Monday, November 20, 2006

Stranger and Friend - or - Guild Emo

...with apologies to Hortense Powdermaker...

Oh crap, people can really suck sometimes. I'm sending this one out to Feli and Owlie with much consternation. I could have titled this entry Guild Emo, but I didn't. No, I just did. It deserved it.

So the happy shiny guild, number...what....five? in the hit parade of guild starts and stops...had a new drama episode. I'm tellin' ya, this stuff is better than reality t.v. Oh, cause it's reality MMO. Duh.

So, Feli and Owlie broke up. I won't do the details cause it's none of your business unless you already know the details, in which case it's moot. My interest here is this. I don't know either of these people, and until this past week, I didn't even know what their voice sounded like. (Guild got vent., which deserves it's own entry, imho.) We've played together and chatted for hours and days and weeks and months online. In fact, Feli and I are the originals, baby. We were the lil lvl 17 n00bs together in Deadmines under the guidance of our new found friends Bany and Sage. Sage is still in this guild, with many of his alts.

Anyhow...I don't know who they are, Owlie and Feli, but I know something about them and I have a social connection to them both, by virtue of our lengthy play together. I feel badly about the break up. It is as if some best friends have broken up. But...they're not my best friends. Or are they?

That's my real topic. What does it mean to be a friend in a networked society that supports virtual interactions. Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to be a stranger? Who is a stranger. This harkens back to the concern I raised a few months back about my daughter's WoW buddy, the not-quite-boyfriend boy friend. I was fine with it till she started to hand out personal info. We had our big talk, and I chatted online with the boy. I was struck by his insistance that he wasn't a stranger.

Discussing this in the Terror Nova blog I was pressed to think about the real life analog. What do I know about the parents of the friends she has in real life? I think they're not strangers. I think I know them. Why do I think I know them? I don't know much about them. But I've SEEN them. Is this a visual proximity bias? In reality, they are much more dangerous, potentially, because they are here, in the 'hood. My kid goes over to their house regularly. You know, they say that people get molested by people they know, not by strangers. People get killed by people they know, not strangers. ...people they thought they knew. So what are the criteria we can rely upon in a virtual world to identify stranger and friend? What legitmacy comes from long periods of play time together? What clues and cues work to let us know who we can trust, we is "safe"? Who to love?