The Internet offers many opportunities for people, one of which is the opportunity to have fun and, at the same time, meet new people from different backgrounds without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Online gaming is one example of people having fun online, and it has become a popular form of entertainment among people of all ages. However, it is not only a playground for them; it is also a place to socialize. Some researchers believe that online gaming can have both positive and negative effects on users. Adverse impacts may include harassment, verbal abuse, physical threats, and sexual harassment of female gamers. Conversely, some studies suggest that positive results include making friends, finding accepting communities, and discovering new interests. This essay will use the example of Richard, a former online gamer to discuss the friendship aspect of online gaming. Richard’s experience demonstrates that cyberspace accelerates the formation of friendships and, as in the offline world, enables people to have meaningful and beneficial interactions. However, what about conflict? How do online friends handle it? Does the occurrence of conflict mean the end of a friendship?
One of the advantages of online friendships is that they can develop much quicker, as the Internet enables people to gather together in a particular, virtual place. For instance, online communities such as blogs, virtual worlds, and gaming are accessible to everyone. Anyone can join based on their interests, allowing people to meet others who have the same hobbies as them. These specialized groups enable members to interact with one another, effectively exchanging ideas, giving advice, collaborating, or playing collectively. Through shared interests, participants are able to rapidly explore other topics and learn more about each other’s preferences and beliefs, facilitating the development of friendships (Amichai-Hamburger, Kingsbury & Schneider, 2012, p. 34). Similarly, researchers in another study have noted that “cyberspace offers immediate access to more people, and similarities in interests and ideals are more easily detected” (Ben-Ze’ev, Schneider & Amichai-Hamburger, in Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2012, p. 34). For example, during the interview with Richard, he revealed his fondness for poker. This interest has led him to the gaming community, where he was able to have fun, socialize, and ultimately make a few friends. When asked about his experience interacting with other gamers, he said, “After playing together regularly, the discussions became more and more personal, from Poker to general things that were going on in our lives or personal aspects of our lives” (Richard, personal communication, September 14, 2019). Richard was specifically referring to his intimate friend Sue, a Canadian woman whom he met online while playing poker. Thus, it appears that Richard’s experience supports these claims.
Online friendships can be as meaningful and beneficial as those in the physical world; however, due to the difference in circumstances, the advantages can vary. In the offline world, people can spend time together and enjoy doing things physically, whereas, in online friendships, entertainment is restricted to Internet activities. Nevertheless, people can still enjoy themselves online. Virtual friendships may not allow for physical interaction, but because of the anonymity involved, intimacy develops much faster. Studies suggest that the anonymity provided by the Internet promotes intimate revelations between individuals (McKenna et al., Schneider & Amichai-Hamburger, in Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2012, p. 35). For example, Richard said, “She had been a bit vulnerable because her husband and daughter had, unfortunately, passed away in a car accident” (personal communication, September 14, 2019). Does this statement back up the researchers’ claim above? Is it because of anonymity that Sue confided her traumatic experience to Richard? Possibly. Richard questioned whether, if they had met in the physical world, Sue would have revealed this to him at the point when she did. She may have held it back until later when the friendship had become more established. Being able to provide each other with assistance in times of difficulty is one of the benefits of having friends. However, can an online friend do so? In Richard and Sue’s case, yes; he was able to provide emotional support. As Amichai-Hamburger et al. (2012) have noted, “online social support has been shown to proffer the same benefits as offline support, including improved social and emotional wellbeing, and more active coping strategies” (p. 36). Thus, as in the offline world, online friends can also enjoy and support each other through the Internet.
In any friendship, conflict can happen, and this is perhaps even more likely in online friendships due to the risk of misreading. How do online friends deal with conflict? When Richard was asked about negative experiences with his online friend, he recollected the time when Sue flew to the city where he lived without telling him. He said, “I never understood why she did not tell me that she was planning to come or contacted me while she was in my city” (Richard, personal communication, September 14, 2019). According to Kruger, Epley, Parker & Ng (in Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2012), miscommunication may occur due to the absence of signals in digital interactions (p. 37). Could that be what happened here? Sue may have misinterpreted something Richard said or did not say, which prompted her to withdraw her a perhaps intended surprise visit. Richard never had a chance to find out, because after that, Sue decided to stop playing poker online, which was their only means of communication. A recent study suggests that effective handling of disputes over the Internet does happen (Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2012, p. 37). Surprisingly, resolving conflict online is not at all unfamiliar to people. Research has “found no differences in participants’ use of four types of conflict resolution strategy with online versus offline friends” (Buote et al., in Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2012, p. 37). Thus, if Sue had not suddenly disappeared and instead communicated with Richard, their friendship might have continued.
To conclude, cyberspace may simplify and speed up the development of friendships due to its ability to bring people together in specific groups, such as in gaming communities. Through these online communities, people are presented with opportunities to discover like-minded individuals to connect with. As they do in the offline world, online friends can do things together and have fun, as well as provide various forms of support to one another. Additionally, they too can develop profound connections, perhaps more so than in the physical world, owing to the anonymity of the Internet. Furthermore, if people wish to establish long-term friendships, they can do so online, since online conflict resolution can be achieved in the same manner as in the physical world. Thus, it seems that both online and offline friendships are meaningful in their own way; each has its particular advantages and disadvantages. The good news is that people do not have to choose one; they can have both virtual and face-to-face friendships for different purposes and benefits.