No Respawns: Life, Loss and Online Interaction

Writing this is actually more difficult than I thought it would be when I was continually mulling it over in my head all night.  After 8 hours of brainstorming I thought the words would flow more easily but I’ll do my best to articulate my swirling thoughts.

Last night as I was getting my uniform on and mentally preparing for my last shift before a hard-earned couple of nights off with my girlfriend I received a Facebook message in the form of a text from arguably one of the best friends I have ever had.  He and I have been friends for over 27 years and even though we don’t spend a lot of time in the same location anymore we’ve made the most of various forms of technology to stay in touch.

Up until a year ago (roughly the launch of the Xbox One and PS4) one of those methods of staying in touch was online multiplayer games (namely Call of Duty games for a while and then a good long run of Battlefield games).  He even convinced me to join a “clan” of other gamers with him.  Over the next five to six years when he and I weren’t playing as a duo we were teamed up with a half dozen or more like minded individuals from all over.  It is safe to say that we each logged hundreds upon hundreds of hours playing together.  All of us may not have none each other nearly as closely as we did our “real life” friends but we had a bond forged in the digital battlefields and war zones of various fictional conflicts.

It was that bond that made reading that text message shocking and not the least bit unsettling.  One of stars of our clan, one of the big guns, had died a very real death while at work yesterday.  After a short conversation with my friend I found myself at work and as my job is often a solitary one I found myself unable to stop thinking about the situation.

It would be very disingenuous of me to say that this sudden death shook me to my core or that I even shed a tear.

I mean no disrespect to the deceased in saying that but the reality was that until last night I only knew the man by his gamertag and his skill level.  To me he was a guy I looked forward to seeing on my team in battle.  A guy who I knew would get behind the controls of a tank and have all our backs.  A guy who if spotted on the other team was the guy who you did your best to avoid lest you be blown off the map yourself.

In my life I have felt the death people “close” to me multiple times over. I’ve experienced opening up a news website a thousand miles away from home and see that a teacher I once looked up to had taken his own life in the midst of an investigation of his having an inappropriate relationship with a minor.  I’ve woken up on a Saturday morning to field a phone call informing me that a close friend had died in a horrific accident in his home over night.  I have turned on the television and watched a reporter tell me that a former co-worker/classmate had ended his life in a fit of depression.  I have sat with a woman who I was sort of seeing when we found out a beloved classmate, one I frequently collaborated with to make comedic videos with during summer vacations, had lost his battle with cancer.  And of course there was the big one a few short years ago when I stood at the top of the stairs in my brother’s house when my mother took the phone call informing us that my grandfather had passed away…a death that to this day brings tears to my eyes as I type about it.

I say all that so that I can better explain that although the passing of this fellow gamer affects me it was not on the same level.  I certainly feel his passing but not in the same way I did my grandfather’s or my friend’s.   Of course, I mean to take absolutely nothing away from the empathy I feel for his family and loved ones in saying that either.

While his passing has not and likely will not move me to tears it did make me think long and hard about various friendships in my life, most long faded into memory, that were made possible by online gaming and the internet as a whole.  Often times my gaming relationships are superficial and come down to can I win with you on my team (or can you win with me being drug along).  The man in question, Newf as I knew him, was not my best friend.  Truthfully he was simply someone I played video games with.  Until last night I did not know he was married nor did I know his name was Craig.

I’ve had other gamer-friendships that were just as shallow.  For a long time I played with a guy who I knew nothing about but his first name and that he, like my buddy of 27 years, had a schedule that allowed me to regularly play online with him.

But some of my internet born friendships have been enlightening even when not long-lasting.  I’ve had discussions with people from all walks of life and from all parts of the globe.  I’ve met new folks on myspace (back in the day not now), Facebook, through blogs, forums and just article comment sections.  Without the internet I would have never known these people existed let alone had interactions with them.  My life has benefited a thousand fold from these short web-based friendships, from simply discovering awesome books I would have otherwise overlooked to helping me get out of my own personal ruts and funks.  I’ve met people who helped me with my techniques during my photography phase, that have helped me break writer’s block, that have even worked with me in artistic endeavors.  I have met people that have helped me see myself in a light that I never thought possible.  I have spoken or written to people who have made me see the good in me when I was finding it impossible to.  I sincerely mean that some of these past friendships may have saved me when life was at its darkest for me.  These people gave me strength, they gave me insight, they gave me friendship.

And that is what Newf’s passing has made me think about.  Not that life is fleeting.  Not that death awaits us all and can be waiting around any corner.  No, his passing has reminded me that life, life is something special.  Life has its ups and downs but throughout it all is beauty and wonderment if you take a moment to find it.

I have had the pleasure of encountering a variety of amazing, talented and downright awesome people and I cannot think of that as anything but a positive thing.  Sure they haven’t been a part of my life in a long-term manner like my real life inner-circle but each of them has impacted me positively in their own way.

Even if it was simply wasting a few hundred hours watching them dominate another team full of guys and gals like us scattered the world over.

Newf, Craig, I did not know you in life and only barely knew you online but the pleasure was all mine.  I don’t see myself soon forgetting the rush of seeing your gamertag over a friendly tank as you crushed the enemy under your tracks nor will I forget the utter terror of seeing your name in red/orange over the tank whose barrel I often found myself staring into.

Rest in peace.

My heart and prayers go to your family in this undoubtedly trying time for them.

-S.Y.

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