I’ve been gaming for a long time, I can’t really think back to a time where I didn’t game. It’s one of my two main hobbies – hockey and gaming. I’m 35 now, and I’d bet dollars to donuts I’ve been doing it for 30 years. As with most folk, I’ve had ups and downs. My hobbies have kept me sane through them. In a particular rough spot, at the tail end of my teens and early twenties, I was having issues with home and finding some direction in life. It got pretty dark for a while. Ultima Online and Everquest were my two main releases. Given that high speed wasn’t around, a modem was required. That took up a phone line, so I ended up playing overnight to avoid conflicts with the house line.
Aside from that, you should know that I’m a high-functional introvert. It’s getting better with time and practice but my wife is the family extrovert. Makes for a solid team.
Ultima Online I was pulled in through a magazine ad a friend pass my way. We played together at launch for a few weeks but he moved on and I delved deeper. I eventually became a PK hunter and that meta aspect to the game made me a fair amount of friends. The actions I took were such that I ended up “grey” most of the time, rather than hunting the Illustrious title of pure nobility. It was my first real foray into social groups and it really taught me a solid amount about group play, delegation and responsibility. I was fairly active, even after the Trammel split in 2000. I made a few alt accounts and used my personal house as a base of operations. EBay was my friend and I sold/bought property and characters which subsidized my gaming hobby for a very long time.
Everquest came out in late 1999 and it honestly took me a while to get into the game. The inability to see in the dark was a major roadblock and I didn’t really swap over until 2001, when the guild I had in UO finally dissolved. EQ I started playing with another real life friend but he also moved on. This was probably the lowest of the low for me in RL. EQ was crack, came at a perfect time, and it was common to have 8-16 hour sessions go through without knowing it.
I ended up settling with a Dark Elf Necromancer, as the late hour sessions made it somewhat harder to find groupmates. That said, things took a turn once I found this Barbarian Warrior in my mid-teens. We’d play together all the time. ICQ was a mainstay back then and we’d be chatting all the time. He worked shift-work, was married (at 16 on Hallowe’en of all dates) and had kids, even though we were both the same age. I can distinctly remember camping the isle in OoT for days trying to get through the hell levels. The only recourse was our chats. While this certainly kept me afloat, I’d like to think I did the same for him.
Time has a way with things and eventually we parted. He found another job (with Gateway if I recall) with different hours and he had to work things out with his wife. We’d still chat every week or so but clearly there was a gap. I would say he was my first real online best friend.
I did keep up with EQ and met a nice couple from California, in a small social guild. That was a ton of fun and that lasted many years. We all merged into an adult guild, the Companions, back in the RoK days. I think that lasted an extra 2 expansions, as I clearly remember raiding in the Vellious expansion as well and starting planes. The guild had a requirement that people be over 30, though made an exception for me. These were professional people, lawyers and doctors for a large part. I think I grew up 5 years in 1 during this time. I managed the website (which cemented my direction in IT) and did all the art and updates. A bunch of the folk were related too, so it was like being part of an adopted family. That was an awesome feeling – of belonging somewhere.
But the time in EQ had to move on and I moved off to Horizons and the promise of player-built housing with a subsection of the guild. This was my first foray into group projects. We’d set out build orders and collect/refine the material. It was a lot of fun collecting everything and working as a team on a non-combat goal. Everyone could participate. Unfortunately, the higher end part of the game was seriously broken and that prevented future growth. Even more bad timing was EQ2 and WoW on the horizon (pun not intended). We split ways here because after playing both betas, EQ2 held no appeal while WoW seemed to hit the right nerve. This also coincided with a rather dramatic shift in the personal space and a relative uptick on future outlook. UO and EQ both helped me get through a heck of a funk.
I think in hindsight the social aspect really filled a need I had at that time. As I’ve grown older and matured, I’ve found other ways to meet my needs. I have a great wife who understands and supports my gaming habits. My kids are amazing and are so much more fulfilling than I had thought possible. The social aspect at work is great and my friends outside of work fill in a huge gap as well. Games, in of themselves, are less a social thing for me now and more of a hobby to get the brain ticking. It’s also challenging in today’s gamespace where there’s no whitespace or dead time. There’s a reason EQ implemented the /gems function after all. Today it’s more about voice chat and that option just isn’t so viable with 3 other people in the house.
With that gap in social from gaming I have moved on to blogs. I’ve owned this domain for 11 years now, blogging for nearly as long. A social network has been built over the years, supported through forums, games, twitter, podcasts and cross-posting. The NBI is a great example of this, where the community comes together to help some new bloggers. Blaugust was a cool challenge to post something every day. Bloggy Xmas is obviously the most recent example of this.
With so many games available for our attention, the odds of a single community in a single game are long gone. The bonds last across games but you still need a mechanism to share stories. Blogs are an amazing way to do that. While my blogroll isn’t as long as it should be, it’s a decent sample of the various folks sharing their ideas, with very little overlap. In fact, there are a few that conflict with each other which provides some great counterpoints.
The community is small enough that everyone seems to know each other yet big enough for everyone to be able find something they can relate to. I hope everyone reading this can find a few more friends through this Bloggy Xmas event. We all share a same passion for games and that’s certainly something worth sharing.