You spend days, weeks, months, and even years with them. You'll frequently talk to them on the phone, through a text, through social media, or even the messenger portion of your gaming app. Social applications such as Ventrilo and Discord have made it easier if you didn't feel like answering a phone call. You'll often see party invites, game invites, or even the occasional gift on Steam from them offering you a chance to play a game they've sent you.
You may find them being the guy or gal who covers your back as you toss a flash bang into a room during an online session of some random first-person shooter. Sometimes you'll find them being the tank you've tirelessly been healing for months on end in some MMO of your choice. Ultimately, you count on each other. You schedule your free-time around the availability of one another.
Luckily, it all works out during the week. When it comes down to planning out the next big release, everyone gets together, discusses who is and who isn't getting the game, then off they go. This is generally how it works. For many of us gamers, this is our reality, and one that we're pretty content with.
Outside of gaming we have our small circle of friends. Luckily, a few of them actually may be a part of your group. Some of the others may be random guys or gals that you've encountered in the various games your real life friends play with you. To your family or some of your friends who aren't gamers? They may find it a bit odd the way you call your online friends your friends at all. So, are they?
My first induction into this realm was almost six years ago when my pal Nick told me he was moving to Oklahoma. It was odd to find out he was being stationed near by, especially after we had become known as "The Shield Train" on Rainbow Six: Vegas during our Xbox Live days. We were the two guys who would send teams running the moment that they saw us together. We'd built a reputation around our playstyle to the point that we became two of the top players in the world, within the top 100.
We were devastating at our craft of annihilating enemy teams. So you may understand why it was a bit jarring to find that tidbit of information out over a party chat. Once the news arrived, I tossed him my cellphone number, city, address, and where to meet. Within a few days, there was a knock at my door, and the next thing I knew Nick was standing in front of me.
The reality had set in that my online friends aren't just online friends. Since the day I met Nick, I'd gone out of my way during trips to see family to meet the people behind the online IDs. It allowed the distinction between online friend and offline friend to blur. Our friendships to this day remain stronger because of our years together exploring virtual worlds.
Many of our weekends are still spent together laughing as we would in person had we all been in the same room. During family tragedies, these people, these gamers, these online friends, became vital lifelines. They weren't just some gamer that lived half way across the nation. Instead, they became people that could be relied upon, and welcomed through my front door without hesitation.
But at the end of the day, what happens when it comes time to decide if you still want to game or not? Will those friends still be there? Will they systematically part ways just as your games did or will they be there, at the touch of a button on your phone, waiting for you to send a text message or ring them randomly just to catch up? What if the boundaries between offline and online friends has changed due to technology. Do we now live in a world where that differentiation is no longer relevant?