7 September 2007

“Our real-world selves in this imaginary place…”

Filed under: Ponderings

I was talking to a new friend of mine in World of Warcraft (WoW) last night. We were chatting about this and that, and she said something to me in passing that’s been running through my head all night. It’s now 12:45 am, I should be sleeping, as I must rise in five hours or so for work, but needed to get this down.

I can’t quote her exactly, but it was something to the effect of “we have learned so much about our real-world selves in this imaginary place”. Aside from its simplistic beauty of expression, the quote has haunted me so much in the hours since I’ve heard it, I have simultaneously forgotten it word for word and yet can’t get the idea of it out of my head.

I’ve been in the digital world as long as there has been a digital world. I have made many friends over the years whom I have never met face to face. Some of whom, I would call my best friends in life. This comment, and several articles I’ve read recently, got me to thinking about “virtual” friendships. So many would say they are not real, you can’t connect with another human being in such a way. In the case of WoW, “it’s just a game”, “it’s not a real person”, “they aren’t themselves”. I read this every day.

I disagree.

I believe that people are more themselves in such venues. I think that places such as WoW, or email, or social networking, or chat, or IRC, or whatever digital medium people use to communicate removes just enough of people’s hard-wired, preconceived notions and stereotypes that they can make a connection. A deep one, with others, in a way that they could not in the “real world”.

Disclaimer: I just recently “met” this person, and do not have that sort of connection with her (I place this disclaimer for the small chance she may read this and I don’t want to creep her out). However, even in the small time we have spoken to one another, she’s already opened my mind to new ideas such as this one with the quote above.

How many “real life” people can you say that about? When was the last time that someone you met newly in real life broadened your horizons? More importantly, when was the last time you let someone you met newly in real life into your horizons?

See my point?

And what of this virtual world? How not real is it? How not real are these people we meet there? How not real are the experiences we share, and the bonds that grow between people who have not actually met?

One of my dearest friends, Mels, I met via a pen pal newsgroup in 1993. We have now been friends for nearly 15 years. We have met once, nearly ten years after our friendship began. Does that make our friendship any less real? No.

In a recent comedy series I saw about WoW, a character is talking to her therapist about her WoW addiction, and denying it. The therapist states that she is “living in an imaginary world” because the people she plays with “aren’t real”. Her response, they are real people, she speaks to them, even though she hasn’t seen them, they are still a part of her experience and her life. Her quote, which I love, “well, it’s good enough for the blind”.

Can’t we all take a lesson from this?

Treat every day as a learning experience. Learn from anyone and everyone you can. Talk to the person standing next to you at the store. Smile at a stranger. Have the courage to strike up a conversation with a random person. Talk to “imaginary” people online. Everyone has wisdom to impart, even if they don’t realize that it will be wisdom to you.

Thanks, Sparkles.

One Response to ““Our real-world selves in this imaginary place…””

  1. Sparkles says:

    I can’t believe what I wrote made that much of an impression on you Jon. Very cool and flattering that you think I am such a wise woman.

    I agree with you about virtual relationships impacting our lives as much as physical relationships. There are people I work with that I know much less than the people I talk to on WoW. Being a writing communicator I am able to express myself better with the written word than face to face.

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