Are Your Online Gaming Friends Really Your Friends?

Are Your Online Gaming Friends Really Your Friends?

You spend your days playing with them. Maybe they’re your backup in a first-person shooter. Perhaps they heal your World of Warcraft guild raids. You count on them, and they count on you, but do you count them as friends?

As I was wondering through the morning news, I stumbled over a Charm City Moms column in The Baltimore Sun asking the question, “Are Your Virtual Friends Real Friends?” In the short article, Liz Atwood observes her children talking about playing games with friends online, prompting her to ponder that question.

“When they play with children on these gaming sites, are these friends? Does a friend have to be someone you see face-to-face or can you be friends with someone you never meet?”

I’ve been playing MMO games for more than a decade now, from Ultima Online to World of Warcraft to Second Life, and I’ve often referred to the people I play with on a regular basis as friends. It just seems natural.

But to someone looking in from the outside, like Liz Atwood, it must seem rather peculiar, referring to people we will likely never meet as friends.

Are we labelling these people friends out of convenience, or is the definition of friend changing with the times?

Looking back on my online gaming “career”, I’ve called lots of people my friends. I spent a year and a half in an EverQuest guild, spending more time hanging about virtual avatars with strange names than I did anyone in real life. If I had a problem, I would bounce it off one of them. If one of my guild-mates stumbled on hard times, we’d band together to help them out.

It felt like friendship. Hell, it felt like family.

The difference is, once I quit the game, those people disappeared. Once I was outside of that virtual community, it was as if I no longer existed. Is that how virtual friendship works?

And perhaps it’s a testament to the importance of internet anonymity, recently highlighted by Blizzard’s attempt to use real names in the World of Warcraft and StarCraft II forums, that I never knew anyone’s real name.

Sure there are a few online folks I talk to outside of gaming circles, particularly those from Second Life, who seem as a whole more willing to take the virtual out of virtual reality. On the whole, however, I’ve spent months of my time playing with friends that I will never see again.

Looking back, perhaps “friends” was too strong of a word. Maybe it was just easier to say than “acquaintances”, or perhaps calling them friends made the time spent seem more worthwhile.

Has the word “friend” simply lost its meaning on the internet? We have Xbox Live friends, Facebook friends, Wii friend codes. Perhaps there should be two different definitions, one for online and one for off.

Do you consider your online gaming friends real friends, or do you need more than a screen name and an avatar before the label sticks?


  • Having a friendship over the internet is, in essence, the exact same thing as a real friendship. Only you are communicating and acting through an ‘actor’ or ‘puppet’; at the end of the day there are still two people talking and expressing to one another. Same thing; different medium.

    • People you talk to are acquaintances. Friends help you move, they come around when you are feeling low. They drive halfway across the country to be with you for good events or bad. They share a meal with you. In short, they take the time and effort to be a physical part of your life.
      Online friends are not complete, it is a low effort, easy thing that vapourises once it gets difficult to keep in touch.

  • I think they’re like friends you work with. They seem really important, until they get a new job and they’re gone. When you’re not ‘forced’ to spend several hours a day with them, they don’t seem as important so you don’t end up pursuing the friendship. Besides, the new guy is pretty cool.

    • Generally I agree with you Endu, however there are a few people from online who I’ve never met in real life, but I still keep in contact with despite having moved on to different games etc – these I consider my true internet friends.

  • i’ve turned internet based “friends” into real life friends… mainly ppl that i discover are local and i seem to get along well with

    mind you we still mainly talk about games… hahaha

    • Poor Loops… 🙁

      I mainly seem to play games with IRL friends. The only people on my XBL friends list are my IRL friends.

      The only exception was when we all played WoW. There were some temporary ‘friends’ in that game. But I wouldn’t really call them friends. Just people I play with on the internet. One level up from ‘random’, but certainly not an actual friend.

  • Definitely an interesting topic, I consider most of the people i play with my friends, but i have been playing with a similar group of people for around 2 or 3 years now and know them fairly well. Most of us know each others first names or even have each other on facebook. It really depends how deep the connection goes, if it’s just someone you play with or whether you are in a social type clan where you talk to them often and actually get to know them…

  • I would say yes and no. Friendship is not simply dualistic, there’s a wide spectrum of friendships. ‘Best friends’, work friends, drinking buddies… the list goes on. It’s exactly the same in the online space. You will have people you probably won’t ever talk to again after you stop playing, but chances are there’s a few friendships which will last much longer.

    In my particular case, I’ve made plenty of online friends whom upon meeting for drinks on multiple occasions become good, um, IRL friends. We’ve even had people fly inter-state on a couple of occasions to meet up and it is always great fun.

  • I have 75 friends on my friends list and I only know personally about 10 to 20. I would say that there is some cross over as there are guys that I have met after being introduced online and others that I have chatted with on PC, console, chat/email etc so this has become more than just xbox friends but due to physical location, have never met them.


  • I’ve got my XBL regulars, being me, my best friend from high school, his cousin, my friend from primary school, and his brother. We’re always in the same party during the week, and we generally catch up once a month for a movie or something.
    Being an hour’s drive away for uni doesn’t really mean much because of the party.

  • Yeah my friends list is full, out of those people about 2-3 are my real life friends i knew before gaming, and about another 4-5 are people I became friends with over live. The rest are just ‘mates’, not people i’d catch up with, but still people i get along with.

  • I used to play an mmo a few years ago and at the time considered most of my ‘friends’ friends but once I stopped playing we lost contact slowly… except for 2. We still speak regularly to this day. These two guys I would consider my friends.

    One of them we both are in the same line of work and even work together on occasion since we are both web developers it’s easy to do over the internet. I guess the difference is that we have more in common than just some game that we played together. We have even transfered money with each other. We don’t play any games together any more though other the very very odd game of counter strike.

  • I’ve known around 4 guys on xbox live for around 5 years now and I consider them my friends. Sure it’s difficult sometimes but I havn’t met many people ‘IRL’ that have a lot in common with me.

  • Did chess players call each other friends?

    Some did, some did not.
    (Some chose “adversary”, “competition” or even “the best man” if they were beaten.)

    Same thing, new medium.
    (Except it’s now “A$$hole!”, “Dick!” and “WALLHACK!”.)

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