To the detriment of my free time, I have continued to be far too invested in rhythm games that feature robots who sing. I believed I had escaped by losing access to a housemate who owned a Switch console, but that excuse crumbled when my sister texted me, Every time I see an ad for that Miku rhythm game I think of you and I replied, … what rhythm game.
Currently I am at top time investment in Hatsune Miku: Colorful Stage!, also known colloquially as Project Sekai, meaning I have figured out how Discord works again and have joined a group where all people talk about is this silly little rhythm game. It has been the top-used app on my phone for the past three months, but my Discord usage has also shot up as well.
Other than being a massive time suck that I do feel guilty about every so often, this game marks the first time that I’ve been heavily invested in an online community that is fully detached from my real life. The people who I chat with, who have time zones ranging from one hour behind to the mirror image of mine (1pm/1am), know only that I am a teacher in my mid-twenties who uses she/her pronouns who likes the same game as them. Regardless of this necessary obfuscation (I do teach internet safety after all and have to walk the walk, aka fight my oversharing tendencies), I have made friends in this one thousand-plus member group. There are people who recognize my username, who make group in-jokes with me, and who look forward to playing multiplayer with me. I didn’t expect this when I joined, but I feel known. Like I belong.
People have been doing this—making friends—on the internet since it was invented. I’ve seen it happen to other people, but I never thought I would entrench myself deep enough anywhere to forge friendships with people who I don’t want to know my real name or face and whose lives I only have the slightest inkling of.
These online anonymous friendships feel like a new frontier compared to upkeep of my old in-real-life ones. Over a dinner of fish and chips on a picnic table looking out over Boston Harbor while I was back in Massachusetts, a friend and I both figured out that we had reached out to other high school friends who we hadn’t seen in a while—an hour phone call coming back from graduation (me) and a brunch at the Cheesecake Factory (her). She also confided in me about some recent friendship issues she had over the past few months; painful conversations that lead to severed ties.
My friend strives to keep up with her friends, reaching out and calling and staying in regular contact. Despite her best efforts, though, we have a friendship that simmers: I watch her life through Instagram and text her book recommendations, and then we schedule a three hour hang-out session when I come back to Massachusetts. Most of my friendships are like that.
I realized on that picnic bench that I don’t have friendship break-ups like my friend does—I have friendship fades. Floormates from 2nd Rooks, choir classmates in high school, former coworkers—when our lives fail to overlap anymore, their names slip further and further down my recently texted list.
I’ve accepted that I cannot keep everyone that I love close forever all the time. Getting older means learning over and over again that proximity trumps all when it comes to friendships. Long distance friendships either find their footing in catch-up-in-the-produce-aisle conversations or disappear in the rearview mirror, rediscovered only in glances to the past.
If I were to guess, I think I will eventually fade from my new rhythm friends too, and that version of me will likely fade faster due to the weaker ties binding me and them together. Of course, there are stories of people meeting through Twitter, weddings due to my uncle’s theology discord server, and friendships forged on early internet messaging boards. But one of my rhythm friends said it best after we celebrated the end of a particularly grueling event: [Alex], you’ll always be in my heart… probably.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of Grand Rapids. When she’s not brainstorming the newest project to inflict on her students, she’s cooking semi-vegetarian food, reading too many romance books, and playing rhythm games.