Ben's Story - From LAN Parties to Gamertag Friendships

Ben's Story - From LAN Parties to Gamertag Friendships

Written by: Ben O'Bright - Executive Director, DaBR

 

In today’s world, gaming is almost ubiquitous with living. In Canada, more than half of us identify as video gamers, which doesn’t include board games, live action role play, or any of the other dozen monikers we use to define gaming. Like most people of my generation, gaming has always played a central role in my life. It’s been a guide as well as a mentor. It’s been an escape and an outlet. It’s been a way to make new friends and maintain old ones. It’s been a community.

I’ve always bounced around a little, from console to desktop. Some of my fondest memories came from playing Worms, StarCraft (introduced to me on an old IBM laptop with the red foam cursor button), and Age of Empires. On the latter, I would often get lost in my own side plots, using my imagination to establish new characters, who lived in cities of my own design, and who had to complete mission objectives of my own creation. In fact, I can credit a lot to video games. Age of Empires, Pharaoh, and Age of Mythology with my passion for history and adventure. Halo and StarCraft for allowing me to accept, once and for all, my absolute love for science fiction (and the realization that being a fan of space, fantasy, and sci-fi is totally okay!).

To me, gaming has almost inevitably meant being social. The classic image of a gamer used so often in popular media never quite made sense to me. Why was he or she alone? Why was it dark in whatever room they’re in? Why does gamer look sad, grim, or alone? Growing up, gaming was an event. I remember having a Nintendo 64, one of the only ones in my friend group to have a console back then, and it being a magnet for social activity. Gaming alone was boring. Gaming with friends meant laughing so hard your stomach hurt, eating food together, collectively finding new ways to beat a level, passing the controller between us so that everyone could have a turn. Gaming meant seeing and being with my friends. It still does today.

Then came the LAN Party. Oh, did we have some fantastic LAN parties! In the time before Xbox Live and PSN, we would all bring our consoles over to my friend Sam’s home, link them together using the longest Ethernet cables you’ve ever seen, and play together on different TVs throughout the house. We’d do that for old school computer games as well, all sitting at Robert’s kitchen table, linked together whilst competing for world domination. His mom would usually order us pizza.

 

Getting older, I found myself happily diving into the world of online gaming. Xbox Live was my first go at this, specifically the Halo series. Through a friend of mine from school, I started to play games with someone I only knew as their gamertag, GreenCouch. But like any friend, we’d meet up (online) after school, play a few matches, talk about our days, and confide in one another. He was as real a friend as anyone I knew in person. A few years later, I was at a friend’s birthday party and I heard someone yell my own gamertag from across the room. Immediately I knew – it was GreenCouch. Fast forward to today and we’re still very close friends, in real life and online. Gaming created and sustained our friendship, strong enough that it’s lasted for over a decade.

More recently, I traveled abroad to complete my Master’s degree in the United Kingdom. Other than my partner and a couple family members, I knew no one. All those people I loved were still back in Canada, still getting together on weekends, and still regularly seeing one another. It was isolating, despite being in the middle of downtown London. But, I remembered the power that gaming had during my childhood to bring my friends together. Maybe it could do so again. Booting up some old favourite games, I found that gaming was an easy organizing mechanism, a way to ask my friends to “do something together” despite being 5700 kilometers apart. Gaming kept me connected to friends at home. More than that, gaming was also a way to make new ones. I found groups at my school that came together to play - with board games I found a new avenue for friends, all of whom were excited by the prospect of afternoons spent playing Catan. Gaming knows no geographical boundaries. It doesn’t require you to be in the same room to get support, guidance, and love from your friends and family. It just needs a stable Internet connection.

I started Do a Barrel Roll so that others would have the opportunity to share stories like mine. Informally, most of the gamers I know have a similar relationship with gaming and the good it can do in one’s life. They’ve found belonging as they’ve formed clans or guilds. They’ve used it to build and keep friendships. They’ve found acceptance and inclusion when the world around them feels hostile or cold. They see it as a tool for happiness, for warmth, for positivity. At its very core, Do a Barrel Roll believes this narrative, and these stories, need to be heard.

If you have a story to share, please get in touch using the contact form on our website.