MMOs and virtual worlds are a strange thing when it comes to social connections. We meet new people, we become friends, sometimes also outside of the game, and sometimes we even marry and have kids.
And then there are the friendships that never make the move out of the game. You might know where someone lives, you might know their first name, but that’s about it. No addresses, no fallback contact possibilities, no offline “anchor”. Are those friendships worth less? I don’t think so. They simply work as friendships, they don’t need other anchors. They come with a risk, though. Let me tell you a story, one that most of you could probably tell in a similar way, by just exchanging names, times, and places.
My first experience with WoW, I have said it before, was in 2005. I had the luck to immediately find a nice guild on the first try. I don’t even know whether I would have kept playing at all had this first guild been a bad choice. But we played together, we had fun together, we spent time on vent talking about all kinds of things. But except for “I’m the German guy who’s living in Japan at the moment”, we never progressed into personal information. If I knew people’s hometowns, that was much. For many of them, I never even knew their real names.
One of my best friends in that guild was a fellow hunter by the name of Zarica. When I had to temporarily retire from the class officer position to focus on exams, I was glad that it was him who took over. When I came back, we kinda did the job together. Zarica lived in a relatively small, relatively winter-sport-touristy town in the Canadian Rockies. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was Banff. Back then, he worked full-time only during the winter season, and spent the summer working part-time and focusing on his hobbies (which, besides WoW, included things like photography).
At some point he announced that he would soon have to go on a hiatus. He was getting married, and needed to prepare. He said he’d return as soon as possible. You know how the story goes. He never did. The guild went belly up at some point, and the people scattered like dust in the wind.
Why am I writing about that now? This week, I am on a work trip for a couple of days. Just now, I am in Banff. If my memory serves me right, and he hasn’t moved, and a thousand other things that may have happened since then, chances are I am within 5 minutes of his home. We could sit in the same restaurant, stand at the same traffic light, walk past each other in the street.
And neither of us would ever know.
Of course, it can also go differently. On my way back home, I’ll visit another friend I met in WoW, and even though we haven’t played together in years, we’re still in contact. There is a point to be made for disclosure. If only to have a fallback way to contact people.