I thought about telling this as a VicorvaStorytime but I guess I have too much to say about it!
I was re-watching Recovery of an MMO Junkie (an adorable found-family and slow-burn romance anime) for what must be the fifth time and it got me thinking. One of the most ridiculous things about MMO Junkie is the way the coincidences pile up. It’s so fun that you don’t mind, because it plays into what I think are some very common fantasies or wishes: that the friends we make online will be able to become part of our offline lives, that the online friends who vanish and we cannot contact will reappear in our lives in some way.
And the thing about these fantasies is that … they’re not that fantastic. For many of us, they are reality. Many people find love online and find a way to make that work, whether by moving or long-distance or other means. My parents met that way. Many of my friends met their partners that way. And many folk meet their online friends regularly.
And you might say that that’s not coincidence, that’s effort — and I think in a lot of instances, that’s true. But coincidences do happen. Sometimes in such a way that it seems unreal. I have one of those stories.
I met the first online friend I ever made in-person years later. Completely by accident.
We met online when I was about 13 and she wasn’t much older. We were role-playing on a forum for one of my favourite video games, but the RP was vampire-themed. The RP was lovely, shifting from long-periods of quiet companionship (and brooding, as vampires) to occassional high-stakes moments. Over the course of the game, we gradually started to DM each other, then instant message, and then somehow we were friends. It turned out that the main three of us playing in it were all teenagers roughly the same age IRL, and all living in England. It would be years before I realised how fortunate even that coincidence was. So often, our online friends are much further afield.
She was an excellent writer and just as awkward outside of RP as I was, which I think made things easier for both of us. We talked about writing and worldbuilding and the books we’d read. We plotted storylines for our RP characters. I was really grateful for her friendship. I didn’t have many friends offline — truthfully, looking back, I don’t think I had any. Nobody who didn’t enjoy putting me down or excluding me. Only my online friends were that kind.
I made more friends online in those years, of course. I did a lot of RPing and eventually you build up trust with people (or with some you don’t, and you keep that door firmly shut). But this friend was the first. Her username was Fang, though I knew her real name as well.
We grew apart, as people do. She went to university and had little time for RPing. My life fell apart in a big way in my late teens, something I’d be struggling with for years to come. We rarely spoke and then lost contact. My sister befriended Fang in my absence so I knew a little about Fang through her but that was it.
Then in my early twenties, I got a job as a bookseller. The training was in a town about 40 minutes away by train, and I was to work there for a few weeks before I could start in my own town. I was maybe 23? 24? It’s hard to keep track. It had been something like 5 years since I’d last spoken to Fang. The town I was training in was the same one Fang had gone to university in, but that had been years ago.
I was informed when I got there that I needed to sign in and out on the sheet every day. And as I went to put down my name, the name above mine was completely familiar. In fact, the same name as Fang’s real name.
As you might imagine, I was a bit curious but not that hopeful. Fang didn’t have such an unusual name, surely, and I had no reason to believe she’d still be in town. But she loved books and she’d lived there previously, so there was a chance.
I worked there for nearly five weeks and never saw her on the shop floor or in the staff room and had long since given up on the idea that she was the same person named on the sign-in sheet. I’d be moving to my local shop by the end of the week.
Anyway, then a staff member came to my till, asking for change to use in her own. She looked a lot like I remembered Fang looking, from the one or two photos I’d seen. As I handed her the change, she was already turning away. With blood-pounding in my ears and my face utterly red from blushing, I blurted out, ‘Are you Fang?’ Username only.
She went stock still. Her expression was utterly shocked and she went as pale as I’d gone red. She looked ill, or terrified maybe — I’m not great with expressions but I could tell it wasn’t positive. I hastily added, ‘I’m Corva! From the RP forums.’ Username only as well. She still looked shocked so I hurried to add, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to be weird — I saw your name on the sign-in sheet so when I saw you in person I thought it must be you.’
She nodded. ‘Corva! Wow! This is … very weird.’
I could only agree. Internally, I desperately hoped she didn’t think I was a stalker or something. Maybe it would have been more normal to have said nothing?
‘How long are you on shift?’ she asked. ‘Can we meet up?’
As it turned out, we wouldn’t be able to meet up until I’d already transferred back but we arranged it anyway. We exchanged social media details and met up several more times, taking it in turns to visit the other’s town. I really liked those visits. I loved hearing about her work as an artist. She encouraged me with my own endeavours (most sadly doomed to fail). We talked books and mental health, as we had online. Each visit was awkward and short (we were both very online people and I … remain very terrible at in-person interactions) but they were also wonderful.
We lost contact again as time went on. I often wonder whether I should try to reach out but … that sort of thing is hard.
I still think of that first meeting as a kind of miracle though. A storybook coincidence that happened in real life. How often do you just run into someone you only knew online as teenagers? Maybe more often than it would seem.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently greater or lesser about online or offline relationships. The way you interact is different, but the connections you forge are real.
But I still think there’s something magical about when those worlds collide.
The first seeds of Non-Player Character were formed from that sense of magic. ^_^
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