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XBox and England

They never called me Ian and they never treated me like a stranger. I, too, addressed them not by their names, but by their Xbox Live Gamer tags. “Hello, Quiet. Hello, Lethal,” I said to the couple when they picked me up outside the Birmingham Train Station on a cloudy April day. “Hey, you alright, Smoochy?” asked Lethal, grinning. We had known each other, electronically, for five months. We talked and video chatted almost every day. We were gamers, united by the 21st century’s most addictive hobby.

The woman at customs at the Manchester Airport had a serious problem with the way I’d met my hosts, as I’m sure many people might.

“You say you started talking to them… while play computer games? So you’ve never actually met them before?”

“That’s right,” I said, smiling.

“You’re visiting them from America and you’ve never seen them before?”

I nodded enthusiastically, still excited about my arrival, while she looked me over skeptically. I had the feeling she wanted to accuse me of some offense, but instead she shrugged and told me to enjoy my holiday.

The very first thing we did upon arriving at Lethal and Quiet’s suburban residence was drink tea and eat toasted crumpets, to instantly give me the true English experience. I hauled my suitcase upstairs and looked out the window at the little garden. Here I was. Who would’ve thought that shooting digital terrorists with digital assault rifles would lead to a 3,000 mile journey with blood pudding for breakfast and fish and chips for supper?

I slept in a ragdoll’s Eden, their daughter’s bedroom, a metropolis of stuffed animals and flowered wallpaper. Ten days in a rather uncomfortable bed, but I had no intention of complaining. How could I when people I’d never met were allowing me into their home, into their lives? Quiet was considerably pregnant, they already had two hyper children, and yet they were thrilled to have me. Lethal even took the week off work as a truck driver to spend time with me. “Cup of tea, Smooch?” I was asked multiple times a day. This was hospitality at its most basic.

Being twenty-years-old means no legal alcohol in the U.S. However, it does mean I’m college age: ripe for keggers and beer pong and promiscuity. I can drive, vote, get married, and die for my country, but I can’t have a sip of champagne on New Year’s or even set foot inside a sports bar to watch a baseball game. In Great Britain, the alcohol flows freely and with little hesitation. And so Lethal took me to a local pub, rugby and football on the telly, where I got to feel very adult and take turns buying rounds. No need to worry though, we walked home.

I showed them my award-winning short films, which were well received. We went to the cinema, to Warrick Castle, to an arcade (billiards and bowling), explored Stratford (Shakespeare’s birthplace), bought chocolates and a Union Jack t-shirt; we played video games; we drank; we laughed. It was a brilliant ten days, a trip that Lethal later said confirmed me as a “true friend.” There aren’t many individual words that come to mind to describe my visit, but there’s no doubt, I had a helluva lot of fun.

More and more people, not just from my generation, are meeting up through video games and the internet. This may still seem strange to others, especially to Baby Boomers and beyond, but it is very real and very common. The idea of meeting virtually can be hard to grasp when you might have trouble adapting to technological and communicative advances on your own. It can, believe it or not, actually be comforting to get to know someone before coming in physical contact with them. There’s a lack of pressure, of uneasiness that being in someone’s presence for the first time can bring. You don’t stand around with your hands in your pockets mumbling about the weather; you talk to them in a safe environment where you can explore common interests, past events, future ambitions, and whatever else comes to mind.

I’m living proof that not only is meeting someone digitally a promising and beneficial act, but it can lead to greater things; such as traveling to another continent to gain a lifelong experience, one that you might never forget. Who knows, maybe you’ll make yourself a “true friend,” and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have some fun while doing it.

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