Monday, February 4, 2008

Struggling with Online Friendships

Author's Note: Although, I've had this idea floating about in my head for a little while now, the motivation to finally write this came from Belgarath at Blog Azeroth. It took a really long time because it became overly winded with ideas I found interesting, but were too tangential to the topic. I haven't had time to read through any new posts that may have appeared since I started. I hope that I am not just repeating what everyone else has already stated.

By the way, I just want to point out that I looked up “friend” on Wikipedia. What I found was a definition for friendship; “Friendship is a term used to denote co-operative and supportive behavior between two or more humans.”

Given that this is true, then there are very few friends within the world of Azeroth. Sorry guys, all you elves, dwarves, gnomes, draenai, and horde players are screwed! :)
Several people have posted comments already that friends are friends no matter what forum you find them in. Can you truly consider those you meet online as friends? This is a concept that I’ve been struggling with for some time now and I think I’ve found out why. The real question is “Why do we struggle with the concept of online friendship?”

What is friendship? I believe we can all agree that the definition above is one way to describe friendship and that it is a very basic, bare-bone description at that. All of us have our own interpretations and additional criteria we associate with friendship. I myself disagree with the definition only because I can think of several people that I am forced to co-operate with and support in my workplace, neighborhood, and even a couple in my extended family—not talking about my in-laws :)—that I would never consider a friend. I would add that a friend is someone you care about on a personal level. I specify “care” instead of “love” because I have had people that I considered friends, but wouldn’t say I “loved” them. I cared about their personal welfare and always wished them well, but the caring didn’t extend enough to go out of my way to make sure they were taken care of; such feelings and actions I equate with “love”.

Think back as far as you can to when you were very young. If you can think back to kindergarten, try to go back to then. How did you first make friends? It’s possible that you knew a few of the kids in your grade either through parents, church, or just in your neighborhood. Either way, chances are you made friends with them because primarily you were in the same class and associated with them. You had a similar forum in which you could relate to others.

How is this different than meeting people online? It’s not. WoW gives us all a forum in which we can meet people that have similar interests as we do; the basic foundation of which is WoW. From there we get to know people by grouping up for quests and instances and an even better forum through joining guilds. Over time we may begin to feel a certain bond between those we often adventure with. And why shouldn’t we? We are spending time with these people albeit through online avatars. Does that make it any less real? No.

I think the real question is “Why do we struggle with the concept of online friendship?” Well, there are lots of reasons. Online predators come to mind. I’m a parent with two young children. As they get older, my fear of online predators will increase. Another reason is that it is very easy for people to lie online. You aren’t face to face with these people and cannot see body language or hear inflections in their voice (unless using voice chat). They can even claim to be the other sex and you’d never know. There are a million reasons, but we all get the idea.

Bottom line, if you meet someone that you like associating with online and they with you, then you’re probably friends. There are different levels of friendship online, just like in the “real world”. There are people I consider “work friends” that I wouldn’t associate with in my private life. Just like that example, just because you wouldn’t associate with the people you meet online in your normal daily life, doesn’t mean they aren’t a friend.


Belgarath said...

Very nice write up. I especially like how you put forth some of the good things about being online friends and yet also brought in some of the problems with not ever being face to face with someone to actually know that are being honest.

I myself have a very small child and I guess maybe my perception of the issue will change as he gets older and spends more time on the internet.



Kyrilean of Arathor said...

Thank you. And thank you for your post on Blog Azeroth that finally motivated me to get around to writing this.