Playing It Forward: ‘Party’ Planning

Does flying across the country to meet strangers sound like a healthy decision? What about sharing hotel rooms for events? Perhaps you’ve heard the stranger danger talk, I certainly did. I wasn’t raised too shabby, but life is simply doing just that. Everyone will just be a stranger if you let him or her be one.

With online dating being a cultural norm now, technology has really influenced how we make connections to other people. I have made great connections with many people I am blessed to have in my life entirely because I risked getting to know someone. Here’s my catalogue of strangers, a small story: The dynamic life of a dweeb gamer.

We start in Ohio, but two thousand miles later I landed in Los Angeles. I stayed with my friend I had met at an anime convention in Kentucky. I had saved enough to budget out my summer off from work, go to Anime Expo and plan out my Sinclair semester.

My friend and I had shared a hotel room with two complete strangers who were also attending, as we arranged months before. Sounds much sketchier than it is, but conventions that sell out rooms across the L.A. hotel block are often understood to be a mix of a hostel rooming situation and generally your agreements include expectations and responsibilities for the parties involved.

Everything sounds so risky to some people, and perhaps it was—but rooming with two girls that were into anime and Japanese culture wasn’t something that concerned me.

Those two girls I roomed with some three years ago are now some of my closest friends. We talk regularly and game together. I’ve seen one in both Los Angeles and San Jose, despite her being from just outside Seattle, Washington and myself from Dayton, Ohio.

Nowadays, I regularly see people in all sorts of states from all over the convention scene, even friends from other countries. It’s a social culture, which some may not realize from the outside.

That was just the start back then, but it’s not the craziest part. The real story for why I made that trek goes back to 1998.

In 1998 I was four. However, I had an older sibling as well as divorced parents. What does that have to do with anything? Well, it means I got bimonthly visitation from my father, who lived in another state. Usually it was a few hours in the car to get to a place where I had few forms of entertainment when my father had to work.

We did have, however, a Nintendo 64 and a computer—when computers became more common. My brother played a game called “Diablo,” which I then tried. I didn’t understand much about it.

Fast-forward to 2002 and I’ve begun playing the expansion, released in 2001. In third and fourth grade, I also played Halo online regularly with my friend, who on the first time I went to her house to play in first grade, we played a game called “Power Stone” on the Sega Dreamcast.

So really, gaming has been so very important in my life and lead to friendships that have lasted many years, many of which continue today despite thousands of miles between us.

It all started with a business arrangement where a higher player had helped me through the game mode in exchange for me coughing over the rewards you receive for completing it.

The mere coincidence that one character pushed mine through the cycle of the game eventually led me some eight years later on my way to L.A.

Virtual meetings are quite different nowadays. I had no concept of the people I was talking to for some five years or more. Eventually, I paid for my own cell phone and had brief conversations to put voices to the names of the people I had long befriended.

When Skype came out, everything felt surreal for anyone in the online community. Webcams were hard to come by; an Internet connection at which you could use one was even more rare.

Skype and text messages made communication so much easier than AIM which was always buggy. It was easier to just log into the game and talk that way like we had for years. I still remember all the commands I’ve typed in so many times.

Now we regularly use Skype or one of the many variants playing titles like “Overwatch,” “League of Legends” or even “Diablo III,” the third installment some fifteen years later after the game that started this all.

What it boils down to is that connection occurs through any interaction. We played years and years together, regularly, as an ever-expanding group. They are some of my closest friends who I visit as often as I can.

Do I recommend just meeting anyone? No, certainly not. But when I was an adult and could travel, by that time so many years elapsed. I had spoken with my friends’ parents, arranged stays and had been recognizable to my friends and many of their friends knew of me or even thought I was their schoolmate.

Nope, I’m just a guy from Ohio that they met 12 years ago online—but life is a crazy and dynamic series of connections; connections that if we open ourselves to them, can significantly impact our lives. Even if they all start from some small game.

Barton Kleen
Executive Editor