Sep 28, 2011

Posted by in Features | 6 Comments

United We Stand: I Swear They’re Real Friends!

United We Stand is an Ask A Jedi series focusing on guilds, groups, and other communities in Star Wars: The Old Republic. By examining the communities that we form, we can create a stronger game for ourselves, build relationships that will last a lifetime, and perhaps even change the world itself.

I can only imagine the difficulty that my parents have when they explain to their friends what their son is doing in college and what he wants to do with this life. I think half of it is simply a lack of a frame of reference; I imagine that what I say here only really resounds with those who have had a lot of experience with online communities. The other half I think is a misunderstanding, a faulty assumption on the part of the listener. Unfortunately for us, the news media and first impressions are not helping us very much in arguing that online communities are important. First among the false impressions is that what takes place online is not real because it takes place in a virtual world, interaction and relationships only matter in the physical world.

So can relationships and interaction that are not based on physical reality be real? If they are real, how can they have an effect on physical reality? This question bugged journalist James Wager Au as he explored the online world of Second Life in his book The Making of Second Life.  In Second Life, players are given almost unlimited ability to create their own content. You can create anything from clothes to houses, art to architecture, food to sexual positions in a crafting system that would make Zlatto cry in excitement. In the end, Au decides that “They were just structures of the mind. It reinforces that idea that what we believe in or what we make of things is all that is real…But it was real, because when you were there, it was real to you.” Because you, the player, are real and the player that you are interacting with is real makes the online world real. It does not matter that the avatar or the activity is virtual, as long as you interact with the virtual.

“The reality is a product of this interaction,” says Lawrence Lessig in his book Code: Version 2.0. Even the avatars and names that players create become real through the interaction of other players with your avatar. “This name, and the memories of what it has done, live in space, and over time people in the space come to know the person by what those memories recall.” Thus, yes, the interaction and relationships in online worlds are real regardless of the lack of physical impact because the thing that truly matters in an online world is the relationships between players. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown sum it up in their article “Why Virtual Worlds Matter” with “Playing an MMOG is more akin to playing the role of Hamlet in a play, where we can acknowledge both the actor and the character, as well as the seamless blend between the two when performing on stage.” If this argument does not work for you, then do you also think that this article is not real simply because it is being written on a computer? It’s the interaction between writer and reader, in this case the transfer of an argument, that makes the paper real.

We, in effect, live in two worlds and it is my goal to show that these two worlds aren’t quite as different as we at first make them out to be. People around the world are having life changing experiences in online worlds and have very little or no way to share them because they are falsely assumed to be not real. But these interactions are real because it’s not the medium that matters; it’s the relationship between the players that matters. My charge to you is to show that the relationships that you have built online are real and to share with others who might not initially understand why they are important. It is by sharing lessons, sharing experiences, by sharing stories and proverbs, can we come together and unite a diverse community.

  1. @TwinHits ohhh Second Life, a little know fact is that I was part of a group that designed signs to be held. We sold them with custom slogans on them. Protest signs, Hobo’s asking for credits, and those that where asking for in game hook ups …. you had credit we had something for you.
    A true sandbox crafting environment crossed with a game like SWTOR would be the end of me. My job, my spouse, what would I not ruin to create the uber lightsaber/blaster combo.
    Let’s face it, either people ‘get’ the online community or they don’t. As I post about my passion of this game on FB I still have friends say ‘come one get a life’, but these are the same people that pay a ridiculous amount for tickets to watch over paid people play sports. They root for a team that in all reality cares nothing for them as an individual, while I strive to play a game with an fun online community and my direct actions can not only impact those around me but might possible shape the game itself.
    What is more real?
    A 30 year old with a man cave decorated with his favorite teams colors, watching the game, feeling like his cheers mental support in his chair at home on on the sidelines makes a difference … or … A crazed Jedi kicking arse in an open PvP world event, the last man standing above the bodies of his fallen enemies. Killed by his skill, by the excellent weapons he purchased from Zlatto’s House of Death with his hard earned credits?

  2. real online friendship: Been there, done that, not coming back.

  3. Online relationships are totally real.

    I had some extremely dark times happen to me when I was younger, friends I met online through XBConnect back when I was an admin over there got me through it, saved my life. Never met any of them face to face though.

    Life moved on, I got into WoW and met about a dozen people I started raiding with and playing with around 5 years ago. At the time, I lived in Georgia. Now, I live in Texas with 2 people I met through WoW, and am dating a girl who I also met through WoW.

    Honestly, my experience is pretty atypical — my best friends are all people I’ve met online and developed real-world relationships with. I’ve sat their kids on my knee, gone out for beers, hell my roommate who I met through WoW rushed me to the hospital and sat with me until my surgery a few nights ago at 3am, when he had work the next day.

    To make matters even more fun, my job consists of travelling to different cities for weeks at a time 2-3 times a month. Wanna know something fun? I’ve had a tour guide and/or beer buddy in every city I’ve been to so far because (you guessed it!) I met them online. Online friendships and even relationships can be absolutely amazing if handled properly, and if you actually have a relationship other than talking about the game.

  4. I met a lot of people in world of warcraft, some of them are “main” life ( ;) ) friends now, some of those friends lives in my city, others in an another country, like France (I’m from switzerland) and I occasionally go to Paris to see some of them. Honestly, the time when i played with those people was one of the best part of my life.

    Well! Thanks for the article, it reminds me a lot of good moments!

  5. When my WoW guild decided to get together for a few RL pints a few years back, I had the interesting task of explaining to family why I was heading to another country to meet with a bunch of strangers, most of whom I didn’t even know what looked like at the time.

    They tend to roll their eyes mentally whenever I bring up any online escapades, being as the article touches upon grounded in the idea that only RL friends “count”.

    Initially I wrapped the situation in the analogy of a pen-pal, where after exchanging the first few letters you have started to phone each other to talk regularly (in this case, over Ventrillo during a raid, but hey…). After I returned and told of my trip, I think it started to dawn on them that these people were, if not close friends, then at least as familiar as they are with the people living down the street (another analogy I employed): You don’t invite them to weddings, but you talk now and again when the chance presents itself.

    I don’t think many who have spent any amount of time playing an MMO with the same groups of people (usually a guild) doubt that at least some of the others there count as fully as friends as people you meet IRL. As gamers grow older, and these days I meet many well into their 30s and 40s complete with family who play online games, I think the stigma will start to dissolve. Until then, it appears mostly a question of presenting it in the right frame of reference. They may still think it is weird (my family certainly does), but they will understand why it makes sense to you.

  6. Great Write up BTW! and some of the replies are awesome!

    I really resonate with your article because i have somehow developed two circles of friends, none of my close “IRL” friends are gamers, i mean not even at all! Yet i would have to spend 20-30 hours a week online, between Rift, Eve, DCUO and other MMO’s.

    But what i have experienced is that my online friends are no less important to me, I find the sense of comaradery just as strong, I think that this is partially because i am an Aussie Gamer and i am in Oceanic guilds in all the games i play. I find because we are a smaller user group and tend to play at a different time than the majority of payers on most of the games i mentioned, we really have to banned together.

    I have many great memories with my online friends, and they are no less real to me than my memories with my RL friends. and your right is does come down to understanding and context, i think a lot of people still subscribe to the philosophy that you need to travel and go out to meet people, one poster said they have a couch in every city to crash on because of their online friends, i have traveled the world for years and met many friends and i too have a couch in many countries available to me, there is no difference, the only difference is the context and content of memories you have with the owner of said couch :)

    My 2 cents!

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