written by Alastrom
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -J.R.R Tolkien
The internet is a scary place. Twenty years ago, everyone I played online games with wanted to murder me. The ones that didn’t were planning on skinning me alive and adding it to their collection. A few of those people had seen Silence of the Lambs a few too many times and were just waiting for an unsuspecting youth to log into the internet so they could pull them through the monitor and force them to put the lotion in the basket. At least, this was the perception my parents had laid forth. Turns out you have to be a regular person first before you can be an internet person. I don’t mean regular in the normal sense because I’m not sure who the last person I met was that I’d describe as normal. Regular in the way that the people you meet at the grocery store are regular people. Sure, they have their own quirks and personality traits and I don’t mean to assume they’re all safe to spend extended periods of time around. But as long as they smile at you and you back at them, you can both go about your shopping experience relatively unharmed. But internet people aren’t quite regular anymore. You know who they claim to be, but we can never really be sure who they really are. Perhaps that’s why it seems strange that internet people can do regular people things. Like get together for a weekend of drinks, bar-b-que and all around well mannered frivolity. Because that’s exactly what the internet people at Reforged Gaming are planning in just a couple short weeks.
Reforged Gaming has been, for some time, interested in the development of a little indie game called Star Citizen. Every year, the company behind the game puts on a convention they call “CitizenCon.” It’s a great opportunity for fans of the game to share time together in the bright scary world known as “AFK.” This year will mark the first time in Reforged history where several of our members will be boarding trains, planes and automobiles to make the perilous journey to Austin, Texas. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m eager to meet the people I’ve spent so much time talking to these many years. It’s a strange feeling because when internet people get together, they’re both stranger and cohort at the same time. We know these people but we don’t exactly “know” them. That feeling of meeting someone new and being with an old friend can persist for the entire visit. Or it can dissipate in a matter of seconds. Of course it’s not the same for everyone. I’m used to traveling and I do quite well in new environments. But for many gamers, the transition from the online to the real is a very new landscape. One not so easily navigated without a proper guide.
It’s a nervous proposition to actually meet these people in real life. All manner of questions and fears arise. What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t like them? Do they have any annoying habits that the monitor hides? Have they seen Silence of the Lambs one too many times? Perhaps the fear comes from expectation. Not expectations of the other, but expectations of the self. The internet is the perfect mask for our modern day and we so often use that mask to present our best self to those around us. On some basic level, I wonder if we’re afraid the real us won’t measure up to the self we’ve created in our online spaces. It’s important to remember that the people you’re meeting are almost certainly feeling that same level of anxiety that you are. The best thing to do is just remember that you two (or however many there are) already know one another. You’ve known each other for quite a while. The fact that you haven’t met up in person yet shouldn’t really factor into it.
The first time I met with the couple known as Fyren and Artemis, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was all very spur of the moment. I hopped on a plane on one side of the country and landed on the complete opposite. My flight got in much earlier than expected so I found myself with plenty of time to sit at the airport and wonder what our encounter would be like. I roughly knew what they looked like. I knew how they acted and what hobbies they enjoyed. Somehow, none of that mattered. Minutes that felt like hours went by until finally they arrived. Awkward hugs were exchanged and voices were higher pitched than normal. Despite what you might think, curbside greetings are easy. It’s the forty five minute car rides after that really test the friendship. The awkward silences and uncertainties begin to pile up and everyone does that thing where you try to look out your part of the window and not cross paths of vision. Thankfully, we had no such occurrences. The second I hopped in the car I could feel the dread emanating off of all of us. So I took a deep breathe and simply said “This isn’t awkward at all, we already know each other.” That lead to a laugh and another one after that and soon enough it was just like old friends meeting again after some time apart.
The point of all of this is to say that meeting people from an online gaming community doesn’t have to be weird. In fact, it’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I didn’t know it when we began, but this community has always existed to bring people together. I believe if we limit that to the online worlds we occupy, we’re cheating ourselves out of some truly great friendships. It’s the only hobby I know where a group of people can begin far apart and eventually come together. With anything else, quite the opposite seems to be standard practice. The idea of a community centered around gaming might be strange to the outsider, but for us it’s a place to call home. If our games are home then the people we play with must be something like family. I for one an very excited to have so many of us in one place and I look forward to doing it again every year.