“Hey, do you want to raid?” my Final Fantasy XIV friend asked, sounding a little too eager. At first, my answer was no – I was only a month into the game and barely felt capable enough for casual content. But, after a little more begging, I agreed to at least give it a try.
It’s odd sometimes to think about the series of circumstances that lead you somewhere. All the small things that have to go right (or wrong, on occasion) along the way, and just how different life could be. That first raid group didn’t go so well, but I did make a friend there who wanted to make his own raid group. Two months later, I was chatting in Discord with a group of boys who I’d just met. My birthday was that week, and they threw me an online party. The group has changed drastically since then and I haven’t heard from some of them in awhile, but that moment really meant a lot to me.
I can’t really remember why I decided to start messaging my new co-tank in particular, but we quickly became friends. Good ones. Which is how, one drunken evening at a karaoke bar, he invited me to hang out and play games with his online guild, which started on Guild Wars 2 and stayed together throughout the years. A month later, I was officially the newest member. Now they’re people I talk to daily.
Growing up, I didn’t really have internet. I could use it if I visited my grandparents, and on their computer I got a small taste of online gaming thanks to Ragnarok Online and Maplestory. But for the most part, a lot of my gaming was done at home alone, or in precious evenings with my mother where we stayed up late playing Mario. For me – and probably many others – gaming was a solitary activity, which was sometimes made more exciting by a friend or two coming over.
If you’d told me then – while I was staying up late playing .hack, thinking about how cool it was to receive mail and invitations from in-game characters – that someday playing games would lead me to forge new, incredible friendships from all around the world, I would have been pretty surprised. I was in a rural village, where video games weren’t really the norm. I would never have believed that someday I’d find FCs and guilds, and that one friend would lead to another. And now, here I am with circles of friends that started with a game or two and ended up huge parts of my life.
And that’s what brings my story back around to PAX West weekend.
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Seattle. I was greeted by some pizza and rum when I met up with my fellow TGG staff in our hotel room, and settled in to nervously double-check my appointments. It had been a pretty long time since my last convention, and I’d only been to anime cons, never gaming. To add more pressure, I’ve never gone to any events as media. In true Rae fashion, I showed up at my first appointment on Friday feeling (and probably looking) like a lost rabbit, and blatantly told them I had no idea what I was doing. Lucky for me, they were super understanding, but it was definitely a rough start.
One of the common refrains I see these days on Facebook – the easiest place to see everyone’s opinion about everything – is about getting offline, going outside, and socializing. Bonus points if it’s someone talking about how their childhood was better because they weren’t playing Nintendo. Sure, we should all be spending some time off our PCs and outside of our living rooms, but those comments miss something really important – gaming is more social than ever.
PAX – at least for me – was a whirlwind of friendship and connections and new experiences. I met guildmates in person for the first time, and saw good friends I hadn’t seen in years. Walking down the street one night, I ran into an old college friend who was also attending. The great overlord of TGG is actually a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen since Fanime in 2011. I even saw one of my college housemates, hanging out in a break area with her husband. On the first afternoon, I came across my guildmate talking to a friend I’ve had on Facebook for almost ten years. They’d just met a few minutes before that. A trivia game spread throughout the con, and people were helping one another answer questions – both online and in person.
It was everywhere – people were meeting and discussing games, taking photos of cosplay, and even gaming together. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to so many new people at an event. Not even just the indie devs that I was writing about (although they were amazing and I learned so much from them). During one appointment, another attendee was clearly waiting for the demo I had booked. I asked him if he wanted to play, and we sat down together at the UNTIES booth to solve some mysteries.
On Sunday, my friend and I went to a Twitch meet and greet for one of his favourite streamers. I wasn’t going to go originally, but it was someone I really enjoyed watching too, so I figured why not? It ended up being one of my favourite PAX experiences. That streamer reminded us that another streamer from the same community was having a panel that night, so we ended up there next. Walking away from both of those encounters, my friend looked happier than I’d ever seen him. It’s kind of weird how much you can come to admire someone from watching them play Mario online.
I’ve had to hold myself back from going into more detail on this weekend, because I saw and did so much, and have so many things to say about it. But my takeaway is that games don’t keep us apart – they bring us together with people we might have never known otherwise.
I suppose you could say that a big event like PAX is an anomaly. With tens of thousands of people, how could you not be a little social?
But so many of us, when we go back home, aren’t holing up in a corner, embracing solitude until next year. We’re messaging friends to theorize about our favourite games and debating big mysteries. We’re contacting people we met over the weekend. We’re tuning in to our favourite streamers, interacting with them and their communities. We’re gathering three nights a week with seven other people, working as a team to beat hardcore content. Some of us are making games, whether they’re short and artsy, epic experiences, or romhacks for other people to enjoy. As for me, I woke up to messages and started catching people up on the great experiences I’ve had this weekend.
The gaming community has its faults, for sure. There are real issues we need to continue to address (some of which you can find on our lovely little site as well). Every big demographic has its problems. But despite those flaws, and despite the perception that we’re all just ignoring life and people from our desks, we are a community.
I’m grateful for what video games have given me. We’ve come a long way from those long adventures with my mom, when local multiplayer was the only option. I no longer have to play alone, late at night, miles away from all my friends in every way possible. Instead, I’m out meeting others who love the same things that I do. People I can team up with in multiplayer games, no matter what state or country they’re in. People I’ve come to genuinely love and care about. These are people that I would never have met without video games. So, the next time someone tells me to put down my controller and go hang out with “real” people, I’ll remember that I’m not alone.
And neither are you.