IRL

A friend of mine will be hearing about the future of his cancer treatment in the morning. It came on without warning. We found out in June, and he knew a couple weeks before. It is just hitting me tonight, and I’m ashamed that it took an hour staring at a wall and drinking a couple beers.  I’m on the verge of tears.

It is a rare sort of cancer, especially for a man in good health in his late thirties. But it is severe. From what I gather, his life, along with those of his wife and two boys, have been flipped upside down.

Funny thing is, I’ve never actually met him in physical space. My relationship with him and some others have been entirely through playing online games. We’ve gathered dozens of times in the last two years with our other digital friends to band together as a team and beat back challenging obstacles. In game, his name was Anodyne, which is sadly ironic right now. He only chose the name because the time it came to choose one, he looked around, saw the word printed on a bottle, and went with it.

Anodyne has been a steady handed, dependable leader. And a good guy, who navigated some issues in our group maturely and effectively when nasty politics or social statements came up with some other people we played with. And sometimes, when we were strategizing or joking on voice chat, I’d hear his kids or wife quickly conversing with him. I’d hear about them, and he talked about coming to Chicago on a family vacation in August of this year. We talked about the breweries that I’d introduce him to.

Since this has began, his wife has maintained a blog that informs friends and family of all the updates. It doesn’t pull punches. It is careful, factual, kind, without appeals to religion or joy. Nor does it sink into despair. I’ve never spoken to her, but I can tell from her writing that she and Anodyne are a good fit. Compassionate. Direct. Focused. Honest. And calm. All in the midst of chaos. With Ano, it was always digital chaos, where failure meant a delay of minutes. With her, the chaos is infinitely real.

I’ve never known someone digitally like some of the friends I’ve made in the past couple years. We met almost exactly then, October 2016, when we were randomly assigned to the same 15-person team by the leadership of our hundreds-strong guild. In a way, that online world is an escape for me. A world in which the shitty parts of the real world don’t exist. A world in which I am a powerful wizard, fixing the big problems of a different world, providing the firepower while other people protect and heal me. We’ve encountered a never-ending march of world-threatening tyrants, and I summoned a staccato of magical time-explosions right in their faces, and the world was saved, again and again. With a dedicated team. I am unambiguously effective in that world, working with some great people.

In a way, these people are not the real world for me. They are part of a different world. But this situation, and people who I’ve grown closer with through these games, make the point clear that this is very much part of the real world. The escape is an illusion, and/or almost everything we do and think is an escape of some sort. Because what Anodyne is going through right now means more for “in real life” than basically anything that I know right now.

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