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My friends and I were taking a pit stop after an aimless drive when we heard a stranger loudly invite anyone within earshot to her friends’ party. Our plans had ended at “go for a drive;” before that, we were loitering between some collapsed columns in a crystalline wasteland.
We debated whether to attend from inside our car. The party seemed a little raunchy—its promoter, Nina, a miniscule woman with pink blush marks painted on either side of her button nose, advertised “drinks and good company” but also “ERP,” which stands for “erotic role-play.” That’s not generally our thing. We’re more stand-outside types than the types to cast a flashy glamour spell and chat up the nearest cat girl. But, hey, it’s Final Fantasy XIV online, and where my body sat in New York, the epicenter of America’s Covid-19 outbreak, there certainly weren’t any parties.
On Fridays, Saturdays and basically any given weeknight, my Brooklyn neighborhood is alive with throbbing house music, over-earnest open mics, DJ sets, roiling apartment bashes and cars blasting Reggaeton. In this new-normal world, events as we know them no longer exist, unless you count texting your 20 closest acquaintances a DRINKS ON ZOOM!!!! invite, give or take a couple of cloying emojis. With all of this newfound time to overthink the mundane, I recognize now that social outings are dedicated units of time for self-expression, coloring-book pages onto which we and our friends draw outlines that we pour ourselves into. Social distancing has separated us from our social contexts; without them, all the color drains out.
It quickly became apparent that those of us whose social lives revolve around online videogames had a failsafe for staying entertained indoors. Floating on my back in a virtual fountain lined with turquoise, Byzentine-style tiles, I let a new gratitude wash over me for massively multiplayer online video games, or MMORPGs. For weeks, I have been compulsively playing Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft Classic, online games in which my meticulously customized characters battle monsters and complete quests in huge, biologically diverse digital worlds. On my Final Fantasy XIV server, 13,000 strangers, plus a couple of my real-life neighborhood friends, roam the ancient forests, the thronged cities and the cramped, rocky caves.
One of them was Cid, who lives a 20-minute walk from me in Brooklyn. On a catwalk in someone’s virtual basement, we had just put on an impromptu two-person fashion show. (She posed slouchy and with a pout in her reindeer onesie.) Once we we tired of that, she found me in that fountain, and entered in the “/waterfloat” command nearby me. The sun shone down.
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