One of the more prevalent themes in our editorials, reviews and
previews last year was one of community. Gaming continues to be one of
the few areas in the recession age that is still growing. With the MMOG
segment at the forefront of the growth, more and more focus falls on
the community’s effect on games. But while we talk about the
broader subject of community, we tend to overlook the core building
block that lays the foundation of communities – the
interpersonal relationships and friendships.

At the end of the 1990’s the idea of having online friends
wasn’t something that one would exactly want to broadcast, as
the perception of anyone that participated in online socializing was
that of a basement-dwelling nerd. As the years have passed, that stigma
has been mostly eradicated and everyone from preteens to grandparents
has embraced this medium of communication, now known by the hipper
sounding moniker of social networking. But some doubters remain. Can
the people behind online avatars become real friends, or are these
relationships as fleeting and ephemeral as the network connections that
facilitate them?


The original MMOG crowd was primarily inhabited by a rather computer
savvy group, in large part due to the relatively high cost of computers
and the amount of technical savvy needed to even connect to online
games at the time. These factors helped foster a community that was not
only made up of strangers with similar interests, but also encouraged
large groups of real life friends to hop in together. The first EQ
guild I was in, Black Tower of the Tunare server, was formed at small
kitchen table in central California by a group that was intrigued by
the possibility of moving our little table top RPG to a much bigger

Early games were largely comprised of group content and having a
reliable pool of players to draw from was a luxury early on. When you
found a solid group it wasn’t uncommon to spend upwards of
six to eight hours grinding out experience. The pace of combat was
slower and lent itself to extended chat sessions. Once solitary gamers
were soon becoming members of an ever-increasing social circle. This
component to the games would be a key part in transitioning them from
niche to mainstream entertainment.

Become Families

As guilds increased in numbers, both total guilds and internal guild
populations, they became the most common place for players to gather
and meet new people. Similar goals and interests united these guilds
and consequently they took on a personality of their own. No longer
solely the realms of small groups of real life friends, guilds were now
the driving force for socialization. Guild meet-ups began to happen,
where large numbers of guild members would congregate in a central
location to put a face to the virtual name. As new games arrived on the
scene, many guilds would stay together when exploring the new realms,
opening a new chapter with each new title. To many players the guild is
much more than a tag to wear or a tabard to emblazon on your back or
chest, but an ever growing extended family.

Companies Get Involved

Seeing the popularity of guild meet ups and the explosion of attendance
among gamers at conventions such as ComiCon and PAX, game companies
decided to get in the act of facilitating annual meetings. Sony
FanFaire, BlizzCon and EVE Fanfest, for example, attract large crowds
and are continuing to grow in popularity. Sony and CCP have also put
together summits for invited guilds to gather to help shape the futures
of their games. Both of these types of events encourage guild mates and
gamers to get together at a central location and continue to enhance
and strengthen the players’ bonds. Last year’s
BlizzCon saw record turn outs at the server meet ups and the Anaheim
Hilton continues to be a hotbed of guild and server interaction (look
for the Scarlet Crusade table, we have kick ass baked goods and
treats). Many of the friendships begun at early events have carried
over into subsequent events and gone full circle by creating in-game
opportunities for people who have met face to face.

Networking Seals the Deal

The final variable that has really cemented the wide term acceptance of
in-game friendships in our daily lives is that of social networking.
The emergence of MySpace, Facebook and the like have given even the
most reclusive of gamers the ability to spotlight themselves and let
people get to know them on a more personal level. Being able to easily
put a face to a name, or avatar name, as well as see their interests
outside the game help closes the gap that exists not only in online
friendships but in any long distance relationship.

In my own experiences I have seen firsthand the benefit of online
friendships and have grown to count them among my most treasured
relationships. Wandering through the frozen landscapes of early style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
on my stout dwarf cleric, I happened upon a fellow dwarf who seemed to
be having a rough go of it with some ill mannered quest mobs. He hailed
me and asked if I would mind helping him, and we spent the rest of the
day killing mobs and chatting. From that chance encounter a friendship
grew. The dwarf’s name was Machail, better known to most of
our readers as Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, and someone who has been my
friend, mentor, guild leader and now my boss here at Ten Ton Hammer.

As gaming becomes more mainstream and technology continues to shrink
our world, online relationships have become a common and accepted part
of society. How has your world been impacted, if at all, by the people
you have met in game? Let us know in our forums.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016