Sunday 14th September was a pretty big day for me. For the past seven years, I’ve been friends with a wonderful, wonderful group of people. Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, during sixth form, I had the worst two years of my life. I was diagnosed with depression, thanks to a variety of reasons, and the only thing that really kept me going was this fantastic group of friends. And what does this have to do with 14th September, you may ask? Well on that day I met several of them for the first time.
We met via an MMORPG called Dream of Mirror Online. I’d been playing for a few weeks, and then I was invited to join a guild – and that’s where it all started. Every evening I’d be online as soon as I got back from sixth form, because I needed them. My guild and friends on there were quite honestly my life savers. Without them, I would have been completely and utterly lost – finally, there were people who accepted me as I was, had no prejudices and didn’t judge me. And we all got along so well, cheesy as it is to say it we were like one big happy family. With the occasional argument of course, but what family doesn’t argue every now and again? We were mostly from all over Europe but we had a few members further away – several of us from the UK like me, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Iceland, France, Denmark, Italy and even Indonesia and New Zealand.
The only problem was, I was using this game to escape what I couldn’t and didn’t want to face in real life. My parents would get angry at the fact that I was constantly playing this game and my grades slipped. I came away from sixth form with much worse grades than predicted, and a place at a university, but not my first choice – but I made it. Because of the game, because of my friends on there, I hadn’t slipped into many of the typical depressive behaviours. They kept me going when I needed it most and for that reason I never want to lose touch with them. Although the game shut down shortly after I started university (probably for the best), and I got over my depression after leaving sixth form and we’ve all gone our own ways, I still keep in contact with them. We tried several other MMOs together but none stuck. I made a forum for us, we have Facebook, Steam, texts, Skype, so many ways to keep in touch. Although I don’t need to cling to them like I needed to almost seven years ago, they’re still my friends and I would hate to lose any of them.
I guess what I wanted to say, after all my waffling, is that I hate this stigma attached to ‘online friends’. A lot of people, mainly older generations who haven’t grown up in the environment we have, seem to think that anyone who talks to you online is out to hurt you. But I just wanted to say that without my online friends, I honestly don’t know if I’d be here today. It’s painful to admit but they saved me from doing anything stupid because they gave me just a glimmer of hope, and cheered me up when I most needed it. They didn’t even realise my situation until a couple of years later, when I told them exactly what I was going through at the time and how they helped. Several even said they were going through similar situations at the time, and the game and its community helped them too.
However, it took my parents several years to come to terms with the fact that these people I talk to regularly are REAL people, not pretending to be someone else or tricking me into anything. When I met up with them in Antwerp, I had to pretend to my grandparents that I was going with friends from university, because how on earth would I explain the concept of online friends to them? It’s the same with book bloggers – I might mention that a friend recommended a book to me, or a TV show, or I went to London Comic-con with a few of them – but again, I have to explain that these are people I know from online, and I can always feel the judgement from that very fact. What surprises me most is that it isn’t necessarily a generation thing – even people my own age seem to find it odd sometimes.