living on the edge…or online, whichever

“Living on the internet” is not something I really understood until recently.

I always kind of thought that the internet was mostly for looking up how to snake my bathtub drain, or posting links to where I am right now, or a snapshot of the tasty adult beverage I just ordered. What I didn’t realize is that it’s not just a tool, it’s a community…millions of communities.

This is what people are doing these days! They don’t always go out to dinner, or to the movies or to hang out at the mall. They get off work, go home, switch on their high-powered computers with multiple screens and fancy mice, and they hang out with friends. Just…virtually.

And it’s not just kids or the stereotypical lonely gamer sitting in front of a computer screen in the dark with a fistful of cheese curls, either (though they are out there). Families, friends and significant others are playing online with each other in addition to strangers. Grandparents are getting into the act now, and women gamers are becoming more and more common.

Fun facts: in the US, the average age of an online gamer is 30 years old. 45% of online gamers in America are also women, and (you’ll be glad to hear) are usually over 18. In the UK, the average gamer plays for 3 hours a day, with 15% of UK gamers saying they’ve broken up with their partners over the amount of time spent gaming. On the other end, 29% of gamers are over 50! Hi grandma! How’s the game today?

You can see me about these stats here.

So what’s the draw? Why live online instead of in the real world? They might have social awkwardness, communication issues, and maybe just not able to make friends easily. But online…they might still be socially inept, but there’s almost always someone weirder, or more inept, or someone worse at making friends than they are. Even if it’s not because the person has a hard time interacting in the real world, it’s a way of connecting to the world at large in a way that you don’t get from just going to your local coffee house. And if you work from home and don’t get out much (like me), it’s a way of experiencing the world even when you’re not out in it.

It wasn’t until I started playing an online game that I kind of started to get it.

You can create this whole online personality, and, depending on what you’re playing, you can make an avatar that looks nothing like you. No one needs to know who you are, or really anything about you, except what you choose to share. And even then, it doesn’t even have to be true. Though kinda creepy and a little alarming if you’re making everything up.

When you think about it, it’s incredibly freeing. You can be anyone, anything you want. You can have blue hair and pink eyes, be an elf, a dwarf, or even a weird little rodent looking creature that specializes in some crazy science-magic energy fusion. Whatever you choose, it doesn’t even have to actually resemble you.

The other side effect? When you talk to people, you can be whoever you want to be. People get to know you by your screen name, your jokes, your witty comments, and not by how old you are, how you look, where you live, or how much money you make. It’s like meeting someone who’s blind, and you’re blind, and all you have to go on is what the other person says to you. They’re not judging you based on your job, or your clothes, or your age, or your physical appearance.

Not that I’m advocating inventing personalities or lying about who you are. The internet is used far too often for the abuse of minors and defrauding people that are, perhaps, not as internet-savvy as they might be.

All I am saying, though, is that if you’re not some creepy pedophile or asshat online malefactor, you can have interactions that are truly genuine and authentic in a way that is sometimes impossible in real life, where real life concerns, real life complications, and real life gets in the way. Someone painfully shy in real life can be outgoing, or someone who may not normally have the courage to talk to girls or guys in real life can find their balls online. So to speak.

And it’s not just online gaming. Anonymous blogging is another way of putting your ideas and personality out there without the baggage that your real self comes with. It’s like reinvention.

Of course, there are dangers, as with anything that is fun, and relaxing, and time consuming it’s possible to have  too much of a good thing, or to get in too deep, or to actually start believing in your online identity more than your real life world. There are people I’ve come to “know” online that I’m fairly certain would freak me out in the real world. People who have become so immersed in their online persona that maybe differentiating between what is real and not-real has become a struggle.

In general though, it’s been so rewarding, and not just for its hours and hours of entertainment. People of all types from all corners of the world that I might not have ever come to know, who might have passed me on the street and thought they had nothing in common with me, or I with them…on the internet, in the game, we all come together in a way that makes it unimportant who we are or what we do in real life.

Maybe I’m just super naive because I’ve never been a part of something like this before, and maybe it’s just a form of escapism. I just think it’s cool that I found out about it.

Welcome to the 21st century, 2N. Game on.

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