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Away From Friends but Never AFK: Staying Connected

2023-04-10 15:38
The first time I introduced one of my good friends from college to my friends from home, we all sat down, started talking, and the conversation naturally ended up on video games. Next thing you know, we're turning on the TV and passing out Nintendo Switch
Away From Friends but Never AFK: Staying Connected

The first time I introduced one of my good friends from college to my friends from home, we all sat down, started talking, and the conversation naturally ended up on video games. Next thing you know, we're turning on the TV and passing out Nintendo Switch controllers to play Mario Party.

The game included myself and three other players:

Brendan Patton: One of my closest friends from grade school.
Sean Pappas: Who I met playing football in high school.
Ethan Roberts: A friend I met the previous semester in college and who was coming over to hang out for the first time.

We were a competitive bunch. Playing 15 rounds in Mario Party, with the winner having collected the most stars. The way Brendan, Sean, and I played in high school always involved sabotaging the player with the early lead. This time, after five or so rounds, that was Ethan, someone I hoped would get along with these guys.

Little did I know just how competitive Ethan could also be. About an hour after meeting Sean and Brendan for the first time, I witnessed the three of them duking it out, yelling over an intense game of Mario Party. The game being the perfect way to break each other out of our shells and have fun.

Friendship is often built on some unifying goal. For some, it might be friends from work or from your basketball team. But for me, my friends have always been the people I played video games with growing up.

From grade school to college, my closest friends were made playing Mario Kart or the latest Madden. Games have always been a part of how we hung out together, and I believe they will always keep us connected.

Back to Grade School

Some of the closest friendships I've have had were made in grade school. Guys I grew up hanging out with on the weekends, playing outside, and spending hours together online.

Don't get me wrong, we did other things besides play video games, but they were what kept us all entertained. Playing the latest NHL or Madden with Brendan, and our friends Jack White and Patrick McGann.

“Sometimes controllers were thrown at each other, and words were said, but those memories will always be there,” said Brendan Patton. “Pat, Jim and I would do tournaments all the time to see who the best was, and both of them know it’s me!”

While I would argue on who the best was, I won’t disagree with how important those memories are to me. The number of times we would bring a TV outside during the summer, or pull up a video game while watching the Blackhawks during the playoffs or the Bears on Sunday. It was remarkable.

“We would play against each other for hours, and things often got heated,” Patton added. “One time, I was playing Pat and I crushed him so bad that he ended up throwing the controller at me.”

Brendan had beaten Patrick that day in a game of NHL, playing as the Chicago Wolves while Patrick was Team Canada. On paper, Team Canada would dominate the Wolves nine times out of ten, but Brendan really was just that good at the game that he could beat anyone. His prize would usually be a controller thrown at him after.

Brendan always had a knack for not just winning but also rubbing some extra salt in the wound.

High School and College: Adding to the Group

In high school, I was introduced to Sean Pappas. He had every game you could imagine at his house. The first time Jack and I went over, we were blown away.

“Sean had every system and every game I had ever heard of,” said White, who also went to high school with Pappas. “It was like walking into a GameStop, but it was this guy's basement, so yeah, I knew I had a friend for life.”

The first time I met Sean, he told me he played video games a lot growing up. He had a PS4, PS3, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo Switch and GameCube. We would go over to play some video games and spend an hour just going through the shelves to pick out a game.

Sean slowly started to become more and more a part of our friend group, often having us over to play games like Mario Party on the Nintendo Switch.

“When I started meeting new people, one of the constants in most of my conversations were video games,” said Sean Pappas, a current student at Illinois State University. “When I met my friends in high school, gaming on Mario Party or Wii Sports kept us all entertained for hours.”

Making friends and talking with each other while playing a video game was effortless. Rather than watching a movie, playing a game allowed us to create memories together by completing an activity. Compared to a sport like golf or basketball, the barrier of entry for most video games is much lower. Anyone could play.

“We played tournaments since most of us were competitive in gaming,” added Pappas. “I think that since we saw Mario Party as a board game, we wanted to keep playing because it was so addicting.”

We played a ton of competitive party games over the years. While I don't remember who won the majority, I do remember the fun times we had ganging up on each other in-game and messing around.

“Memories of our group messing around are the ones that stick with me personally,” shared White. “Pretty much every time we played it was all just about making sure Sean or Brendan did not win because they were the best at each game.”

Video games brought us together, but the reason we are still friends is because of the bonds we built together. Even when we all went away to college, we kept talking to each other through video games, we even added a few new people to the group.

I made another close friend, Ethan Roberts, in my freshman year of college. Of course, the conversations started around video games.

“We really started to get to know each other in college through playing Fortnite and Mario Kart, and that’s how we became great friends,” Roberts said. “After initially meeting and talking about how we both like playing video games, we started to play those two games together all the time, and it was a ton of fun.”

Ethan and I would sit in the lounge room of our dorm, playing Mario Kart together on the Switch. One day, we invited some other people to play Mario Party off the projector in a classroom. For Roberts, there were even more memorable moments:

“One of my favorite memories of us gaming together was whenever we would get a win in Fortnite. We would celebrate from our separate dorm rooms. I remember running over to your room across the hall and celebrating as well. We were so proud of ourselves that we even made posters documenting each win, that was a lot of fun too.”

Unfortunately for us, the wins didn't come around often.

“I also got to become close with a lot of Jim’s friends from high school and childhood through playing video games with everyone, and they are now some of my close friends as well,” Roberts added. “I truly believe that video games are a great way to form new friendships and even maintain friendships, and they have completely changed my life for the better.”

Ethan became a member of our friend group, and we all got to bond even more when the pandemic hit midway through our freshmen year of college.

“My favorite times gaming with the guys was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Roberts. “We were all at home and didn’t see too many other people, so it was very nice to be able to not only meet all the guys but become good friends with them as well.”

The pandemic was a really interesting time for us. Thanks to the internet and our PlayStations, we all got to spend a couple of hours a day talking. Some of us picked up Grand Theft Auto to mess around in an open world together, going golfing and driving around in cars.

We also played a lot of Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War. I never cared much about the Zombies mode in Black Ops games, but Ethan and Jack convinced me to try it out. We played, and caught each other up on how our families were doing.

“Playing Zombies and Nuketown all the time with everyone truly helped me get through the pandemic,” added Roberts. White echoed that, saying, “Cold War zombies gave us an opportunity to work together in a game, and a lot of times, we could also talk as well about anything going on.”

While the pandemic kept people apart, video games kept us connected. They've kept my friends and me together through the years, despite us all moving away and doing completely different things. White echoed that, saying,

“All our friends go to different schools in different places. We can play games and communicate with one another from our schools which allows our group to talk and stay connected every day.”

“Even today we still play video games together,” added Patton. “Sometimes we play for a few hours every couple of days during the week, and playing games helps us stay together. We get to look forward to talking with our friends, catching up, and just feeling like we are little kids again.”

As for which games we play, everyone has different ideas.

“I’ll play pretty much any game you throw at me,” shared Roberts. “I’m not a huge fan of open-world games because I need a linear story with quests.”

“Multiplayer games like Overwatch and Call of Duty have kept us in touch,” added Pappas. “At times, they can get a bit heated, though.”

At the end of the day, the game itself might not matter that much. It's always been about spending time together.

When a new game comes out, the biggest deciding factor for me comes down to whether or not my friends are getting it. Sure there are games I want to play simply because I like the game, Disney Dreamlight Valley for example, but mostly it's just about being able to mess around and play together online.

“We play games like Fall Guys where the game doesn’t matter,” said White. “It’s just a way for us to talk and laugh.”

Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto V, Mario Kart, Mario Party, Call of Duty, Minecraft, Fall Guys, Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege are all been games we've played together in the past. And that's just a small selection. But while the games have changed, the group hasn’t. It shows just how important community and friendship are.

“I believe it’s going to be like that for a while,” said Patton. “It’s never going to get old to go online, seeing the boys are on and knowing it was going to be a fun night.”

My friends and I grew up playing video games, and I think we will continue to play for a long time. As a form of entertainment, it rocks. I'm always going to get excited about the latest game, the next PlayStation or the newest headset that makes the audio seem that much more real. At the end of the day, though, what really matters is the group I'm playing with.

This article was originally published on dbltap as Away From Friends but Never AFK: Staying Connected.