Games People Play…

I’ve been on the phone with a friend of mine for the past two hours. I’ve never met him face-to-face but we play a game together online and from there we have gone on to calling each other when there is an issue too big to discuss in private messaging on the game itself. Or sometimes we just call to talk about our day or whatever which was what today was about. One of the guys that I play this same game with will call me on his way home from work and we will discuss game strategy while he is dealing with his daily commute in LA traffic.  I am “The Boss” on the game so I have to make a lot of decisions for the rest of the players who are in my “alliance” and sometimes it takes more than my own ideas to make sure the decisions are the right ones…

Now of course none of this has anything to do with real life, but for the amount of time many of us play this particular game it sure seems like it at times. Since I began playing this past fall I have found that I have been able to apply many of the things I have learned in the game to my own personal life. I am more decisive in the choices I have to make. I am more assertive with people and am not as afraid of the outcome as I was before. I find this to be an interesting result of playing a game with virtual kingdoms, wars, and conspiracies running rampant throughout the entire game.

This isn’t the first game I have played online. I like games of strategy and war. They are a great release for the stress of the day and I find when I have had a particularly grueling day I have a tendency to go find people in the game I can fight with and win the battle! My son has played Call Of Duty and Halo for years with friends online–they have epic battles that last for hours–and I use to just shake my head when I walked past his door and hear him talking to them on his head set and wondered how he could get so into a game that wasn’t even real. I get it now! I do the same thing with the game I play now but I use the phone to discuss battle plans, strategy, or to just vent about a player we can’t stand…

Virtual gaming has become a huge thing in our modern society. World of Warfare is probably one of the better known gaming sites for battle, while Second Life is more about socializing with other people through avatars that you create. Brad Paisley has a song called “I’m So Much Cooler Online” and in it he sings about how the nerdy guy who still lives in his parents’ basement can go online and suddenly he is 6’5″ with six-pack abs, a Ferrari, and an international playboy lifestyle. No one has to know who he really is. It’s a very freeing experience if you have suffered from social ineptitude your entire life to be able to create this online persona, but it does have its drawbacks.

One of the things I have witnessed, and been drawn into myself as a friend, is the online romances garnered by game play. I think its sort of the same phenomena that actors go through when they fall in love with their costar. While they are on a movie set real life gets set aside as they become immersed in their character and the story line. We have all heard the TV gossip and magazines that have headlines of “Big Star (insert name here) Cheats On (insert name of spouse/partner here) With Young Costar” and other similar stories about celebrities and the complications that come with that kind of lifestyle. It happens all the time and you would think they would figure it out and not fall victims to the phenomena but many lives are destroyed when fantasy can’t quite live up to reality. When the filming is finished and they go back to their normal lives the fantasy world they have been living in starts to crumble and Real Life comes into play once again. Instead of the romantic HEA they were imagining they instead find their lives are in ruins because  fantasy can’t ever measure up to those kind of expectations. Relationships are in tatters and often cannot be mended all because the line between fiction and reality has gotten blurred by emotions…

Believe it or not, this is also an issue in virtual gaming. We create characters and we can be whoever we choose to be in the game. We can be the hero or the villain, the victim or the conqueror. Sometimes we have no choice but to be the conquered and then we have to fight back to regain our crown. It’s a lot of fun as long as you remember that it is JUST A GAME, but for some people it becomes their reality. Relationships form, emotions are drawn into it, and suddenly you find yourself in love with a person you only really know through a game and often that person is not who you are led to believe them to be. The results can be devastating both in-game and in real life. I have known a couple of people I have played with that were prepared to give up their entire life and move to be with this other person. These moves often involved relocation to another part of the country–no small deal when you are with someone you actually know, but a recipe for disaster if you have never actually met face-to-face.

I had one set of friends on the first game I played that this happened with. He was from Australia and was just a crazy guy to play with. He had no fear in the game and everyone wanted him on their team. My leader was Selfie. she was from Missouri and she and I persuaded Syn, the crazy fun guy, to join our team and play with us. Of course Selfie and Syn developed a relationship and the next thing I knew I was in counseling sessions with both of them via messaging while they tried to work out all the issues that came from being “in love” with a person who really only existed in a game. Needless to say the relationship was doomed from the beginning but the drama it brought was very real for both of them and I spent countless hours holding virtual hands while they both cried on my virtual shoulder over deceptions on both sides of the relationship. Talk about drama! I’m still thinking of ways to make it into a book…

In the game I play now I have a couple of people who I play with that their relationship has caused a huge division in the game between alliances. They are the leaders of two of the most powerful alliances in the game and the fact that they had a relationship that turned out to be established on nothing but lies and deceit on the part of the girl  has now caused big problems with the rest of the game as alliances have to now choose who to stand behind. Do they support her and her alliance or do they support him and his? The problem lies in the fact that many of us are friends with both and/or have friends that are in one or the other of the alliances. Since I am the leader of a large alliance group myself I have also been pulled into this drama and I find myself torn between loyalties. It is very real in the game and since I was friends with both people involved it makes it even more complicated.  I know the path I am going to take but  the choices will affect a lot of people and I have to tread carefully to walk that fine line between loyalty and friendship and impartiality and strategy. Fortunately he is a good guy and we share many things in real life that made the choice much easier than I thought, but the fact is that I had to make a choice and now feelings are hurt in real life as well. How I deal with those feelings will make or break my alliance. It should be interesting!

I decided to write on this topic today because I find it fascinating how social media has become such a huge part of our lives. I mean, I have heard of life-long friendships being broken because someone posted something on Facebook before they told their best friend. My mother, who just turned 80, has called me to give me family news and then has said “Now don’t put this on Facebook because not everybody knows!” and it makes me laugh because hey–my mom is 80 and isn’t even ON Facebook, yet she knows all about it! We have become a world where our private lives are blasted out into cyber space and many of us share everything that happens with virtual strangers on a daily basis and we think nothing of it. Some have figured out that they really don’t want people they don’t even know commenting on their lives and have discovered privacy setting to keep them out, but just the fact that you can talk to people around the world in real-time and have friends you have never met–nor will probably ever meet–in real life is mind-boggling.

I belong to a group of people online known as The Cherries. We started out as a fan club for an author and suddenly it just took off and had a life of its own. We became the first officially successful social media group ever. We often broke the server because there would be so many of us online at the same time, chatting in forums and in groups. There are women in this group that I have been friends with now for several years whom I have not met in person, yet through social media I have shared in all the joys and tragedies that have come and gone in their lives, and they have shared in mine. We are friends in every aspect of the word and if I ever do get to meet them in person I know we will hug each other with joy and probably talk til the wee hours of the morning! We just didn’t meet in the traditional way, but it doesn’t make our relationship any less real.

My husband doesn’t get it. He asks me how can I care about people I haven’t ever met, and that it’s not real and I shouldn’t be poking into other people’s business. How do you explain it? Just because we speak through a game or through some other media doesn’t mean the person on the keyboard I’m talking to isn’t real. The fact that I have become good enough friends with a couple of them that we have each other’s phone numbers attests to the reality of the person I am talking to. I really see no difference in talking to someone on the phone about a game we play together than if I played the game in the living room with them and we sat across the table while doing so! I only share in the things they choose to share with me and they with me. Obviously I am pretty much an open book since I come here on a weekly basis and tell virtual strangers–there is that virtual thing again–about my life and all the crazy things that happens in it, so why not be as transparent in my game-play?

So my game is drama right now and I have some tough choices to make as to where I am going to take my alliance. It’s very real in the sense that I am playing with real people who have emotions about the stuff that is going on and I must either deal with those emotions or set them aside and try to be impartial and do what is the right thing without worrying about their personal issues. Harder said than done. The deception and intrigue are very real since the game is all about war and how to win it. Not everyone has the same standards of play that I do and there are players who  have no problem turning on their friends and selling them out. It is a lot of fun and I enjoy every minute of it as I try to outsmart the bad guys and win the war and own the realm. It is a never-ending battle between the good and the bad, the honest and the deceptive, the honorable and the not-so-honorable.

What have your experiences been with social media and game-play? Do you play or do you know someone who does? How involved are they in it? Can they separate fantasy from real life or do they get caught up in the drama? I try to balance it all out and I remind the people I play with that this is just a game and to not get too upset when things don’t go the way they hoped. I tell them that if they aren’t having fun then maybe they should not play this game or go find a game that fits them better. (I hear Farmville is still pretty popular and Candy Crush seems to be fairly addictive!) However there are those that find themselves in a relationship in the game that spills over into real life and that’s when lines get blurred. Unfortunately I can say that I have never seen one of those turn out well. The reality is that they are in love with a character and the person underneath is seldom the person they portray themselves to be. Not everyone plays the game the same and hearts get broken and things get messy. Hmmm. That sounds pretty much like real life there though, doesn’t it? The game changes, and the characters with it, but life is like a game in the sense that everyone chooses who they will be then tries to make it all work out in the end. Decisions are made, both good and bad, and then you have to live with the consequences. Some of us are just better at playing it than others… Interesting concept…

Have you ever had the experience with meeting a person online and finally meeting face to face and they aren’t anything like you thought they would be? Online Dating has to be the biggest example of this! Yet people are ready to risk it to meet the love of their life that they haven’t been able to find any other way. The money spent to find true love has to be a staggering amount!  Every day thousands of people sign up with these virtual match-making services in the hopes of finding True Love and every day they get their hopes crushed when the person they meet turns out to not be the person they hoped they would be. You can be anyone you want online but the fantasy disappears once you meet face to face. Reality can be harsh and I find it is better to be myself when possible rather than to try to be someone I am not. Therefore my character on-line is both diplomatic and compassionate, fiercely protective of those she claims as her own, and a strong believer in justice. I thought about being a villain but I am just not made that way, darn it!

So. Thoughts? Do you play or do you stay away?  Maybe your kids or hubby likes to play Halo or Call To Duty. Or maybe you are addicted to The Sims. What is your guilty pleasure?! Come on I know you have one! And why do you play? Is it just for fun or do you really get into it? Come on–spill! We are all friends here, right?! Where does virtual reality end and real life start? Feel free to comment now…