This weekend I'll be doing something I've never done before. The idea fills me with excitement and a hint of trepidation. It is a prospect, I am sure, with which many other denizens of the internet have been confronted at some point in their lives. Felicia Day even managed to create an entire six-season web-series using the very same situation as a jumping-off point. This Saturday, for the first time, I will be meeting people from my online gaming guild in real life.

To many people on the outside, gamers might come off as an antisocial bunch. One of my roommates constantly ribs me for spending so much time indoors in front of a computer screen when there's "so much to do and so many people to meet out in the real world." What he and others don't seem to understand is that just because my gaming exploits don't exist outside of the digital confines of servers and clients, the challenges I overcome are no less satisfying, the people I meet are no less personable, and the friendships we forge are no less rewarding.

I've been playing MechWarrior Online for about a year now, having built my first gaming PC a few months before that. With the exception of some Team Fortress Classic and Diablo II during my college days (okay, "some" might be a slight understatement), the vast majority of my gaming as an adult has been done on home consoles. Apart from the various Calls of Duty that I heeded, I had generally restricted myself to single-player titles. As I'm sure most of you are aware, the folks on Xbox Live are... well, lets just say they are, for the most part, a bit hard to hold a decent conversation with. This, coupled with the fact that virtually none of my real-life friends would identify themselves as a "gamer," made the possibility of enjoying mulitplayer-based games seem like that much more of a pipe dream. I had all but given up on it when I decided to make the jump to PC gaming.

It wasn't long after I started playing MechWarrior that I decided to join a guild for the very first time. MWO is a very tactics-heavy, team-centric game, and it can be especially harsh for solo players. In an effort to find some human shields teammates to roll with, I tossed a "looking for group" post up on the game's forums. It wasn't very long before I received several invitations. MWO players might be very competitive, but by-and-large they are good people and are always willing to help a new guy. Having seen so much of the ugly side of online gaming, this type of warm reception was something that was completely new to me. I perused several different sites and played with a few groups before settling on one. I imagine in those first few weeks I must have sounded a bit like a child who has finally reached a point in his development where he can begin to comprehend just how immensely huge the world is. I give my guildmates all the credit in the world for putting up with questions that would earn me the moniker "newb" in a lot of other venues. Their kindness, patience, and friendship opened up an entirely new world of gaming to me, and for that I thank them.

So this weekend, nearly one year since I started playing with them, our guild is having its First Annual East Coast picnic (I've never understood how something can be the "first annual" anything if it's only happened once... in the future). I'm excited by the prospect of meeting people I feel like I already know. I'm happy that I'm finally going to be able to thank them in person for all the help they've given and kindness they've shown me. I'm also a tad nervous about giving a good real first impression (and quite possibly making an ass of myself in the process). And I'm just a teensy bit terrified that a stranger I met on the internet will murder me and wear my skin as a suit. Hopefully it goes well, but even if it doesn't I can still thank my first real foray into online gaming for broadening my horizons. Unless that whole skin-suit thing happens.

How about you? If you're willing to share, I would love to hear about your own personal experiences with online gaming, awesome communities, or meeting online friends in real life. Leave your stories in the comments below. And if you don't hear from me on Monday, please keep your eyes peeled for a very droopy version of me.


This post originally published at