfway through lunch, his fiance shows up and joins us. I congratulated her and did the usual act when you don't really know someone all that well. From the times we'd met before, I knew that I had even less in common with her than my friend. She began talking about how she was all stressed out about finding work as an elementary school teacher and that the rest of her time was spent around all her friends. This, of course, led to the imminent question: “So what have you been up to?” This question is about as terrifying as “What do you do for fun?” to me. I never know if I should just lie to make the conversation move ahead or tell the truth; in this case, I wish I had lied. I told her I was doing the same old thing: busy with school work, playing video games with friends online and watching anime. This is where the conversation began to go down hill (and relates to the purpose of this article).
Now, I've never really been a popular guy. I eventually made some close friends in high school and that was more than enough for me. Prior to that, I was more or less alone. Picked on, teased, the whole routine; but I digress. There was something that did help me keep my sanity, and that was SOCOM for the PS2. It was a wonderful (pre-glitching) community that I felt a part of. When I was about fifteen, I found myself applying for a position in a “mature” clan for adults. At the time, they were unaware that I was under their requirement age which was quickly brought to light and voted upon. After a few weeks of discussion and spending time with them, I was finally admitted. And, for the first time in my life, I felt like I really belonged to a group.
Keeping this in mind, lets jump back to my lunch meeting. My friends fiance, after asking a series of questions that tried to belittle what I do for fun, looked me straight in the eye and said something to me that made me absolutely cringe: “I've known people who can't distinguish the virtual world from the real world. You need to stop playing games, thinking that these people are your friends. You don't even know them. You should be out meeting real people.” I was enraged, but I bit my lip. There was so much wrong about that sentence, but I wasn't about to start an argument in the restaurant next to my friend and bride-to-be. Needless to say, the meeting ended shortly after that.
On my way back home, I began thinking about what she said. While there was some validity to her point, there was one blatant problem with it: she seriously believed that there is no community to gaming. In her mind, the idea of a close knit “family” developing from a video game was not unlikely, but impossible. Here was a person, looking me in the eye
, telling me that I didn't have a family. I've been a member of my clan for six years now. I spent much of my teenage life growing up with them across multiple games. Over the years, hardly any members have left. Once you're in the family, it's hard to leave. Not only being serious about the game, but also being there for one another. I have multiple members phone numbers who I talk to on a daily basis out of game. Tell me, with what I just said, doesn't that seem to describe some sort of bond?
Flash forward to last week. It was a normal Monday, aside from the post-snow that we don't usually get in North Carolina. I received a message that one of my clan members had passed away, a person I truly considered a friend of mine. I was taken aback. I had talked to him just the other week and everything had seemed to be alright. I started recalling his voice, all the stupid little things he used to say. I remembered all the long nights spent online. At that point, a piece of my childhood had literally been destroyed: I had lost a family member. We all gathered as a group on our message board, paying our respects. Donations were even collected for the family. I'll ask again, is this not a bond?
Sadly, her voice echoed in the back of my head. Along with feeling sad about the loss, I was again filled with rage. It hurt knowing that she probably wasn't the only one that thought our friendship was nothing more than a superficial interaction over the internet. The time spent online with my friends easily exceeded that spent with my family. After all, how much time do you really
spend with your “real friends” each day? Hours at a time? It's probably a lot less then you first considered. Sadly, I know the people guilty of making these claims will never be the ones that read this.
I'm not here to say that everyone you meet on the internet is your friend, that's absolutely ridiculous. There are obviously people out there who aren't your friend, but no one goes into anything with the “everyone's my friend” mentality, same as the real world. I'm not here looking for sympathy, this is anything but that. I enjoyed all the time that was spent with him and glad that I had the the privilege of doing so.
Nor am I saying that relationships with people face to face is a bad thing, I'm only trying to prove that it's not the only
thing. Just because you have a relationship with someone over a game doesn't mean that that relationship doesn't extend past it. I've personally had lunch with a member of my clan, we're friends both in and out of game. I'm not sure if it's just a scary concept for some to accept that there are more people out there than Halo kids or if they feel left out for not having such a community to belong to. After all, what's the difference between meeting strangers at a bar and playing a few public rounds of any game online?
And I know I'm not alone on this. Gaming communities are everywhere. It's only unfortunate that so many downplay the significance that some of these groups play in people's lives.
In memory of Chris