Internet Friendship is Magic

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This article originally appeared on MMOGames.com.

Just a few days ago, I had the pleasure of serving as a groomsman in a good friend’s wedding. It was a beautiful celebration, filled with the family and close friends of the cheerful couple – an event that we managed to pull off without a hitch – much to the surprise of this particular pessimist. I’ve been to weddings before, of course, but there was something that set this one apart for me: this wasn’t the marriage of classmates or work colleagues, but former guildmates from our shared time in The Elder Scrolls Online.

At the start of our relationship, my friends were just voices in the ether connected by a shared interest. They weren’t “real friends” – at least not by the standards of bystanders who never experienced the community of a persistent online game for themselves. But when I uprooted myself from my Colorado home to travel the Oregon trail to its unfamiliar end, I found myself completely immersed in the unknown. I knew no places; I knew no people. It was a journey off into the fog of war, but as I traveled along, filling in the regions of my own personal world map, I remembered my internet friends.

We take for granted the social networks our time in MMOs has built for us. Even if you never get to see their face, you can get to know someone pretty well when you find them waiting in your living room every time you turn on your computer, and that familiarity creeps up on you over the months and years. Our online friendships are not only legitimate, but strong, and their global scope gives us access to connections ready to be established all over the world. When travelling for fun or moving to a new city, all you have to do is pick up the phone – and that’s exactly what I did.

The four of us – two couples of gamers – met at a restaurant, mutually pleased to discover that none of us had, in fact, agreed to a meeting with an axe murderer for the mid-afternoon dinner. The food was forgettable, but the company wasn’t – and we’ve been hanging out ever since.

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There’s a natural unease that comes with meeting people off the internet, something no one at that dinner had done until then. Half childhood warnings of stranger-danger and half the natural flight response to reading an internet comments section, I can’t imagine the apprehension of meeting an internet-person to be uncommon, even when the people involved wouldn’t necessarily be considered strangers, per se.

I’ve met quite a few people off the internet now, and I’ll admit results were sometimes mixed. Some, like the couple whose wedding I participated in, grew into fast friends. Others were a bit odd, people with whom I had little in common beyond our shared choice of a hobby. But none have ever made me feel uncomfortable, and I feel lucky to have access to this global network of friends virtually anywhere I could choose to go.

Although times are changing, gamers still get a bit of a bad rap from time to time; we’re sometimes viewed as shut-ins, bound by addiction to our natural basement habitats. For MMO players this stigma can seem even stronger. But this feels inapt when you consider the social requirements many of these games foist upon their player base. Just speaking personally – the number of people I know online is staggering, and sure, maybe I’ve put myself out there a bit more than the average MMOer, but every single one of us has friends and guildmates scattered across the globe, just waiting to connect in person when the chance arises.

So the next time you venture out from your basement bunker to go on a trip, call up a guildmate you can visit along the way. Meet an internet person. You never know when you’ll make a lifelong friend by doing so.

And to the happy groom, may you hold your wife’s aggro better than you hold onto everything else’s – you know what you did.

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