Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Loss Of A Digital Friend

Death isn't discussed very much among friends. Especially not at my age.

If friends are "only" online friends then the discussion of death may well be even less likely to crop up.

Yet it is something that happens, even here on the internet. Real-life is brutally unrepentant about messing about in places it isn't wanted.

I've "known" lots of people online who have, very sadly, passed away. Sometimes you know they are ill and this is a likely outcome. Sometimes their account is taken over by a relative to share the sad news. Sometimes they just disappear completely and, though you don't know for sure, it seems pretty likely something bad has happened.

This week I found out my friend on Second Life passed away earlier this month. I'd be a bad online friend lately and the last time I spoke to him was January (and not for very long at all).

I met Canis a few months after I rejoined the Second Life community in 2017. When I say met... his youthful avatar ran at me across a club floor and offered me a hug that turned out to be a pounce knocking my avatar to the floor.

From then on, every single day, we were together. His typed English was, and remained, atrocious. It became quite clear his enthusiastic personality and his poor English made him very unpopular among the more refined members of the Second Life community. He joined a medieval RP group, however, who took him in and he quickly had me sign up too.

When that community collapsed dramatically, the remaining members formed a new one and we became founding members (if slightly hangers-on ones) to the new community.

So we spent a LOT of time together. I'd translate for him, help him with understanding more complex HUDs, teach him about mesh stuff. At first I felt like maybe he'd be a lot of hard work however it quickly became apparent he was a quick learner and before long he'd be teaching me things about what I'd taught him! He, in turn, would discover new and exciting Sims to visit. Sometimes they were lovely beautiful gardens. Sometimes they were incredibly disturbing "sex" dungeons (no sex actually occurred as the people there seemed keener on chopping people up...). Regardless... life with Canis was an adventure!

He moved into my rented skybox. When I bought land, I created a skybox just for him. When I missed the rent on a house (next door to his!) on the RP sim, he covered it. We swapped gifts constantly. Other friends of mine (ones who considered themselves "too cool" to be seen with Canis) would pressure me to stop spending so much time with him. Yet he was always the one who'd be there when I needed him. I wasn't going to throw him aside even if it meant losing other friends in the process.

Despite his avatar's youthful appearance and attitude, Canis was in his 70s in real life. It was incredibly difficult for me to remember this and it didn't really enter my thought process when dealing with him. We kept real life talk to a minimum. He was Canis, my silly friend.

And now he is gone. His stuff litters my land. His skybox full of his things still flies high in the sky above. I log on and expect to see him pop up somewhere (we shared locations with each other so we could drop in no matter where we were or what we were doing). I see an avatar running, without an animation override (he never did like AOs), and I think "Is that...?"

It isn't.

3 years, nearly daily until the end of 2019, we spent talking and exploring. And then it is over. No funeral (for me to attend anyway, his real life one was on the 18th). No real support either as... well... he was "just" an online friend. And yet there's now an empty space where Canis once was.

I'm turning a temple on my land into a place to remember him in and his skybox will remain so I can pop into the messy, eclectic space where medical equipment lies next to an altar and some stained glass and remember just how nuts he was.

 A couple of days ago I was actually really quite upset about it all. Yet there's this nagging feeling of "It is just the internet Jae, grow up!". Of course... friends are friends. Whether you've met them or just spent hours running around dressed as wolves with them (Second Life, I love you), they are still real people. And you get attached to them just like you do in real life.

So here's to Canis and online friendships. Enjoy it while it lasts and remember... the internet IS real life.