Society is currently undergoing rather substantial transformations, the one I mean to think about today is “friendship” and what it means nowadays. Maybe there are many blogs and scientific papers written about it but I never looked at those. Not because of arrogance but because I abhor channel flipping. I’d like to stay with my topic for a while and not have it “contaminated” by the wisdom and insights of others.
So, about friendships in the “digital age” then. Whats the use of friendship in the first place? Evolutionary, I’d hazard to guess, friendships are a way to bind people together that are genetically related but not that close that they form family or clan. They are, by definition the back-up plan for my genes if my close family is wiped out. Helping them assures me their help. As the old saying goes, “friends are the family I chose”, here I have a say who I want to have as friends and can select them based on their usefulness to my progeny. An extension of this is, of course, that I chose friends who are most like “me”. This means, I am really looking for myself in my friends and would do many things for them since I imagine that I do them for myself.
While this is slightly cynical, I think humankind has long worked in this way, maybe not always overtly but certainly in the majority of cases, friends were chosen based on their ability to assist me in times of trouble and of course close to me in my opinions and attitudes so that I an be assured of their support. And while the former is being eroded, the latter still holds true. Friendships are being formed based on shared values and shared trust but now, since physical proximity is irrelevant, they can be anywhere. So, yes I chose friends who are “like me” but only on data I have been given through the media available to me.
This in itself is not exactly new, many historic examples show that friendships formed and were maintained over long distances and time, letters were certainly the last quantum-leap in facilitating this. But new today is the ubiquity by which we form relationships with people outside our geographic range. People who could not come to aid if our cave was attached by bears, for example.
So, what does it take to generate friendships? Of course, exchange of ideas requires a common language, complex ideas require a very good command of the common language. Devil’s advocates could find an exception where the values are shared first and then are implied. For example a Manchester United supporter from Brazil and one from Korea share values and may help each other out, even if they did not speak a common language. By signaling to each other that they are fans of the same club they establish de-facto shared values. I am not quite sure that would stand as “friendship” but that can be debated.
Secondly, it needs means of communication. The internet has provided a totally different way of mixed-media sharing than was previously possible. Voice, text, video, all are now sharable. Haptic systems are not there yet, so touch is out and (thank god!) smell too. Other than that, all good.
Thirdly, I believe that the depth of friendships formed is in direct relationship to outside stressors. High stress, deep friendship. The literature is full of examples of friendships made by soldiers under fire that created a stronger bond than marriage for example. The reason for this is pretty obvious, in these situations, friendships matter most for my own survival. The trust experienced then becomes a lot more relevant and – of course – doubt is removed. I know the other person under circumstances that are hard to test but easy to imagine in peaceful situations.
Fourthly, there needs to be a reason for friendship. This is what kills a lot of solid friendships made in highschool of course, lives drift apart and there is no need for the “best friend” who moved to a different city and has a different job. Sure its nice to catch up but that’s about it.
Which all brings me back to computer games, multiplayer specifically and there the MMORPG world. I played on-and-off MMORPG since January 2006 (WoW, then EVE Online). I made a lot of contacts, met a lot of people and had great discussions and generally a lot of fun in both games. But I met people in EVE who I can start to consider friends despite having spent less time online with them than e.g. with my raiding team in WoW. Why? Shared language? check. Shared means of communication? Check. Shared stressors? Not so much. WoW for example (or facebook, Pink Pony same thing) is virtually risk-free. This means, that there is no real loss in time, money, reputation or even Ego for failure. Death of a WoW character? Wipe of a raid? Minor inconveniences. Yes I have been in raids that went horribly wrong but the penalty was (other than wasting time) pretty much zilch. And I have retained no contacts from that game, can’t remember any of their ingame names and have never known any of their real life names either. Also, Fourthly, reason. WoW makes people and characters replaceable. Individuals don’t really matter as everything is more or less standard. There is a right way of doing things and only one way. EVE Online is not like that at all, there are many ways an individual can impact on the rest of the team. Know what your mates can and will do in a given situation is paramount.
Lastly however, swinging back to the external stressors to form a friendship. EVE Online is a much harsher game than other MMORPG. I.e. I can lose a lot of time / resource in a very short time and also be responsible for the lost of my mate’s time and resources. This means, the adrenaline level in just flying within low-sec space (where one can get attacked) is much higher than e.g. raiding.
Together this explains to me at least why I consider the relationships I have with corp mates in EVE to be much more meaningful and “deeper” than those I had in 4 1/2 years of WoW. EVE applies greater pressure, forces a reliance and “use” on the relationships built and therefore creates more trust.