Friends, Both Real and Imagined

Why is it so hard to make friends when you’re an adult? (Ok, an alleged adult, fine. Point taken). My last real friends I made (and I define “real” in this sense as someone I can physically visit with, as well as someone who is consistently up to date on my life and I on theirs, and someone who, if we miss speaking for a while, leaves a hole in my life) were in grad school: Courtney and Mary Jane. I could write loads about the two of them, and I might put that on my list of possible topics, but y’all, grad school was not yesterday. Grad school was not last week or last year. Grad school was mid 2000s. Grad school was a different DECADE.

Yeah, I get it – COVID has really wrecked our social opportunities, but I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly then, either. It had gotten so bad for me pre-COVID that I actually ENJOYED job interviews, because I got to talk with peers about teaching and work. When was the last time you ENJOYED a job interview? Yeah, it’s a weird feeling.

I don’t view my students as my friends, although I do have one ex-student who I stay in touch with (or I did pre-COVID, that is. Our coffee get together is the last social event I attended before COVID). Once I attended an AA meeting with a student, which was probably a lapse in judgment on my part, but she was an older lady – more a peer, really, than some of these young whippersnappers, and I saw that as two people supporting each other in recovery versus anything else. It made me more uncomfortable than anything, just because allowing another person into my space when there is a power differential is a recipe for disaster.

That being said, I have discovered that there’s a real draw to the idea of online friends. Yeah, yeah, I know: join the internet revolution, we know how to surf. I get it – I’m late to the party, as usual. But I love observing human behavior, and I love thinking about these patterns that emerge and what they might mean.

Years ago, I discovered Many a True Nerd via this article in Kotaku. Having spent a number of hours in the world of Fallout myself, I had to see how this guy managed to finish the game without healing, and before too long, I was totally hooked. Jon was YouTubing before (I think) reaction videos were much of a thing, and so his work doesn’t feature his face. He portrays himself, actually, as an egg. Well, ok, a carton of eggs, but let’s not split…uh…shells here. (Snort). You have to actively look for his picture on the internet, and I sort of wish that I hadn’t looked – not because he’s hideous or anything, far from it – but I had an idea in my head of what he looked like to go along with what he sounded like (posh Brit who attended Oxford and studied the classics, with a hilarious high pitched giggle and a steadfast refusal to curse, replacing the standard fare of F-bombs with “Flip”). Anyway, the more I watched, the more it felt like I knew him.

I watched a live stream or two of his, which was less fun than I had hoped due to the fact that (a) his partner, Claire, helped with the live stream by reading him comments in chat, but without a microphone and (b) I really didn’t understand how these things worked – how were people donating money? How did they know each other so well? Did they know each other IRL? What is this sorcery?

I managed to gather up my guts and comment, saying that Claire needed a flipping microphone for the love of Gawd, which was greeted all around with agreement and approval, and I felt like I had sort of met a celebrity when Claire read my comment to Jon.

I began to sort of broaden my horizons w/r/t YouTubers doing Let’s Play videos, and at the start of the pandemic, found Games4Kickz, a German dude living in Ireland with what can only be described as the most interesting accent ever. Sometimes he sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger, sometimes he sounds like the Lucky Charms cereal guy. How I found his content and channel has been lost to the sands of time (ahem, my polite way of saying that my old brain has forgotten), but since the lockdown and quarantine began, he’s almost all we have watched. He has a massive back catalog of stuff, with the 7 Days to Die Alpha 15 series being one of my favorites. I have legit laughed so hard watching him play this “build your own base in the zombie apocalypse” video game that my sides hurt. I have laughed myself into tears, and I have listened to my husband do the same. It’s been so fun.

What this has to do with the concept of friendship, though, is complicated. We’ve taken to watching the live streams (his channel has changed over the years, and he plays more than 7D2D, he’s lost a lot of that manic energy he had when I think he was trying to build the channel into a full time job, but he’s still unfailingly kind and positive), and we have even joined his YouTube – we pay him about $5 a month via YouTube, which is probably working out to be pennies for him (or euros? What the heck currency do they use in Ireland? I’m such an ignorant American). Anyway – I’ve noticed as we have watched the streams that we (my husband and I) talk about the people in the stream as much (almost) as we do Kickz. “Look, DataWasteland is here!” or “Where’s FadeyFade tonight? I saw on her Twitter she was feeling under the weather.” I mean, that’s how we would sound if we were planning a get together in real life.

Not that this isn’t real life, of course.

This is getting complicated, the more I think about it. My point is – and I do have one – that while the internet has brought us some vile and disgusting things, it’s also made it possible to forge friendships in ways we didn’t expect. It’s great to have in-jokes with other viewers – the number of times I’ve had to stop myself from saying “Balls!” in public is really too damn high, and I foresee real problems when school starts up again – and a common past history.

I’m friends with other people who enjoy watching a guy who represents himself as an egg online (an egg with googly eyes, at that) as well as people who enjoy watching a guy who sounds like either a massive Austrian weightlifter/governator or this guy, or some amazing cross between the two, and while the relationships aren’t as deep or as personally important as my friendships with Courtney and Mary Jane were, they do make me happy.

Plus, I’ve got some great new catchphrases.