Things can get awkward in real life: too much eye contact, not enough eye contact, stumbling over words and long silent pauses mean email is just so much easier. When bonding over topics like videogames, it’s natural to share this love digitally over forums and Twitter. But with PAX East coming up, I’ve started thinking about the value of physical, in-your-face human contact.
My twitter feed has unofficially become a near-constant feed of game-isms: 40 percent game news and links, the rest a chronicle of the inner oddities and intimate ticks of game journalists. There’s a lot of self-deprecating humour, the inevitable self-promotion and the occasional passionate out-burst or tirade on the state of the industry. But for the most part you’ll see traces of community: a bunch of people from across the continent who connect over the love of videogames. But the tone changed earlier this year over the week of the Game Developers Conference.
There was still the odd joke over an interview miss-step or the atrocious lack of sleep, but mostly, there was a lot of gushing and a lot of love. These journalists, often famous for cynicism, suddenly became emotional, affectionate buds over the course of GDC week, resembling the kind of puppy love you find during the early portion of a new relationship.
After it was all over, game journalist Gus Mastrapa wrote an article about the joys of reconnecting with this community, and the lonely contrast of returning home to digital communication. He talks about his tribe, of which he says, “I’m just sort of thrilled to be around a bunch of people that understand me at my core.”
They were all following each other on twitter long before GDC, critiquing and praising each other’s work; a strong but incomplete friendship. But when they came together in the real world their connection was complete. In 2nd John 1:12 the apostle John writes to a church, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
The science on digital communication is still somewhat unresolved, but with half the internet-raised generation sending more than 50 text messages a day, and some doubling even that, it’s no surprise many can’t find time for face time with friends (no, not that Facetime). It’s probably a good idea to stop and think about the quality of our communication, and whether our relationships are diminished by not, you know, being in the same room.
In an article for the New York Times, Hilary Stout explains that today’s youth are missing out on experiences that help us understand social cues like facial expressions and body language, crucial in developing a sense of empathy. These “digital natives,” and I would include myself and other adults like me in this description, are in constant electronic connection. My Twitter feed says you are eating a sandwich and watching Doctor Who as of 39 seconds ago. Any thought that comes to your head while you watch, you can share with me, from generic comments on the show to intimate memories a scene brings to mind. It’s almost like we’re in the same room.
So then why did Gus Mastrapa write about loneliness after settling into these intimate social networks after GDC?
Mastrapa writes, “If there’s one crowd of people that I feel any kind of kinship with, it is the shaggy, far-flung group of geeks, enthusiasts and underappreciated brains that write about games.”
Being in the presence of someone’s body, soul and mind, despite the occasional awkwardness, is how people were meant to communicate. We are, in a sense, incomplete until we’re together.
“Facetime makes me feel energized,” Mastrapa writes. “And after months of solitary living in the desert I get greedy when I stumble onto an oasis crowded with friendly people.”
Complete joy revolves around unity, and that unity happens, not through paper and ink, or email and twitter, but face to face. Mastrapa may not be on the same page as the apostles, but he longs to return to GDC and be with his friends again in person, just as the apostles longed to return to their congregations, even while their letters became the very words of the New Testament. Uniting over the love of games, this like-minded passion we share over Facebook and forums is incomplete until we meet face-to-face on the convention floor.
Could that be part of the reason God felt it necessary to take on a human body and descend to the dust and air of the ancient Mediterranean? There had been a lot of texting on stone tablets and Facetime with Moses, a few audible calls to the prophets, but it simply wasn’t enough. Nope, Jesus bought a ticket and headed out to the convention centre to make the long-distance relationship more real. Those were some lucky, smelly fishermen. And maybe that’s why face-to-face hang outs are so crucial to human communication. Maybe despite the awkwardness, the speaking stumbles, and long pauses, we crave to be connected with other human beings, fish smell and all.