Not All Online Friendsips Follow The Facebook Template

As this is a site about social media I thought I’d post an article I wrote a while ago on online friendships.

People moving from the town they grew up in or to countries not their own is a growing trend in a world that can see employees being asked to relocate to other cities, and even continents. The loss of regular contact from friends and family following such a move can be difficult to deal with. However, there is a communication medium that is connecting people. Matt Jeanes, aka Lanc, a 34-year-old father, husband and gamer describes it as “something to fill the social group that I left behind”.

The growing social interaction of online gaming is emerging as a more dynamic and real friendship experience than other online social interactions, such as Facebook or Twitter.  There are currently 12 million subscribers paying a monthly fee to Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, while Microsoft’s Xbox Live General Manager, Marc Whitten, announced last year they had reached 23 million members.

Lanc is a finance manager in Ireland, originally from Portsmouth, he moved to London and had a good circle of friends who would meet up regularly. Since moving to Ireland he has had to deal with a new job, new city and a young child. Having to go to clubs and such to socialise is no longer appealing, “As you get older you have family commitments, free time becomes more precious, so you may as well do something you know you enjoy”.

Lanc sees the Internet as a way in which like minded people can find friends who are not, as increasingly happens as you grow older and move city, people you work with or your neighbours. “We all have different interests and we would rather be talking about them than about your neighbour’s cat” he remarks.

World of Warcraft is a computer-based role-playing game in which players create characters in a fantasy world populated by elves, goblins, dragons and other players, to complete tasks to further story lines and collect in-game money and equipment. Where games like World of Warcraft differ to normal, single player, games is that players will only be able to see all of a game’s content by working with other people in often quite complicated tasks.

The harder elements of the game require a large number of people working in co-ordination. For this kind of work, groups come together to form ‘Guilds’. Guilds are, to the casual observer, a place where a player has access to a pool of other players to which to call on for help. However, Guilds mean a lot more to those people in them.

Lanc, when not being a father, husband or finance manager, is head of The Grey Council, a Guild with over eighty players. He has been playing games for over 25 years and when asked why he plays World of Warcraft he replies “It is definitely due to the social aspect”. Lanc goes on to say that he does not play any other games, now-a-days, that do not have this element of online, social, play.

“That was the key driving force [when buying World of Warcraft]. It’s a common ground, common interest but with a vast array of people, which I find fascinating, where as other mediums, forums and such can be very narrow.”

Lanc is aware of the argument of not being pushed out of your comfort zone. “At some point you stop growing in that way. I have a 5 year marriage and a 2 yr old son. I’ve got a lot of other bits and pieces that take time, as you get older your socialising gets more precious, so instead of going out and doing things that they ‘should do’ maybe, it is better to maximise that time so you are doing something you enjoy.”

While commercially viable online gaming is entering its third decade, it is only recently that, with the efficiency of the Internet allowing near seamless voice communication, online gaming is becoming more than just the about the games.

Lanc comments that “Some of the best times I’ve had on Xbox Live wasn’t exactly gaming, but just chatting to people. If geography allowed, we would be sitting in the pub”.

Games such as World of Warcraft have allowed a generation of gamers to become more interactive with the people they play with. The communication structure built around online gaming allows for people to put on a head set, complete with a mic, and just chat. This real-time chatting allows people to, initially, talk about the game but inevitably leads to talk about their day and other topics.

Lanc has found this to be true and setup The Grey Council on the simple ethos of ‘Have Fun, Make Friends’. When joining there is a trial period where people have to show that they are friendly and non-abusive.

Although it is not always easy due to the differing personalities within the guild, Lanc has noticed a slight change in himself since setting up The Grey Council a year ago, “I’ve had to get a bit tougher at times and learn which fights to fight”.

Friendships created through online gaming are more than tick boxes, ‘likes’ and ‘LOLs’. They are real friendships, with the good and the bad. Lanc notes that the best and, at the same time, hardest thing about The Grey Council are the people in it.

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2 Responses

  1. Your article makes a good point, too often online friendships are written off as shallow and meaningless but the internet can be a good tool for communication and meeting people that you wouldn’t encounter in the real world or keeping in touch with old friends which you cannot meet face to face. When my friend moved to New Zealand the internet (mostly MSN and facebook chat) were the only way we could stay in touch.

  2. Through Xbox Live three or four of my friends met an American who lives in Florida. After 5 years or so just playing games online together, he came over for the Reading Festival and was in Edinburgh for a few days. This is a good example of what your article is saying Sean. Good read my man.

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