Community is a word that is tossed around casually. It’s one of those words that serve a utilitarian purpose, but the word means so much more.
Back in my youth, I knew who my friends were. I had a few small groups of kids I hung out with. We played hide-and-seek, we fought with Ninja Turtle and SD Gundam figurines, we played console games, we bought Magic: The Gathering cards, we went swimming, we played soccer, we played music, and so on. As we all left our hometowns to pursue something greater, we all slowly drifted apart, like so many others must have done before us. There are a few friends I still have contact with, but still, it isn’t the same; we all have other people or priorities in our lives which take precedence over our past friendships.
The past dozen years or so has been a pretty turbulent period of my life, with ups and downs, new friends, new places, new jobs, and so on. Change. Change everywhere. The environments I placed myself in were in a constant flux of people. New college kids, recent graduates, people finding jobs, people driven to make something of themselves, people still figuring it all out. These were the people I interacted with, and they always came and went. I understood that, and that was the rhythm of my social life.
Now I am married and have a toddler, a full-time job, and a life-time of financial obligations. I recently looked back on the past year or so settling down with the family and I came upon a realization. Through my thirty-some years on this earth, this has probably been the most socially isolated period of my life.
One of the few respites from this solitude would be my frequent forays to the various online game worlds. Still, there was never a game which made me stay for long–I was still playing alone. When I stumbled upon this game called Wildstar, something in my life started to shift. As written in my previous post, I became involved with social media for the first time (Facebook doesn’t count!). These people were complete strangers. Strangers from all over the world–California, Massachusetts, Canada, Russia, UK, France, Switzerland–who shared the same interests and passions I had!
As I interacted with people on Twitter and in-game, I came to understand that there was something special here. All of these people really cared about something–in this case, WildStar. And you know what? I was also one of these people.
This is significant, because this is our bond.
People from around the country and even across the oceans are freely talking to each other about things we are all passionate about. The friends I couldn’t have at home, I found on-line.
I read article after another from gaming journalists I followed on Twitter. I watched videos and listened to podcasts from content creators I met there as well. I could talk to them, and they would respond. I discovered that there are others like me who love what I love, and I can be who I am next to these people.
As I spend more time on social media, I find more interesting people with interesting things to say–things I am interested in. We all have thoughts, ideas, passions, and expertise, and I respect immensely those who dare to share them with the world. Then, something else happened . . . it snuck up on me very slowly as a gnawing thought at the back of my mind.
“You should also be one of those ‘interesting’ people. Give back to the people who have now become your community.”
But, what is my community? Individuals, sharing with each other, based on respect and support for one another: to me, this is a community. And with that thought, I am starting to see where my “real-life” communities exist: my work community, my church community, my musician community, and my gaming community.
Building a healthy community is a two-way street; just passively existing will yield little benefit to myself or my peers. It’s one thing to join a community, but really, what can I offer to enrich the lives of those I share mine with? There are probably many like me who stumbled upon these gatherings of people with heavy blinders on–we, who joined said “communities” for self-centered reasons, with hopes to only gain something for ourselves. Therein lies a compelling paradox: we enter communities for selfish reasons, yet communities flourish only when those individuals rise up beyond their egos to serve one another.
To me, this thought is really powerful. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “community building”. As I watch the team at Carbine Studios work to develop its own community, it makes me think of past and current governments, and how they still struggle with building solidarity within their own national communities.
Community is a loaded word, and I salute any of you who care enough to make one happen.
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Check out the rest of A Very Bloggy Holiday Countdown: An MMO & Gaming Blogosphere Event! hosted by Syl @ MMO Gypsy Blog
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