Communities are what we make them

Adults often have trouble making new friends. We don’t necessarily have pre-generated social situations like when we were in school (and that’s before I even think about the hellscape that school is for many kids).

Marriage and children create another block for many adults, because suddenly our free time dwindles drastically and our lives focus on other things. My kids are getting into their teens now, so that’s changing somewhat, but even then a divide still exists sometimes between my childless friends and me.

Another factor: I work from home, hundreds of miles away from my co-workers, so while some of them are really great people, we just don’t socialize that much outside of work. Many of them are quiet professionals who don’t treat the office as the place to make social connections anyway.

Finally, some major changes in my personal life about 10 years ago meant that I felt disconnected in almost every way from most of the non-family friends I’d built up over the years. (This isn’t about that – I’m just pointing out that my social life took a drastic hit that I’ve never really recovered from.)

Games give us a way around that, as do many other hobbies. Whether playing MMORPGs or tabletop games or whatever else, we find ourselves socializing with people who have at least one thing in common with us. Not everybody playing the same game will be friends, of course; assholes abound, even in games that most people consider to have warm, welcoming communities.

Even so: sometimes we – or more to the point, sometimes I – have trouble turning acquaintances from games into actual friends. Social media can make this worse: Facebook makes everybody “friends” but nobody is fooled by that label. Twitter calls them “followers,” and the current slang of “mutuals” (people who follow each other) feels about as impersonal.

In my case, RPGs (both online and tabletop) have helped a lot. But even then: communities are what you make them. Games that many would say have warm, welcoming communities can still be intimidating, whether due to the corners that still harbor jerks of various sorts or just because it’s hard to connect with people.

Friendship is Magic

"Bond of Insight" by Joe Slucher. (c) 2019 Wizards of the Coast.
A Dimir and Izzet agent team up to create a new symbol and faction in the War of the Spark.

A year or two ago, I played Magic for a bit at a local game store. I met one person that I really enjoyed hanging out with: he was funny, treated my daughter nicely, was generous in teaching us and handing us some old bulk cards that held no value for him but were really helpful for us, etc. On the way home, my daughter told me she thought I’d made a new friend. But then I saw him on the Facebook group for that store’s Magic community and looked at his profile. I saw a bunch of stuff that I just didn’t want to deal with on any level. (For clarity: I have friends and family members of all political and religious stripes, and I don’t live in a bubble by any means. But some viewpoints are so anathema to me, so beyond the pale, that no amount of in-person friendliness can overcome them.)

Lately, I’ve started playing Magic again. Some of that is online via Arena, but also I’m playing some at that same store with the goal of getting out of the house a bit (work from home, remember?) and meeting people. I play a bit of Standard using budget decks, but that particular store has a large, thriving Commander community. This format is renowned for mostly focusing on casual play rather than competitive tournaments. Commander games usually have three or four players rather than one-on-one match-ups, so there’s a lot of “politics” and friendly laughter, and the games often last longer.

When I went up to the store last Friday with the intention of playing Commander instead of Standard, I didn’t really know how to get into it. I had a pre-constructed deck from a couple of years ago with a few minor tweaks based on cards in my collection. But all those people sitting around were strangers to me. Small children often do fine in this situation, maybe because they constantly face it: they walk up, introduce themselves and ask if they can play. Honestly, that would have worked fine here, too.

However, I did know one of the store owners a bit (small, local, independent businesses are worth your time and money!), so I just asked her for help and a quick introduction. Within moments, we were laughing about how many people had the same name: lots of Thomases and Davids and such. Quickly a new game formed, and I spent the next two and a half hour in utter chaos and laughter.

Are those three people my new friends? Not really. We came together for a short while and had a nice time. I remember their names, and maybe they’ll remember mine if we see each other back up at the store. Maybe we’ll play some more and become friends. I don’t really know what else to do here; that’s part of the problem I’m thinking about tonight. (Hopefully Commander does become a bigger part of my recreation, though!)

Colleagues and Comrades

Image from "Waterdeep Dragon Heist". (c) 2018 Wizards of the Coast

Of course, Dungeons and Dragons remains the main game I play. While I’m not playing Adventurers League these days, I stay in touch with the folks who were in my campaigns from when I did. Sometimes we even get together and play non-AL games! It’s all extra low-pressure, low-commitment stuff. Some of them still play AL pretty heavily, and others have had life changes that keep them busy.

More actively, though, I’ve really gotten involved in the Variant Roles community. The activity has grown, and we have a good code of conduct that helps weed out folks who will pose problems.

Are these folks my friends? Maybe, I guess. Some of us are getting there, but even then I don’t quite know how to nurture these relationships anymore. I don’t talk in private with too many folks, but we do share about our lives in group settings like Discord channels and Twitch chat. Figuring out how to go from “fellow community members” to actual buddies is a challenge for me, but it feels healthy for me every time I get a little further down that path.

So if you’re reading this and thinking, “but I know Kyle!” then let’s be friends! We can talk Magic or Dungeons and Dragons or Lovecraft or the vagaries of modern adult life. This world’s hard enough to go through that we all need more than just our partners and pets.

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