This is gonna be sappy, so prepare yourselves.
So I counted it up last week, and I have met 27 of my guildies in person. 27. I was a little shocked by that number. For a purportedly shy, anxious person in real life, 27 is a pretty large number of new people to meet over a couple of years! (Admittedly it helps that 14 of them live in the same city.)
I think even my real life friends and family are a little mystified by the whole “guild” thing. And to someone who hasn’t experienced it, “Internet friends” as a concept can seem a little sketchy. Who knows who these people really are?! They could be child molesters or .. drug smugglers.. or.. sharks. Yes! They could all be vicious man-eating marine creatures! You don’t know. It’s the Internet.
It’s hard for me to explain it. Even with those folks who I’ve never met, I have hung out with them from the comfort of my study 4-7 times a week for years in some cases. We’ve certainly both celebrated and griped about our shared in-game highs and lows. But even beyond that.. I’ve comforted people when they lost a loved one, or were forced to find a new job. I’ve cheered at photos of new babies and virtually toasted a few (yes, real life) wedding between two guildies. And these are just the major events! You can’t minimize the joys of simply helping someone prepare for a final exam (what grade DID you get in Philosophy anyway, Nor?), or giving advice on relationships to the younger college-going crowd, or rewriting a guildie’s resume and seeing him get a better job.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a guild officer and mentioned something in context about the price of web and Ventrilo hosting. Within the hour he had posted on our guild site to solicit donations, and 48 hours later there were enough kind responses that both servers have been taken care of until the end of the summer. Even people who didn’t donate (times are tough all over, I understand a great deal!) posted to bump up the thread, or just sent kind private messages of appreciation. This is going to blow my cool cynical reputation, but I actually teared up. Leader, member, initiate, it doesn’t matter. We’re all members of this little digital community. It was extremely touching.
(And none of this is even talking about those guildies who have most resoundingly turned into real life friends, people who have seen me at various times drunk, sick, dancing, angry, giggly, hyperventilating anxiously, with paint in my hair and my glasses in pieces and will STILL be seen with me in public. You know who you are, and hopefully you know I adore you.)
I think in recent times our society has lost a bit of our sense of community. People no longer form neighborhood cliques, much less even talk to the person next door. Gone are the local small business owners you know by name, and anyone seeking out a cup of sugar could well just get shot. So instead some people have reformed these communities on the Internet. World of Warcraft is a game, yes, but these people are my neighbors, my friends, my community, and my life would be less without them.