Or something like that.
Some time ago, I posted about leaving World of Warcraft for good. As it happens I just couldn't stay away.
I didn't return because of some terrible gaming addiction, or because subliminal messages built into the game and advertising media sucked me back in, or even because Gnome Females really know how to shake it. Though, the latter of the three factors rings true.
I returned for the same reason some people keep going back to the same cafe, why you play racketball every Saturday with the same partner even though he kicks your ass every time, for the same reason the mighty buffalo migrates north and south. Okay, not so much for the same reason as the last example, I'm not even certain Buffalo migrate. I returned because time and distance didn't diminish how much I missed a handful of people I had gotten to know over the last two or three years. I missed the voices on Ventrilo (a voice chat program), the long conversations that had nothing to do with the game, the clever word play and group activities.
So, back I went, and this time I find that there's more of a balance between 'The Three W's' as I've come to call them; Writing, Work and WoW. The friends I had once again neglected when I walked away were there with open arms to my utter amazement, and yup, they're just as enjoyable to talk with as I remember.
My tale is one that seems to be repeating. Guilds that stick together long enough are becoming a sort of secondary family unit, where we all get so used to hearing from everyone that when one goes missing for even a couple of days it gets noticed, a niche is empty, a chair around the virtual table is vacant. That can cause in game problems, but with tighter units (like the guild I've known for quite a while now), the absence is really felt. I know I miss at least one person who isn't signing on anymore, it's like losing touch with an old friend even though we never met in person.
With ten million subscribers (damn, that's a lot of people), WoW has given birth to thousands of virtual villages, some of which are marked with a guild name, others by server names and all tied together with bonds of friendship over virtual space. Does this kind of thing matter in the real world? Sure it does! I have friends locally, they're busy, intelligent people who I rarely get a chance to hang out with because I too am a busy fellow, especially these days. The friends I have online are intelligent and busy as well, but they can squeeze a little WoW time in here and there, and through that and a couple years we became friends. They know me almost as well as some of my local friends do, see me more often at times as well.
To make a long story short, it seems, at least by my experience, that online friends are just as valid to some people as local friends.
The world isn't shrinking, I don't believe it's a 'small world after all' (Disney just made five bucks, dammit). It still takes for bloody ever to get somewhere on the bus, a plane ticket is still expensive, and webcams, microphones or digital avatars still don't give you the feeling that you're right there. You could even argue that the world is expanding, with participants in digital environments like Second Life owning digital real estate and making a real living in virtual stores. The real long term human point here is that we're getting used to all these intellectual and emotional distance closers and that, I think, makes the entire personal computer revolution worth it.
See you in the lands of Azeroth.
[Edit]: Randolph plays Deih on the Feathermoon Server. The avatar is named after a character in his first self published novel; Fate Cycle: Sins of the Past.