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Virtual Worlds, Real Communities

Updated: Feb 1, 2020

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my husband and I met a young man who swore an oath alongside us to restore the Republic and oppose the reign of the Galactic Empire. The galaxy was a virtual one, and the young man was a high school student living in Berlin, Germany. We were young as well, not yet married, and had just started to build a life together in the physical world and within a small virtual world called Star Wars Galaxies.

Nevertheless, here we were not only interacting with, but building a friendship with a young man from across the globe who spoke our language fluently, while we could not speak a word of his. He was one of many friends we made from around the world during our time in Galaxies, and his friendship has been long-lasting. If you are wondering just how long, SWG released in 2003, seventeen years ago. Today, he is a high school teacher and, like us, has a family of his own.

I write about our friendship now, because yesterday we received an unexpected package in the mail. Living in the age of Amazon, I didn’t think much of it and tore it open without looking at the label. I was surprised to find two jars of jelly and a jar of hard candies with German labels. I quickly re-examined the box, surprised to not find an Amazon logo, and even more surprised to find our old friend’s name under the designation for sender. He and my husband had been recently discussing local foods. These treats were made at a shop near his home. They were quite unexpected but very much enjoyed!

This says something, I think, about the reality of virtual worlds and the relationships that we build within them. Will every friendship last for decades? Likely not but that doesn’t make these worlds, or the cultures within, any less real. Nor does the intangibility of their form. Many cultures have come and gone, but that doesn’t take away their reality or merit. We still study them to learn something about ourselves, and this is no different for virtual worlds.

As with the physical world, one should always proceed with caution, of course. We spent many years playing along side our friend, well into his and our adulthood, before this level of gift-giving and interaction occurred. Meaning, just like anyone that we meet, we took the time to build a relationship and get to know one another.

As for the gift itself, that’s a matter of reciprocity. A gift begets a gift. Given the nature of what was given, I think it should be something local. Though, I may be hard-pressed to find a food item that originated in the United States. We are a nation of immigrants, after all.

Danke Freund! Today we jam!

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