Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

The complicated case of friendship in online gaming communities

What defines good friendship? Is good friendship the only type of genuine friendship? These are the questions that Alexander Nehamas sets out to answer in his work, On Friendship. He outlines several main points on modern friendship and states disagreements with historical philosophers such as Aristotle, specifically the claim the virtuous friendship is the best kind. In fact, he posits that, in some cases, virtue can even be detrimental to a good friendship. Virtuous friendship also can also  More interestingly he also critiques the idea that we love a person for their “self” by suggesting that different people bring out different aspects of who we are, therefore we can only know one expression of someone when we know them exclusively, the part that we bring out. He also adds that friendship is “double-faced” and can be good or bad for us, even at the same time.

Do Aristotle’s claims, or Nehamas’ counters hold true in the fluorescent and LED light of the digital age? In September of 2003, what would be the most revolutionary step forward in gaming technology was released, then only a nondescript automatic update software, it was called Steam. By May, of 2009 it had evolved into a social network community and game distribution service with thirteen million users. It was and is essentially amazon, facebook, and a gaming console wrapped up into one single all encompassing platform. In 2014 it was making $1.5 billion dollars a year.

You might be asking, “So why does this matter?” It matters because now millions of people, primarily young white men (we will get into that later) who were otherwise  considered social outcasts and “recluses” now had a social media just for gamers to connect with each other, to party up, and to meet new similarly minded people. Picture this: you get home from work and log in to steam. The first thing that appears is your friends list, shortly followed by the steam store front where you can search, buy, and review games. In your friends list you see in real time who is playing what, and at a click of a button you can open their game and hop in right with them. Another click and your in a call with them, talking about your day, negotiating strategy, or figuring out what to play next. When your in a game all it takes is one more button click to meet someone new and add them to your friends list. Just like that you’ve made a new friend. But are they a true friend? A philosophical reflection on my life experience might have an answer.  

My second year of high school I transferred to a new school, an arts school. It was forty minute by car with no traffic. In other words it was three hours, bumper to bumper, on one of the most infamously congested freeways in Southern California. Alternatively, you could commute by train, which took an hour and a half. Long story short, I couldn’t effectively maintain my relationships that I’d built at my old school and it was hard if not impossible to spend time with my newer friends outside of school. Video games and Steam is what solved our problem. It allowed us to stay connected and “hang out” no matter the distance.

Additionally my friends and I met new people who we grew to cherish greatly and spoke to every day, one of them even lived in southern california very near to us. We were able to meet him in person when we went to a video game tournament together.

This situation is not altogether uncommon and serves to combat some of the more general stereotypes about gaming and its perceived lack of social connection. Now, to address the critiques of online interaction, I was unable to easily cut off my friendships that were supported by gaming because I still saw them in real life (IRL, to use gamer lingo.) While our identities were changed slightly by being attached to our various usernames — my one exclusive online friends real name is anthony but we always called him by his alias, Shiro, it essentially became his name — they remained fundamentally the same. If anything, parts of our personalities, unrelated but including desire for confrontation, were enhanced by the digital medium, and the perceived reduced accountability around the internet. Something about not being face to face with someone makes you feel more confident to speak your mind. While I had an extensive friends list I was able to categorize the few people that I was actually close with as such. The other people were there just in case my close friends were not online just as our acquaintances are in real life. As stated by professor Mahallati in agreement with Alexander Nehamas, this platform has enabled new iterations or “unlimited varieties”  of friendship that were not possible before.

I believe that the discussion of the digitization of our relationships is one that must be truly explored thoroughly before any absolute claims are made of its overall positivity or negativity. While I was able to include some examples in this short piece there are many more to be analyzed.  It is a conversation that I hope to pursue further and offer more breath and depth in my final paper.

Works Cited

Bramwell, Tom. “Steam Logs 13 Millionth User.” Eurogamer.net, Eurogamer.net, 24 May 2007, www.eurogamer.net/articles/steam-logs-13-millionth-user.

Savage, Phil. “Market Data Firm Claims Valve Made $730 Million Last Year.” Pcgamer, PC Gamer THE GLOBAL AUTHORITY ON PC GAMES, 27 July 2015, www.pcgamer.com/market-data-firm-claims-valve-made-730-million-last-year/.

Badwar, Neera K. “On Friendship // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame.” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, ndpr.nd.edu/news/on-friendship/.

Nehamas, Alexander. On Friendship. Basic Books, New York. 2017

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