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Reality - it's what you make it.

Last week I posted about some book readings I've started in a Virtual World called InWorldz. I was there again this weekend, reading to a bunch of folks. I was only supposed to be there for an hour, but the people there are quite, quite mad. They kept wanting more. An hour turned into two, and then to two and a half - and I'm not complaining about that. It's always nice when people want to hear more smiley.

That's not what I'm writing about today. After all, it never really happened, right? This whole Virtual World thing. It's not like it's real.

Or is it?

Sometimes things happen in a way that starts you thinking. Or thinking again. And this was one of those times. One of the people i know in one of those Virtual places, the ones that aren't really real, was talking to his (or her - there's no need to be precise cheeky) parents about what they did in these places. And the reaction from said parents (and the person I'm talking about has children of her (yes, or his cheeky own) wasn't particularly unusual, if phrased a little more boldly than is sometimes the case. Said parents told them it was a waste of time. That they should 'get a life'. Get some 'real' friends.

'Get a life'. 'Real friends'. Because this /Virtual' stuff isn't really real, right?

Hold on to that thought. We'll get back to it.

Like I said. Sometimes things happen in a way that can make you think. Or think again. And later in the week, I came across this:

Virtual Community makes dying boy's wish come true.

The people who got involved in that - they weren't Virtual Friends. Heck, they weren't really any kind of friends of the boy, or his parents, at all. But they did what they did anyway. And what they did? For that little boy, for that little boy's parents? What they did was about as real as real can be.

And that got me thinking. Again. Because I wasn't involved in that particular story. But it's a story I know isn't unique. The details change, the people involved change - but the story's the same. And it's a story about people. Real people.

Real people - being Real.

And reading that story reminded me of another one. One I know better, because it happened in one of those not-Real places a not-Real me has not-lived in for a long time. Over seven years. And it's a story that became a part of the not-real place in a very real way. I could just tell you the story, and I will. But, if I may, I'll tell it as it has been told now few times to new players in the game in question. Because it is a game. Not one of the newest, and there are prettier ones out there. But this is where the story happened.

Happened for Real.

So imagine you're a new player in Istaria - Chronicles of the Gifted (once upon a time it was called Horizons). You play on a server called Order, which happens to be a Role-Playing server. And one day you log in, and a passing character asks 'Have you been to Back Bay?'. Well, depending on who it is, they might say something more like 'Welcome young one. Have ye yet been to Back Bay?'. Like I said, it's an RP server cheeky. And you might say 'Er... no. Oh. Sorry. Er - no-eth. I have-eth not. Is that where I kill Ruxus for my sword quest?'. Well, you might. Or just say 'Huh?'. And the one who asked would likely pass on their way.

Then, some other day, you'd be happily wandering round, trying to avoid getting killed while, perhaps, gathering iron ore for a new sword, when someone would speak to you. You probably wouldn't see anyone near, but there are ways to speak to other players in game from a distance. And the person speaking would tell you it was time. Time to go. To go to Back Bay.

You might ignore the voice. Or you might ask how to get there. And if you did? You'd get here. This is Back Bay:
Back BayActually, it isn't. Back Bay is more the village behind you. But you're not here to see the village behind you. You're here to see this. A cliff. A cliff with an edge, and the sea below. And the voice will tell you you are here to find something, but that what that something is, the voice can't help yu with. Because everybody finds something different. And to find that something, the voice will tell you, first you have to put yourself on the path. And the path lies in front of you, at the edge of the cliff.

The PathSo you walk to the edge of the cliff. And the voice will tell you you stand - well that you stand on an edge. And edge between what is, and what might be. What was, and what will be. And between what you know - and what you will find. And it tells you to turn, and to walk. So you walk along the edge of the cliff, all alone.

First glimpseAnd as you walk along, you see something ahead. A figure. A figure doing something really silly. Standing on the edge of the cliff, and looking out to sea. And the voice will tell you that someone lived here once. Someone called Roxi. That they lived in this land you've found, the land of Istaria. And that they loved it. Loved being here, loved helping people, loved to talk. And that Roxi was a friend to anyone she met. And you'll walk. Because you probably already noticed the voice doesn't say 'is'. it says 'was'. And as you walk, as you draw near, the figure grows bigger.

RoxiAs you get closer, you can see the figure isn't another player. It's some sort of statue. And the voice will tell you how, for all Roxi's brightness and joy, a dark day came. That Roxi fell ill. The real person behind the Roxi some people might call not-real. And it wasn't any light illness. And it got worse, and it got worse. Until Roxi was taken into hospital. But she loved the place called Istaria. And the people around her did something special. They managed to have a network connection set up, and a computer, and Roxi was still able to play, and none knew she was in hospital unless she told them.

The Edge of ForeverBut the voice will tell you, the thing was? Well, the thing was, Roxi wasn't going to be coming out of that hospital. Well, she would.
And even though nobody told her, Roxi knew. She knew, but she never told anyone in the land of Istaria. She never told anyone she helped, or anyone she talked to. She just smiled enough to make her lips bleed every time she could log in, or so those about her said. Smiled for the one bright thing she had left and wept when she had to log out, never knowing if it would be for the last time.
And one day - it was. The last time. And Roxi left the hospital she was in. for the last time.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Because those who had been round her knew what Istaria meant to her. And they knew how she logged in, and they logged in. And they contacted her Guild, her 'in-game family'. And they told them what had happened. And something else happened. Something a bit like, but different  from, the thing I mentioned at the top, with the little boy. Because the word spread round, and lots of players, not just her Guild, heard the word. And they started contacting the owners of the game and wanting - wel, they didn't know what. but something. Something so that the story didn't have to end there.
And, the voice will tell you, something did hapen. Because if you are careful, if you inch round the statue (and falling into the sea will 'kill' your character, and you'll have to try again), you'll see something. and this is what you'll see:

The Real

Because yes, the voice will tell you, the owners of the game made this statue and put it here. But they did something else. The people who had known Roxi in the place most of them thought of as real, sent the game owners a picture. And when the statue was made, it wasn't made with a face like characters in the game had. It was made with Roxi's face. And if you look (OK. Click on. But pretend for a while) more closely at the staute, you'll see this:

Forever Roxi

'The Annatar'. That was Roxi's Guild. Her in-game family. And their name is on the memorial, because Roxi was one of them. But to this day, and I was there again last night, Roxi stands there. Watching. Looking. Because even though Roxi, or the 'real' person behind Roxi, was no longer with them, the players and the owners and the people she knew, they didn't want her story to end. And they knew Roxi would have wanted to be there. In the place that made her smile 'til her lips were like to bleed. And to this day she stands, looking out over the Edge of Forever. And the voice would tell you it would leave now, and leave you to find - whatever being there would help you find. And that if ever anyone asked - yes. You had Been to Back Bay. And to remember the words. For one day, if you chose - you too might be a voice. You too might speak on the wind, as someone else found something only they would know, but in that finding would share with all Istaria.

Blog posts are supposed to be - well, to be short. This is a long posting. But I don't regret one single word. Because, whatever my friend's parent's might think, whatever others might think, this is about as Real as it gets. Real friends, Real life. To me at least.

And I'll leave it there, if you're still with me. Or rather, if you're still with Roxi. Because now, even if you never log in to Istaria, you're one of us. You've Been to Back Bay. And I don;t know what you found there - but I'd be interested to know.

Was it worth the visit?


Kelly Hashway's picture

My husband doesn't understand why I call people I've never met friends, but seriously, some of them understand me more than the friends I do see in person. Friendship can come in many forms. I see nothing wrong with where you find it. It's not about where. It's about connection.

Graeme's picture

Greetings .

To say I agree would likely state the obvious. But since that's one of my few talents - I agree .

As writers we create places that don't exist all the time, and one of my few regrets is not being able to accompany readers on the journeys they make to the places we made. Because, like those who Go to Back Bay - what they find is likely different each for every reader, and I'll never know what it is.

But I can be glad to be part of their finding it .

Barbara Ehrentreu's picture

I agree with Kelly that people who don't have the experience can't know what it is like to have online friends. Sometimes they are the only people who do understand you. I know without my writing friends some days and nights I would have gone insane. When my husband was in the hospital I had a friend to whom I would rant. She had gone through a similar experience with her husband and we found a bond. We eventually met, but that wasn't really necessary. We knew we were friends and the meeting only enhanced that. Thank you for bringing us this poignant story. 

Graeme's picture

... the thanks are mine. Mine, and Roxi's, and all those who wanted her story to continue - and all those with other stories of similar kind.

That which is real is that which is real to us - and what others think it shouldn't matter, but too often does.

Or such is this Idiot's view blush.

Debbie's picture

 Online friends can mean different things to different people. Sometimes they can know you better than your so-called "real life" friends do.  This can be because you are much more relaxed and open with your true self with people who you, for the most part,  have no hope of seeing in real life due to distance etc..  It can be easier to let go and be who you really are when you are not face to face with the person/s you are talking to. Conversely it is also easier to be who you want to be and not who you are.

 Stories like these show  a level of compassion that can be hard to come across in real life, especially for someone who you may never really meet. In many a virtual world the constraints of distance and social divide seem to melt away and leave us free to meet and befriend people from all over the world and share each others lives both virtual and real.

 It was my mother who called me "sad" because I spend so much time in a virtual world with my "virtual" friends rather than with people in real life who do not interest me.  I think its sad that she and many others will never understand the concept of having friends around the globe. She doesn't think they count. Yes, physical touch can be important, a hug from a friend is always nice, but it isn't the be all and end all of a  friendship. 

 So I  will go on being "sad" because thats who I am and I am happy to have friends in both the real and virtual worlds that I care about and that care about me.

Although I do wonder - why these  people think Facebook is better escapes me.

Graeme's picture

Well, I wasn't going to mention your name - but thanks smiley. What you said does, I think, have more impact when it comes from the source smiley.

And I agree with every word you said, especially the Facebook comment. Don't get me wrong - Facebook has its uses. But in FB you're more talking at people, or just talking and never knowing if anyone is even listening. When you spend hours working with someone to build a new house in a place like InWorldz, or back to back with them fighting off a horde or nasty, um, nasty things in worlds like Istaria, it's a different connection. And it's a Real connection, whatever those who doubt it may say laugh.

Rochelle Weber's picture

People look at me strangely when they mention some off-the-wall place like New Zealand or Corfu and I say, "I have a friend there," and in the next breath complain that I don't have enough gas to drive to the next suburb.  How can I have friends around the world when I can't drive from Fox Lake to Round Lake, Illinois?

They're virtual friends--authors mostly, to whom I speak on chat groups, blogs, and yes, even those pesky social networks.  And I am much closer to them than I am to the acquaintences with whom I play trivia or sing karaoke.  They're more interested in who I am or how I really feel or what's happening in my life.  We support each other--celebrate each other's victories and absorb each other's tears.

This past week, I read a wonderful book that I normally would knock a rose or two off of because I found typos and formatting problems.  But it is probably the last book this author will write because she is losing her battle with cancer and was too sick to proof the galleys, so I left out my usual comments on the technical problems and only reviewed the content.  I do tend to review from an editor's point of view rather than a reader's POV.  I guess I went to Back Bay and that's what I found.

Thanks, Graeme.

Graeme's picture

And that's really it. When I tell someone I have 'friends', they want to know when we last met, what bar, what restaurant, what we did. When I tell them I have 'virtual friends', they often react as though 'virtual' is some form of lessering. It isn't, not to me at least.

Of course, when I tell them we didn't go to a restaurant, or a bar, but we went and beat up Reklar, or we made an Irish pub (recognising I never laid a single prim or texture, but just stood round coming up with dumb suggestions while someone much more skilled and smarter built it cheeky), then they call for the men in the white coats.

But I - er, somebody - bloody well did build a damn fine pub. And I've given Readings in it - and will give more. To other people who are just as real as any in some bar cheeky.

gail branan's picture

You know, I don't cry much.  Not over "real" things.  I don't cry when I'm hurt, I don't cry when I'm sad.  Certain levels of rage make me cry for real, I admit, but in general I have a reputation as a "tough" lady.  And the words as used are a compliment by those that use them and I take them as such.  Few people know that actually, I cry very easily.  But not over "real" things.  Certain runs of music in minor, poignant keys, can make me weep.  And the sheer beauty of beautiful words telling beautiful stories with heartfelt emotion make me -- well, let's use the "serious" word for intense crying down here in the Southland -- squall.  I can't tell you how many tears I've shed over Little Women, when Beth dies, over Little Men when Meg's husband John dies.  Over Ole' Yeller.  Over To Kill a Mockingbird.  Over Exodus. Over The Yearling.  I can tell you I don't cry much for heartwarming movie classics for the simple reason that I refuse to watch them.  Because I'll cry.  Now.  Did this visit to Back Bay, did this introduction to Roxi make me cry?  No.  I squalled.  For Back Bay.  For Roxi.  For the statute that stands in memory and guardianship.  For the emotion of Graeme Smith as he told this story. 

Graeme's picture

Welcome. To Back Bay, and to Roxi. I know she'd want you to set a while. To talk, to be silent. To ponder, to whisper - and to cry.

I have no issue confessing. I went to Back Bay again last night, to take these pictures. And it's been a while since I was there, but Roxi doesn't mind. She doesn't judge. And she pretends not to notice when my own tears fall. Not, to be honest, for Roxi. For me. For me, to wish I'd had more time to know her - and for me to wonder if I'll be remembered as she was, and remembered for what she was remembered.

For being her. For being her own self so truly, so sincerely - and so well.

And if there's any credit there to be had - it isn't mine. It's Roxi's. It's credit to those who loved her so dear, and made happen what they did. This is no story of mine, and the words no credit to me. Because that's how they lived it, these not-real people (to some eyes). These not-real people being not-real friends with another not-real person. Shedding real tears, and losing something truly dear to them, however virtual - and keeping the story alive. That was it. That was just - how it happened.

Billi Wagner's picture

The was the saddest, but sweetest story. It brought tears to my eyes. I think real is a matter of perspective.I have online friends that mean more to me than people I see every day. These are real people who connect from a distance. If you're talking to a friend on the phone, they aren't with you, but they're still real. This is just another medium of communication. Whatever keeps you connected to others and makes you happy. Thank you for sharing Roxi's story.

Graeme's picture

... for me, at least, the thanks I would offer would be to Roxi. I cannot imagine what she went through. I only know she went through it. Not trying, as it might be, to beat it. For it couldn't be beaten. But rather, trying to be what she chose to be, her own chosen self, until what was waiting came.

If I could make one wish, it would not perhaps be to be remembered like Roxi. But to go where Roxi travelled as she travelled - as who I am, with those I choose near me, even if they are far and further away, even if they have no knowledge of my journey until after I've taken it, or never at all.

Because just as Roxi is with us still, just as those who travel to Back Bay in the land of Istaria keep her story living - we are with her.

And that would be my wish.

But, to me, this story is simply a thing I hold dear, and offered for another - that what is Real is what, and more importantly (to me at least) who we choose it to be. The people others say we have never met, we meet each day. And we meet them in a manner, if we choose, not shaded by some perceived colour of skin, of eyes that sparkle or do not, of this one tall or that one short, of inches here, or lacking there. We do not, if that is our path, need to let those we hold virtually near know if we must lie in some sick bed, if we choose to sleep with this gender or that, if we went to this school or that. For those are the things I hold less real. In the lands others think less than real, we offer - only ourselves, or the selves we choose to be. And we are accepted, or otherwise, as that we offer.

And, for me, that's as Real as it gets.

Lordy. Am I too sombre for a writer of comic fantasy? Or too much me, and not that writer, that part of me for this moment? But this I'll say, and hold it close:

Welcome, Billi. Welcome to Back Bay.

Cheryl D's picture

Connections, where we live or on the computer, are always real.

Lovely tribute, Graeme.

Graeme's picture

And that is, much more succinctly stated than my drivel and blether, what I was trying to say. A colleague of mine, slightly tongue in cheek (but only slightly) told me recently his jacket was his best friend. It kept him warm, comfortable and safe. Even if it never bought him a drink in a bar. OK. He never said the 'drink in a bar' thing. But I'm sure he would have if he'd thought of it... cheeky.

The things that are real to us become real simply by our making them so. And, provided we aren't hurting anyone else in the process - nobody else gets a vote smiley.

Cheryl D's picture

Sorry. I got tagged for this "award" and am passing it on to you. My blog has instructions on how to pass it on. Sigh.


Graeme's picture

Well, my thanks indeed! And I shall seek me some other, mayhap more deserving than my poor words, to pass it on to!

Well, you've known me far too long to think I'd think I deserve it - but truly, thanks, Lady C! smiley.

Cheryl D's picture

Even if it does take up some time. And believe me, all these promotion thingies are getting me down.

Graeme's picture

It's like we tell people in the Other Place. Writing a book is hard. But if you want to get it 'out there' - it's peobably the easiest thing we have to do.

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