Thursday, January 21, 2010

Save the Date: Fostering Online Relationships through Videogames

This is a very personal article about a subject that I still have mixed feelings about: online relationships. Luckily, the response at Bitmob was phenomenal.


davneet_save_the_date

December 18, 2010. That's the day my friend is getting married. He's invited me to the wedding, but I don't know if I want to go because, well, I don't really know if we are friends.

I certainly like him -- we share similar tastes in movies, books, and video games. We have similar senses of humor, and we talk on a daily basis. I've known him for almost two years, but I've never actually met him. We've never attended a happy hour, waited in line for a midnight movie opening, hung out at the local pool hall, or played basketball together -- any of the things that I do with my "real" friends -- because he lives over 1,000 miles away.

 

Instant messaging programs, VoIP services, and Team Fortress 2 have been the main channels for our relationship. I originally met Brian when he joined my clan's Team Fortress 2 competitive team. We initially didn't like each other thanks to our vastly different personalities. His superb sniping ability -- grating when he aimed at me -- furthered my disdain. He mainly didn't like me because of my tendency to get... intense when losing scrims or matches.

That intensity is another, probably larger, reason for my hesitancy to attend Brian's wedding: My online and real-life personas are completely different. During work-related activities and interactions, I'm mostly calm and patient, and I always try to be amiable with everyone I meet. I'm much more crass with a keyboard under my fingertips and headphones covering my ears. That's not to say I'm bigoted or obnoxious or hateful. I simply have a different vocabulary and sense of humor when conversing with online acquaintances.

If I attend Brian's wedding, those two personalities will collide. I don't think I'll be the person Brian's come to know and like online, nor will I be the person my co-workers appreciate. I'll be something in between, an amalgamation of the two.

I suppose I'm afraid that my two worlds colliding will turn me into one of those people in the documentary Second Skin -- people whose online personas fully consume their daily lives, who define themselves through rendered manifestations, and who prefer simulated activities to real ones. I want to plug in and pull out of the Matrix at will, not inhabit it indefinitely.

Although maybe I'm closer to being one of those people than I think. Two years ago, I went out once or twice a week. Today, I'm content to sit at my computer on Friday and Saturday evenings. I don't think that's because I'm becoming more obsessed with PC games. Given how much I already enjoy them, that would be hard to accomplish. I just really enjoy the company of my online acquaintances.

gaming_rig

I'm more honest with Brian, and I laugh harder at his jokes. Our conversations are more stimulating than those I have with real-life friends. I guess it's too late to worry about becoming one of those people. I already am one.

Well, so what? Establishing and maintaining a relationship via gaming, platonic or otherwise, can be healthier than doing so by some other means. Being of Indian descent, my parents had an arranged marriage -- they didn't see or talk to each other until their wedding day. But their relationship still worked out in the end. Actually, not really.

Surely gaming relationships are healthier than arranged marriages. At the very least, they bring personality to the forefront, an achievement that everyone should commend in this superficial age. Considering that, perhaps we should tout online gaming over blind dating, speed dating, and all those other visually-oriented relationship services.

I can rationalize my increasing investment in online gaming relationships any number of ways. But what really matters is whether I'm okay with my situation. And, after a little thought, I am.

I like Brian, and I'm going to meet him for the first time at his wedding because he's my friend.