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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 May, 2004, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Meeting your online gaming pals
Coming face-to-face with your online gaming team-mates is a different game to traditional bonding, argues Daniel Etherington of BBC Collective in his weekly games column.

Online gamers
Meeting your online gaming pals can be daunting
A dozen or so men gather together to drink a few pints and share war stories, reminiscing about the key battles they fought together.

No, it is not a get-together of D-Day veterans, it is the first in-the-flesh encounter between many of the key members of the Halibuts, the infamous Outfit from masterful PC game PlanetSide, of which I have been a member since last September.

For me, the get-together was timely, as PC gaming has only been a factor in my life since last May.

Flesh meets

After a faltering start where my console-educated, single-player gaming self did not "get" PlanetSide, it became established as my most significant gaming experience so far.

This is not only because it is a compelling and innovative multiplayer FPS, but also because it is a very communal activity - especially when you have the good fortune to fall in with a bunch of people who can consistently make it a laugh.

Screenshot of PlanetSide
When you get to know someone through a game, all you know you have in common is that game

For the first quarter year or so, most of us relied on the in-game text communication, and getting to know one another was fairly slow.

But, subsequently, headsets and a dedicated channel on a comms server came into play.

However, despite having chatted to these folk for the past six months, I cannot say I was not perturbed about meeting them in the flesh - not least because two of them share a somewhat dubious sense of humour.

The point is that making friends is traditionally a process that takes place in the school yard, work place or boozer, where you unconsciously evaluate those you encounter, and one generally gravitate towards like-minded people.

Mixed bunch

When you get to know someone through a game, all you know you have in common is that game.

From using voice communications, and now from the experience of actually meeting people, it is fair to say that online gaming is not only a lively new form of socialising.

It is also one that cuts through a lot of the rubbish involved in making bonds in the real world.

We proved a real mixed bunch in terms of backgrounds, class, jobs, income brackets and so on.

Although the mean age was around 30, some were married, some had kids, a couple were ex-Forces and several worked in computers.

Sadly, none of our more international comrades could make it, but it was still telling.

The point is that gaming is still saddled by stereotypes. Online gaming is even more so, possibly because it became so consolidated through D&D style role-playing games, a subculture with even longer "geek-hood" associations.

But the members of the Halibuts I met were basically a normal bunch of blokes. Now, if we could only get some of the fairer sex interested, it might help moderate the stereotyping even more.

Although actually, given the nature of our in-game chat, perhaps not.

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