I have a few friends I’ve never met who I’m closer to than most other people I interact with on a day-to-day basis.
One is a 20-something guy named Taylor who lives in North Carolina. He’s a father, and his daughter has the cutest voice in the world. She likes to watch him run around the Tower in Destiny and see the spaceships fly into the docking bay there.
Thomas, the loud one, he’s about 18. He can’t stand more than a minute of silence. He is nervous and sad about potentially having to move since his dad is in the military. He’ll have to leave behind his girlfriend — a girl he was obsessed with but afraid to ask out when we first met. I’d like to think my pep talks played some role in getting them together. It’s been about a year since they started dating, and I’ve spent some time talking to her, too. She doesn’t play games often, but she hops on the mic sometimes. They sound perfect for each other.
Another shares her console with her boyfriend Zach. Neither can play at the same time, which sucks, because they’re both awesome people, not to mention very, very good at shooters. Queen’s quirk is that she’s not very good at jumping. That got her yelled at by some randoms during a Destiny raid, and the douchebags involved started calling her a “dumb bitch” and tea-bagging her body. That was my first real-time run-in with the misogyny and vitriol I’ve written and read so much about since October 2014. I called the two players out, told them to shut the fuck up and then, per her request, let them stick around. We beat the raid about a half an hour later, but not before some frank conversation about why what those guys said wasn’t OK. I’d like to think they learned something. I did.
These are all people I’ve never met in person, but they matter to me. I talk to some of these people more frequently than I do to my college friends, and despite the fact that I do not know them person-to-person, the people I talk to on a headset every other night are sometimes easier to vent to than people sitting next to me. I can tell them about my insecurities and complain about work, and it has no way of getting back to me. They listen, they relate, and then we do it all again the next night.
It’s a sort of communion of like-minded people who, without games or a serendipitous meeting on a “Looking for Group” message board, never would have existed.
I know their real names, and I know their stories, but I don’t know their faces.
Does that last part matter? In some ways, it does. Would it change the way we interact with one another if we did? Almost certainly. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure. But I do know that, somehow, people I’ve never met started caring about me, and I started caring about them, too.
Recently in Columbia, Missouri when racial tensions on campus became national news, and threats of violence on campus spread via social media, Taylor tried to get in touch while I was out of town since they hadn’t heard from me in a couple days.
That message was touching. It told me more about him than the way a person looks ever could.