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Sunday, January 24, 2021

I’m going to come out and admit something I usually only share with close friends: I role-play online. Now before you start thinking I spend time on Neopets forums, let me briefly explain the type of role-playing I do. I role-play through Tumblr. Each character I play has a different blog, and I’m part of a larger group in which each person has a handful of characters with their own blogs. When it comes to actually role-playing, it goes like this: I write a scene through my character’s perspective, then whoever I am role-playing with writes the same scene through their character’s point of view and advances it. This keeps on going until the thread finishes.

I’ve been doing this for five years now and have been a member of many different groups.

It’s a fun hobby. I get to practice my writing, work on my characterization and interact with other like-minded people dedicated to storytelling and character development.

I’ve met some good friends this way. We have a group chat on Skype that is constantly in use. We talk about all kinds of things — our characters, favorite movies, struggle to find jobs, anxieties, fears, relationships, etc. We come from different stages in life, backgrounds and places in the world, but we are all bonded by a common love of writing.

I met two of my role-play friends in person a month ago. One of them I have known for five years, the other for only a year. I was a bit nervous; warnings from grade-school internet-safety guides flashed in my mind — what if they were actually middle-aged serial killers? But also, what if they weren’t like how I imagined them? What if I wasn’t like how they imagined me? What if we just didn’t get along?

The minute I got out of the car and they ran out to greet me, we all hugged and laughed, and I instantly felt my anxieties slip away. Because I knew them. We had written together, we had talked about our lives and we shared our troubles and our joys. I had talked to both of them almost every day for the past year. Sure, their voices were different from what I imagined, but we were able to slip into conversation easily, make jokes, and when it got dark, we went to the beach and saw the most brilliant starry night I have ever seen.

A lot of people — mostly older generations, but even my own — like to claim that social media and technology ruin close, personal relationships, and if it is an interaction through a screen, it isn’t the same thing as a “real” friendship. Maybe that’s the way it is for some people, but when I make good friends without meeting them in real life, get to instantly message my best friend who I have not seen for a year because she goes to school in Massachusetts and get to reconnect with a childhood friend I hadn’t talked to closely since the age of seven there is no way I believe that social media distills relationships. Would I rather be able to see these people and hang out in person? Well yeah, of course. But the reality is that I can’t often do that.

Technology and social media have allowed me to make friends I would have never met otherwise. They’ve allowed me to maintain friendships that would have been difficult to do just by letter or phone call and allowed me to reconnect with friends I once thought were lost. Of course we will always prefer interacting in person, but saying fulfilling, close relationships cannot be made or maintained through a screen is a thought of the past. The world is changing, and the way we make and keep friends is evolving.

Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science senior. Her column appears on Thursdays.

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