It fascinates me to no end how technology these days lets us make friends and stay in touch with people who cross our paths online. I remember that when I was younger, kids in my grade level had a hard time staying in touch because email was not widespread among us and platforms such as Facebook did not exist yet. Partly due to the amount of times I had to move in my middle school years, I have come to know a number of people online who I would genuinely call my friends.
As with real-life friends, I have noticed that people tend to stick together in circles or groups online. My first online friends were in random chat rooms (in my case, those in the now discontinued Camp Hyrule). While my knowledge about the internet in the 1990’s is a little hazy, I think chat rooms and message boards were the main means of interaction between people. The term “blog” certainly had not been invented yet. As I explored further, I eventually became a part of a few message board communities and befriended some of the people I would find there. At this point, I had learned about MSN Messenger and could keep in touch with people for extended periods of time.
Eventually, I fell out of touch with my friends from the early chat room and message board days… almost as if I had graduated from that degree of friendship. Remember how I mentioned how people tend to stick around in similar circles or communities? I am still continually surprised when every so often, I come across familiar faces as I sail through the Internet’s waters. They are out there, causing their own ripples.
As I entered high school, I eventually formed my own “circle” when I had the privilege of leading my guild in Ragnarok Online. This was a somewhat awkward time for me because this was the first time I was regularly meeting with people online and in essence “hanging out” with them. In game, I would have fun with my friends, talk about real life, and even witness my fair share of drama. I guess at that time, it was starting to dawn on me how big a role “online” friends could play in my life. A transition in classification from “playmates” to “friends.” While I was happy to welcome new friends into my life, a matter of principle made me struggle with my situation a bit– was signing on to talk to my online friends getting in the way of stuff I had to do in my real life? Was spending time with people online inherently inferior to spending time with people I know in real life? Being a computer savvy individual, it did not help that I was also cautious about giving away personal information online, which manifested itself in me not fully opening up to my friends.
After we went our separate ways, Facebook was invented a few years later. The rapid popularity of “social networking” quickly became a socially accepted phenomenon. I never was a fan of Facebook though… Strangely enough, my own epiphanies evolved independent of these happenings.
While I considered EuphRO2 more as a PR job than a crowd of friends, there were certain players I enjoyed talking to more than others. As I left to focus more on studies and relinquish some responsibilities, I came to join a group of friends who decided to move on to another game, Mabinogi. Eventually, this circle ended up becoming the Onigiri guild and was open for all players to join. While I myself did not play too much, I would often browse the message boards and IRC channel to cause mischief. I’ve been with them ever since.
Looking at the dates, I must have joined the Onigiri crew around January 2008. I was 16 years old then, a Junior in high school. I am currently 20 years old, a Junior in college. It’s been no mistake having been with them so long. Some of the original members especially have seen me grow up and mature as I pursue my career path. People have come and gone through Onigiri over the years, but those who have decided to stick around are regarded by me as dear, dear friends.
I have shared many things with these people, just as I would with any other friends. I shared my pains when my father went into cardiac arrest, I shared my disappointment when I scored poorly on an AP test, I’ve listened to others as they shared things that were bothering me. Outgrowing the fears of my Ragnarok Online days, I gladly passed time in their company whenever I had the time to relax. As with all friends however, I wanted to open up to them and express my true being– a feat that was complicated by me originally reporting a different age upon getting to know them. It took me a long, long time to divulge this information, but they ended up accepting me anyways. Nevertheless, I still sometimes fear sharing other aspects about myself… Perhaps sometime in the future.
The reason for my desire of closeness stemmed from the final validation of my online “friends” as my friends. We remember each others’ birthdays, we send each other Christmas presents, we play games together, do each other favors, and listen when someone has something on their mind. What other criteria is there? At this point, knowing what they look like, or even their real name no longer seems important to me.
Off the top of my head, thank you Draco, Rimu, Balance, Kun, Biscuit, Arujei, and Luekion for being great friends! (Heck thank you Sheepy and Acy for being great stooges too.) As we Tweeted to each other at the start of this year, long live Onigiri! May we spend the years to come together.