In my formative years I had a core group of 5 very good friends. Some of us had been friends since we were children and others were assimilated into our collective during our university years. We did everything together from procrastinating at one another’s homes when we should have been studying to nights out on the town and even holidays abroad. My time at university was special and the friendships cultivated there have lasted the decade since I left. My working career began in earnest shortly after graduation and my chosen profession has taken me away from my hometown and those wonderful people I call my closest friends. I am not the only one of our group to have moved on to new pastures and we are now spread out across the UK making the best of our lives.
We have, however, stayed close. We all reconvene, on occasion, back in our hometown and go to the pub to play catch-up. We often just go to someone’s house, sit on the sofa and have a drink and a chat or watch a movie, which we all talk over, and, more often than not, play some multiplayer video games which seem to get better the more inebriated we become. Sometimes we travel the length of the country to visit our respective new homes and adopted towns and cities. On these occasions the host will take great care to ensure that the others are entertained, fed and watered and above all that we can enjoy the rare and precious time we have together.
We are all big gaming fans and back in the days before wireless networks we used to go to incredible lengths to achieve some basic networked multiplayer gaming. I would often disassemble my PC, pack it into the back of my car, and drive down to my friend’s house where we would set up the computer next to his so that we could network the two via an Ethernet cable. This was all so that we could play a couple of precious hours of Soldier of Fortune or Star Wars in multiplayer. The idea of playing against another human, and your best friend to boot, in place of a mindless and, at the time, quite basic AI was worth the hassle.
Today I have Xbox LIVE. My friends also have Xbox LIVE. What this means for we merry band of brothers is that we can recreate those nights we used to spend together despite being geographically separated. With the use of an Xbox and a microphone headset we can spend a night chatting whilst playing against (or with) each other on the latest game that we all like. We can even play separate games but keep a chat room open so that we can still talk away the night while engaged in different activities. I find this to be amazing. What online gaming has done for me is to have brought me closer to the people I want to be around, but sadly can’t be. We have drifted apart because our lives have taken different paths but technology has matured to serve, for us, a purpose that I’m sure was not intended.
Xbox LIVE is a great link in our ongoing friendship and now, even though the majority of the group are married, getting married and/or have children, my close friends and I can still make time to join together in the fight against alien invasion, to rid the world of a zombie infestation, to battle Nazis in the streets of Berlin or to take on the guise of secret agents in a race against time to save the world. I get to do this with my best friends. Who says video games are antisocial?