Are Online Friendships Real Friendships?

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The question “are online friendships real friendships?” is something I have considered quite often. How do we quantify friendships? How do we measure and assess who is a friend and who isn’t?
It wasn’t that long ago that online dating was considered sad and pathetic. Nowadays it is not only societally acceptable but seems to be the most prevalent way in which people meet. I met my fiance via an online dating site. That’s amazing when you consider that our paths would never have crossed without that platform and now we are planning a wedding!
With today’s fast-paced lifestyle, multiple stresses and, of course, the rapid application of technology it is no surprise that the ease of online dating and the sheer number of people it allows you to meet has become prevalent but what about non-romantic relationships?
The word friend is bounded about a lot. I have few friends in the “real world” but hundreds of “friends” on Facebook and PSN. and it is those PSN friendships I want to investigate today.
I have met some wonderful friends thanks to the advent of online gaming. One person I met playing Destiny is my closest friend to date and writes for this website for me.  Kerith joined our party one night via a friend of a friend and our sense of humour, mischief and sheer dickhead-ness just clicked.
Now we talk almost daily via PSN or Facebook messenger. He comes up to Leeds every August for my birthday and I go to Swindon every October for the beer festival.  When I interviewed Toshiro Kondo in London I was nervous as hell and Kerith met me for moral support and helped me keep my nerves in check. Likewise, I have dropped everything and gone to visit him when he needed me due to personal events in his life. This is without a doubt a friendship but we have met in person, We have met each other’s partners, friends and siblings. This is a friendship borne out of meeting online, not much different from meeting my partner, I’m talking about the people you game with but have never met and probably never will.
I’m sure most of you reading this article will have friends on PlayStation or Xbox that you have gamed with for years but have never actually met. I can’t even hazard a guess at the number of nights I have spent bonding with fellow gamers online, celebrating our wins and getting frustrated at our losses. Does this make them friends? This is a question that was brought home for me in the fallout of that tragic shooting in Las Vegas on 21st October 2017.
While the news of the event of the shooting was horrific I felt a sort of detachment to it as it was thousands of miles away in Las Vegas and I am sat here in Yorkshire watching the events play out on the news in the sensationalist way that we are used to in today’s internet age. That distance in geography soon shrank when a week later I discovered one of my PlayStation friends was killed in that shooting.
For the purpose of this article and out of respect and privacy for any of his family and friends that may read this article I will simply refer to him as “Jack”.
I often work into the early hours of the morning and by the time I am finished I need to relax before I can go to sleep. Being in the UK most of my friends are in bed at 3am but it’s only 7pm in Las Vegas at that time and Jack was always online.
We spent many a night traversing the fields of Tristam in Diablo 3, fighting back the darkness as guardians in Destiny or even just running fetch and carry missions in GTA V to grind cash for each other’s criminal empires.
The time difference worked out brilliant for us. Just after dinner time for his family and the younglings were in bed. I was awake with no friends online and the European servers were nice and quite in GTA V. Throughout this 3 years or so of gaming we discussed many things together. The break up of a couple of my relationships, Jack’s wife being seriously ill and recovering from it, my history with mental illness, Jack’s tours of Afghanistan as a marine, we even shared parenting tips as our sons were born about 4 months apart and just beginning that joyous journey into puberty.
All these things mentally and emotionally form a deep bond and a relationship. During his wife’s illness, we spent many a night talking and drinking without even gaming. Surely this is a friendship? Does it matter that I never met him in person? does it matter that I didn’t even know what he looked like? Do we have to meet, shake hands and have a beer together before we can be classed as friends? What defines a friendship?
This is something I have struggled with for the better part of a year and the reason it has taken me so long after the event to write this article. I’ll never forget the night I sent him a party chat invite as usual but instead of him answering his heartbroken wife responded and explained what had happened.
The news hit straight to the pit of my stomach. I was in shock and disbelieve then over the coming days came the stages of grief. Denial, anger etc. The loss I felt was as real as any loss I had felt in my life. The way I think and feel about Jack, even to this day, tells me he was not only a “real” friend but an extremley close one too.
So what if we never met?, why does it matter that we weren’t friends on Facebook? I knew is life, his history, his family, his style of humour. I probably knew him better than the people I drink in the pub with who I call friends!
And like the physical friends I have lost whose numbers I can’t bring myself to delete from my phone or Facebook, as to do so feels like I am erasing them from existence somehow, Jacks name is still on my PlayStation friend’s list.
So to come back to my point after rambling for so long. At what point does an online friend become a real friend? How do you quantify your digital friendships? Are they friends or squadmates? acquaintances or guild members? mates or clansmen?
I honestly feel that friendships created through gaming are somewhat deeper than those made on other online spheres such as a Facebook group. I think there is some kind of shared journey as you level up together in Elder Scrolls Online, choose your class based on what the team needs in Never Winter or form that almost psychic bond amongst your teammates of positioning and play in Rocket League.
Sometimes risking your life to revive a friend in PvP holds no tactical advantage other than your squad never leaves a man behind. You are not a group of randomers thrown together by matchmaking. You may have been once upon a time but now you are a band of brothers.
I would love to know your thoughts on this as I believe that the diversity of people and the uniqueness of the individual will no doubt be a spark for a wonderful discussion, the sharing of friendships and the reliving of some great gaming memories as you celebrate your online but equally as real friendships.
Thank you for letting me ramble and I look forward to talking to you all in the comments.

8 Replies to “Are Online Friendships Real Friendships?”

  1. That is a fantastic feature mate. I’ve got hundreds of “friends” on Xbox, PSN when I had a Playstation and social media that I’ve never met but I only really class 5 of them as true friends who I’ve never actually met but might do one day as 4 of them are in Ireland and one is in Blackpool. I think what defines them is I know them more personally outside of gaming from talking to them about each other’s lives, family and different things we’ve been going through like you say with Jack and Kerith your relationship with them transcends gaming and is much deeper and more personal.
    I’ve got loads of friends that I don’t care if I ever actually meet them on the flip side but they’re fun to chat to whilst playing a game or message on social media and that’s fine too. I think it’s comparable with “real life” friends some you are close with and others you might just enjoy their company having a beer down the pub and that’s as far as the relationship goes.

    1. I hope that being so open, honest and vulnerable might encourage other men to talk
      I have been wanting to write that article since I found out “Jack” died but I haven’t been able to emotionally

  2. I think that sometimes and I’ve had moments like this that it’s nice to confide in someone you haven’t met but get on really well with because they’re impartial. I’ve confided in my friends on Xbox and they’ve confided things with me they were maybe too afraid to discuss with their family and close friends and wanted an impartial perspective.

    1. It’s the old adage that sometimes its easier to talk to a stranger than a friend because you don’t see the judgement in their eyes
      talking to online friends rather than real life friends means you dont see the dissapeointment or hjudgement in their fac you only hear their voice
      I’ll be honest i’m still feeling quite vulnerable after writing the article

  3. Another thing I’ve just thought about is I’ve had friends on social media and other gaming sites for years where we’ve only ever talked to each other in text and it’s always quite a surreal experience the first time hearing their voice while playing a game. A lot of people I’ve never even spoken to.
    It’s interesting sometimes I’ve confided deeply personal things in text to people I know online because I feel they can relate to what I’m going through and things have been confided in me. But with text it’s more impersonal and a bit easier than actually saying the words.
    I also find that with text especially with the complexity of the English language and words having multiple meanings it’s easy for someone to take your words out of context and misinterpret what you are trying to say. Without emotion in your voice conveying what it is. I always try and be careful in the words I write to avoid confusion but it can be very difficult sometimes.

    1. Do you find that those friendships formed in text only are easier to maintain then in person or voice because you have time to consider your response and measure it rather than having to reply immeadiatley

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