Back in FFXI, I was a member of several different linkshells. They each had their own charm, and I definitely made friends in each, but it wasn’t until I became a member of Chaos Theory that I came to know what it meant to be a part of an online family. There was something special about this group of people, where we all came from different walks of life, but we all had the same drive, the same passion for the game, and we were able to accomplish so much together. It has turned into the group of people that I miss the most, and whenever I come across anyone from this group, no matter where it is, my heart leaps and I get a genuine smile on my face. Even if that person wasn’t one of my closest friends, I still get that same wonderful feeling of a real reunion, as if something that was missing in my life just clicked into place for a time.
Over the last few weeks, with the holidays having come and gone, this concept of what it means to be a family has been brought to the forefront of my mind, especially as I balance the many new families I’ve become a part of in my life. It is different being a son than it is to be a father; it is different to be a father than it is to be a husband, and a son in law, and a brother and yet, despite all of these being different roles and different families, there’s some defining quality that each of these share that turns all of these relationships into that of a family. And this has led me to ponder on what it is about Chaos Theory that made me feel the same way.
The people in an online guild usually don’t meet in real life. We talk to each other about the superficial things going on in our lives, although as relationships deepen we’ll open up about more. We create a fake persona that exists in an online world, and yet, when we achieve that special quality that defines a family, the feelings we share for each other are real. And this is what I’ve been thinking about – what is it about an online community that can spark this feeling of family, and give people that sense of belonging. And while there might be many reasons for this, there’s a few ideas that have come to the top of my thoughts that illustrate why Chaos Theory had that special something.
The first idea is a memory that happened back in FFXI. I remember quite distinctly when a certain mate from Chaos Theory was departing from the game. I never knew quite sure why, rumors had it that his father had become concerned with the addictive nature of video games, and the amount of time he saw his son putting into the game, and had asked him to stop. It didn’t seem like there was any hard feelings there, and as a father I can definitely see his point. But for our community in game it was quite sad. A group of people assembled in the Chains of Promathia zone to say our farewells. I’m blanking on the zone, but it was where all the cut scenes happened with the main character from that story-line. We were standing on a cliff that looked out into the landscape, way up high. The sun was setting, and it was actually quite scenic. We were all gathered together as group, and said our final farewells as he logged off for the very last time. It was very touching, very emotional, and the thing is, I didn’t even know him that well. He wasn’t one of my closest friends in the Linkshell. He and I had never really spoken via /tell, we’d maybe said a few words together via linkshell chat, but that was about it. And yet, I felt like I was losing a close friend.
A year later or so, a group of us got together in real life, and he had stayed in touch with a few people, heard about it, and wanted to come. When I learned about this, I remember getting super excited! Which I think back on and it strikes me as funny. Here I was, having really never talked to this guy, getting really excited to meet him and see him in real life.
The second memory has nothing to do with a video game, but is a memory from when I attended my grandma-in-law’s 90th birthday party. It was a fine party, I was mainly watching the boys, so I didn’t talk to that many people, but after dinner, and after cutting the cake and singing happy birthday and all that, she gave a little speech. Now, I happen to love hearing our elderly people talk, they’ve got a true perspective of what life should be all about, and so whenever a grandparent sits down to tell someone what they’ve learned in their lifetime I always perk up. And this is exactly what my grandmother-in-law was talking about – what had she learned in the last 90 years? She listed a few things, but one thing really popped out at me. She said “It’s not the things that matter in this life, it’s the people. And the more we can concentrate on people instead of things the more we’ll feel fulfilled at the end.” Being the nerdy self I am, I thought first about how this applied to our community here in Eorzea rather than my own life lol. I heard that and I thought – hey! That’s the whole vision driving our Free Company!
The third idea has to do with how I feel like MMO’s are the great equalizer.
As I get older, for whatever reason, I find it harder to make friends. I don’t know if it’s the pressures of family life eating up my time, or me becoming more set in my ways, but I don’t even have that interest anymore to go out and be social like I used to. When an evening comes that I get to be by myself, my first choice for what I want to do is always to log on to FFXIV, and hang out with all of you. The only friends (besides my wife), that I truly feel like I can let my guard down and just plain belly laugh out loud are here with all of you. And the more I think about this, the more I think there’s a real life lesson here, about the way things really should be. Because in a way, we’re truly interacting with each other for who we really are. We’re like the online version of the Voice, where we don’t get to see who’s singing before we make a judgement about how good they are. If you think about it, by playing an online game, you remove having to worry about your physical appearance. You remove politics, religion, race, orientation, anything that serves to divide ourselves in real life and you are left with nothing but YOU. You’re playing a nerdy video game for crying out loud, so you don’t even have to worry about being a nerd. (And for all of you who have friends in real life just like yourselves, good for you, I hate you all lol I have very few people I can open up to about playing an online fantasy video game without being judged). So here we are, interacting in a setting where we’ve been stripped down to nothing but ourselves, and look how well we get along. And it says so much to me that when you remove all this potential for judgment, all this division, and instead concentrate on just having fun with each other that we are able to unite and generate this feeling of family. It makes all this division in real life seem incredibly sad to me, and I truly believe that this is how we were meant to be – existing in a community where we are able to have our own opinions without destroying the relationships we have with each other. And this is why I say that playing an MMO is the great equalizer. People from all walks of life, from all parts of the globe, of all different maturity levels and ages are all able to come together, and truly get along.
So what does that all say about being a family? And how does an online guild attain this quality within its membership? One idea I’ve had is this – a group of people that works together towards a common goal is a community, but a group of people that actively show that they value and accept each other that works toward a common goal is a family. Back in FFXI it was an easy thing to do, because the game gave us so much to work on as an entire linkshell. And that was the defining thing about Chaos Theory – we worked together to get through end game without ever losing the value and respect we had for each other. It is more difficult in FFXIV because there’s less you can do as a very large group, so the big goals of beating dynamis together turn into little goals, like getting someone through a turn in Coil, but we’ve still done it. It’s something we have to be mindful of in the future and a challenge to ourselves – to continue to show each other that we care for and value each other through all the little things. One day I hope this game will have something large we can all work towards together, and I think how great and successful we will be when we take on that content having already built a strong family.