I was pondering on the train home (and let’s face it, there’s not a lot else to do on trains but ponder – pity yourselves if I do land the job that requires a 2 hr 30 daily commute) what it is that makes online acquaintances into friends? What is it that gives us such sentimental attachments to virtual places, and why are we always lusting after what is over and done with?
My online history is no more boring or interesting than the majority of everybody else’s. I actually came to it quite late, starting online role playing over at Terisia City, the Castle of Fun, and Garic’s City back in 2001. In the course of this message board related fun, I made some true and lasting friends who I am still in touch with today. I also became ridiculously attached to the message-board community that formed around Terisia City. I had a place there – I was valued, and, I don’t think I am being big headed to admit it, loved. At one point I was even voted ‘mayor’ of the city.
For reasons long and various, but inextricably linked to the dull process of getting older, getting my head sorted, and trying to get a degree, I slowly drifted away from the boards. By the time I moved to Soton I hadn’t been on the boards in near a year and didn’t think I missed it. If I had grown away from the friends I had made there, well, I put that down to the natural drift that happens as people grow older and interests shift. That, and I am an appalling correspondent, so am a nightmare to keep in touch with.
Then a week or so back, I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while, saying basically “the Bar is back. We miss you. Come play”. I will never know what made me click that link, but click it I did, and as soon as the familiar page opened up I had this feeling that I had come “home”. Bizarre, inexplicable, totally irrational, I know, but that is what I felt. I posted that night with a silly grin on my face. I felt ridiculously happy to be greeted by old friends. It was absurdly easy to slip back into character – I was bar hopping and polishing like I had never been away. The place just felt right in the way that you normally reserve for physical places and people. It was (and oh lord I am blushing as I write this) like a teeny piece of me had been missing and now was found.
Terisia and the people I met there were more to me than just a message board. They gave me a space to work out who I wanted to become. I was, like most everyone else there, a screwed up teenager, who felt she had no voice and no value. I learnt, or at least started to learn, what it feels like to be a member of a community of like minded people. I was instrumental in shaping the place. The person you know now through this blog would be someone completely different if she hadn’t played in Terisia. She wouldn’t be called Cas for starters. RP and MSN helped me to realise, and be comfortable with, the fact I am an incurable flirt at the same time as being excruciatingly shy (yes, the two can go together). I made friends with many people, talked via MSN with most of them, met a handful, and even dated a couple.
Perhaps I am just being a sentimental old fool and what I take for a feeling of “home” is just a feeling of nostalgia for a time that I enjoyed enormously, but that is now over. I do know that some of the old magic has gone – Terisia belongs to a new generation of people. The gaming is different. There are back stories I am unaware of and, I must be honest, have little desire in learning. Just as, I am sure, the current crop of players have little interest in learning the “history” of their board. It’s the Internet, a virtual environment, and constantly evolving, so is the story (six years old now) of how Terisia came into being really that important? Do they care that, way back when, X was romantically involved with Y, before Z stepped on the scene and things went to hell in a handcart? Even the language is different – flibble and eep are just random syllables, and if I tried to explain “plink, squwibble, angrenism” they just wouldn’t get it, let alone understand why mentioning chocolate oranges makes a certain few people grin knowingly.
This is, I feel, exactly how it should be. Places and virtual spaces need to be reused, and peoples relationships with them should be renegotiated constantly, or else they freeze into mausolea, static and dead. Beautiful monuments, perhaps, but essentially meaningless once the founders depart. I happily leave Terisia to the newbies. Let White Knight’s dreaded new generations have as much fun there as I did. I don’t need the place, I don’t belong there any more, and it certainly doesn’t fit into my life the way it used to.
Despite all this, part of me wants to go back to how it was. I’ve flown the nest, but selfishly, childishly, I want it all to stay the same as my safety net. That sense of belonging… I deeply loved each and every one of the people I met through the boards. Drasche, Tiana, Kerrick, Nethya, Shadow, WK, Demon Lord, Rhox, Ephemeron, Zair – I miss them all. Ceres, Ryo, Akasha, Takhisis, and many more. Hell, I even find myself wanting to email shanks again, and we all know that ain’t a good idea
Terisia was my virtual home for several years. Going back there feels like it does when I go back home to Somerset for the weekend – right. Things click into place. The sky is the right colour. At the same time, I couldn’t stay there. I’ve outgrown it. A week, two weeks, is fine, but longer than that I start to want more. I want the bright lights of the big city. I want to meet new people. I guess they are right when they say you can never go back. The past is a great place to visit, but no matter how great an idea it sounds, I doubt you’d want to live there.