Last night I went to a birthday celebration of someone who used to belong to my game group, but who had moved to another town. Several other gamers who have played in my group, or in his new one, were also at the party. This was not a coincidence.
I started my game group over ten years ago, and I'm now friends with a good percentage of those who have passed through its doors. To look at a typical game night, you might think this a bit odd. At group sessions, we don't often talk about personal lives outside the group. Most of our conversations revolve around what we're playing, what we want to play next, and whether anyone wants to get in on an order of takeout.
Yet, in the last several years, I have eaten at the houses of people whom I met at the group, and they have eaten at mine. I've gone to their childrens' weddings - or their weddings - and other celebrations. And it's not only me; fellow members have done the same for each other. I know that former attendees of my group have started a half-dozen groups in other towns; in all of these, the same dynamic occurs.
I don't claim that there is necessarily anything special about gaming in this regard. I'm sure the same happens to people who attend knitting circles, book clubs, and, of course, religious community centers.
I don't personally connect with my Facebook friends who are neighbors more often than I do with those who live across the world from me. When I meet fellow bloggers or online gamers at a conference, some of whom I've had email correspondence with for years, I say hi, but I don't sit down and talk with them more frequently than I do with strangers at the conference. There's something about face-to-face interaction that breaks down layers of distance. I know the people with whom I sit at my table; people on the screen are one-dimensional.
They're my community.