This was back in 2003, after I’d first discovered the world of video games, specifically Final Fantasy. Sick of hearing me yammer on endlessly about the games, my best friend suggested I check out forums online. I found myself at a place called The Fantasy Crossroads, with no idea of how one went about this whole forum business.
Even finding a suitable online handle was a trial in itself. Every name I tried was taken, and I was determined to avoid any names containing numbers to make them unique. Thanks in no small part to my mounting frustration, I ended up with the utterly ridiculous name of “To Whom It May Or May Not Concern”. Yes, you can call me a noob now.
So there I was, with a super-long name that made no sense, and no idea how to interject myself into what seemed to be an established community. After the obligatory “hello” on the official Welcome thread (where I was christened “Whom”), I was left lurking on the forums and desperately trying (and failing) to come up with witty replies to posts. To me, the internet was a place full of strangers, where you could chat about common interests, but it didn’t really go beyond that. Good friends were people you knew in real life, who you talked to face-to-face and knew for certain they were reasonably normal.
After much dithering, I decided to take the plunge and dip a toe into the RP (role play) forums. Nothing serious–I picked one of the sillier ones called something like “The Asylum”, where the aim was to be as mental as you wished. It was also a good way to keep my distance. After all, you didn’t even need to talk about yourself to role play, and by posting in one that didn’t require any commitment, I could hide behind a the facade of my character.
That was where I met Buns. Between him and another guy called Jag (short for Colonel Jagged Fel), we ended up having a blast messing around and acting like complete and utter fools. Eventually, I started talking to Buns on MSN as well, where I made the pleasant discovery that we both lived in the same country. Trust me, when you come from a relatively small continent, it’s a pretty big deal to find out that the person you met online isn’t on the other side of the world.
We never actually met, or even talked beyond words on the screen, but it was good enough. (The first time I ever saw what he looked like was when he showed me his formal photo.) He was someone I counted a friend; someone I could chat naturally and simply have fun with.
I also got to know others beyond the forum–Nora, Hades, and Horn and Vell, to give you a few truncated names. We’d talk games, music, and utter nonsense. Sure, I had no idea about the details of their offline lives, but I’d like to think the friendship went beyond that. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know each others’ real names or appearances, or what their family was like–we enjoyed the company, and that was enough. That was friendship.
There was one person, however, who I got to know beyond that. Everyone called him Jee, and he was the guy who started the forum. It also helped that he was a good friend of Buns. To be honest, I can’t even remember how we got talking. It was pretty damn awkward at the start, but he became one of my closest friends. We talked about RPs, movies, games, books, you name it. It was a friendship that lasted through MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games–highly addictive and generally bad news for anything social outside the game), various relationship woes with the opposite sex, and just real life in general that saw me lose contact with many other friends, both online and off.
I still remember the text when he told me he’d finally started dating the girl he’d had his eye on for a while (who’s now his wife!). I was even invited to their wedding last year, though I couldn’t make it. Not bad for someone I’ve only met in person once.
Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for going out, being sociable and meeting people in various organizations, clubs, or even at the bar. But I think that there’s an equally good case to be made for going online and meeting like-minded people who have similar interests, or even people you click with despite your interests. Sitting in front of the computer all day doesn’t mean being anti-social, it may very well mean meeting people who will be your friends for life.
Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.