We're taught from an early age that the internet is something scary and evil. We read stories of children who are preyed upon, innocent consumers who lose their life savings, and hopeful lovebirds that find disaster after meeting from the internet. The people who exist online are portrayed as the most decrepit, sinister, and Godless scum on the planet.
Because of that stigma, I rarely discuss my online experience. It was a huge part of my life, yet rather than face personal assumptions, I chose to omit it. Having reflected on my life and where my desires lead me, I realize something happened to my mindset when all I thought I was doing was playing a video game.
For those of you who've never had the chance, Everquest in a Massively Multi-Player Online game, and was one of the first of it's kind. Rather than just playing a single-person game with a start and finish, an MMO is based solely online, and how the game is played is determined by your interaction with others who are also playing. Your personality, your words, and your actions determine how others perceive your character...eventually creating a setting in which your character exists.
Since Everquest is an RPG (Role Playing Game), much of the focus was around killing monsters, leveling up, an gaining better gear. Since harder monsters require more teamwork, you are compelled to interact with other players. Dragons, giants, and demons are all amongst the many creatures that exist in this online world.
However, that is not the true focus of such an online community.
As in any large collection of people, sub-groups are established for people to have a sense of "team" or "family." In Everquest, these groups are called guilds, and differ in their focus. Some guilds exist only to befriend other players. Some guilds exist to conquer the hardest monsters and be rewarded with the best loot. Others try to find a happy medium between progression and camaraderie.
This is perhaps where I became drawn to a religious community.
For many years, I was a part of an Everquest guild known as The First Seal. Like any other team, I was honored to be a part of the guild. They were farther progressed than I'd ever seen, and others online knew the guild to be respectable and honorable. In an online setting where you're bombarded by news of people stealing money and info, the concept of "honorable" on the internet was almost unheard of.
As I started, I learned the ropes. This is what time they meet to start a raid. This is their strategy for winning. This is how we portray ourselves to other players online. To the outsider, it almost seems comical to go to such lengths for a video game. But what many people fail to understand is that it is not just a video game: there were 50+ different personalities interacting together. There had to be rules, there had to be structure, and there had to be some kind of leadership. Rather than lead with an iron fist, the leadership of The First Seal resembled a Constitutional Monarchy, with officers having almost as much power as the leader. In retrospect, it's fascinating to think that people conceived these ideas to better play a video game.
After spending years in this guild, I look back and smile at how Franciscan my character appears. When logging on, my goal was to make others smile and laugh. I wanted people to be energized to see me. When divvying up our winnings, I always passed to someone who could better benefit. I went out of my way to lend an ear, to offer advice, and to speak well on topics not just in game, but with people and their personal lives. One cannot exist in such a state and not become close to people, even if it is only through the internet.
Part of me feels that The First Seal was my introductory course on what it means to belong to a community.
Lately I don't play Everquest. I don't have the time needed to play, and when I look into my heart, I don't have the desire to continue playing. I greatly miss the interaction between other people, but I stay in contact with many people outside of the game.
The one great thing I miss about that game is it's anonymity and how it brought out the true me. Online, you can be anyone you want. A married man can be a flirt, an older woman can pretend she's young again, anyone can be whomever they wish when they hide behind a monitor and keyboard.
Who was I when I was hiding? I like to think I was someone who could be counted on. I like to think people will remember me playing, and speak well of me and how I portrayed myself. I hope people remember me and smile and possibly share a laugh.
But rather than having some vain idea of how I wish to be remembered, I hope that those people I've affected will remember who I was, and be inspired to do something for someone else...be it online or in real life. I want them to remember that even when we're all just playing a game, there are good people on this earth.
For those of you who still don't understand how 4 years of my life could have been so involved in a game, no words can explain it. For those of you who knew or remember, join me as I take one last look at "home."