It’s difficult to explain losing a friend you knew exclusively online. Some might argue that it is impossible to call someone a friend if you never met them face to face. That is something I would have to flat-out shoot down right here and now. It is very possible to build a meaningful friendship with someone who you interact with solely online, be it in exchanging e-mails, liking status’ on Facebook or playing games with them. With all that in mind, I would like to tell you the story of one of my online friends, Mac, who recently left this world.
I made first contact with Mac in late 2008. I initially met him through Co-Optimus, a website dedicated to cooperative video games. I had just purchased a PlayStation 3, and with this new world of online console gaming I was looking for some new friends to play with. Mac and I, along with several others on the site, were in the same boat, and many us would get together at night to play co-op sessions of Resistance 2 until the wee hours of the morning. It was through this game that I started to form some of my first online friendships, and Mac was there from the start.
Eight people were able to play a match of Resistance 2 at a time, so initially it was difficult to differentiate who everyone was. However, the next major game I played online was Uncharted 2, which had three player co-op, and here I was able to start getting to know Mac a little more. Then Dead Nation came out, and being a two-player title I was jonesing for a solid co-op partner to blow through the campaign with. Mac was ready and willing, and tackling and completing this game (earning the Platinum trophy together in the process) really solidified our bond as co-op partners.
Eventually it became more than that. At the time I was still in school or unemployed, so I had a lot of free time on my hands. I was more than happy to spend it playing co-op a couple of times a week and late at night, and we began to game on a regular basis. The more we played together the more our relationship developed past just gaming partners and became a true friendship.
We went from private messaging through PSN and the Co-Optimus forums to exchanging e-mails, making communication quicker and easier. If I e-mailed him to get his opinion about a particular game he was playing, I would get a full thousand-word review rather than a few sentences about it. We began to share a bit about our personal lives outside of gaming. He was aware of my never-ending job hunt and was in the loop when we were shopping for our first house. I would listen to him talk about his trials and tribulations running a tennis group and his relationship with his girlfriend. We connected on Facebook and went from usernames to a first-name basis.
He even went so far as to send me a Christmas gift in 2012. I was always complaining about having to switch wires between my PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 when using my Turtle Beach headset. He ended up sending me an adapter that allowed me to connect both without having to unplug and replug the wires. It wasn’t anything elaborate, and he insisted he got it on the cheap used at Gamestop, but it was such a thoughtful gift and I really appreciated the effort.
Once I started working we made it a regular habit to play two afternoons a week, though we would occasionally sneak in a third one if our schedules allowed. We would rent the same games off Gamefly and purchase the same titles off PSN so that we could play through them together. He was so happy when I finally got a PlayStation Vita so that we could expand our co-op library. Thanks to him a got to play a wide variety of games that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
I was feeling a bit nostalgic, so I went through my trophy list to create a list of most of the games we played and together.Some we beat, some we just played through the side co-op modes, and others we just bailed on because they were no good:
- Dead Island
- Dead Nation (PS3)
- Dead Nation (PS4)
- Diablo III
- Dragon’s Crown
- Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
- Dungeon Defenders
- Dungeon Hunter: Alliance
- Dungeon Siege III
- Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends
- Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable
- Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
- Final Fight: Double Impact
- Gatling Gears
- Gears of War 3
- Golden Axe
- Halo: Reach
- Hunted: The Demon’s Forge
- ibb & obb
- Left 4 Dead
- Left 4 Dead 2
- Mercenary Kings
- PAYDAY: The Heist
- Red Dead Redemption
- Renegade Ops
- Resistance 2
- Shoot Many Robots
- Soul Sacrifice
- Streets of Rage 2
- Super Stardust HD
- The Expendables 2 Videogame
- The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
- Tiny Brains
- Toukiden: The Age of Demons
- Trine 2 (PS3)
- Trine 2 (PS4)
- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
- Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
- Zeno Clash II
The last time I played with Mac was Thursday, June 26. It was a normal gaming session for us. We both laughed the whole time and discussed the Wolfenstein: The New Order (we were both playing the single player campaign) and also talked about Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark as well as the new movie, Age of Extinction, which was opening the following day. We had even accomplished one of our proudest moments by completing Dead Nation on “morbid” difficulty…something that is extremely challenging. It was a great gaming afternoon filled with good times and success. The following Sunday, the 29th, I shot him an e-mail to coordinate our gaming schedules for the upcoming week. I told him that Monday through Wednesday were open, and I would be leaving on Thursday, July 3 to celebrate the holiday weekend.
I never heard back from him.
I thought it was strange, as he rarely failed to reply to my e-mails, especially when we were figuring out our gaming schedule. By Tuesday afternoon I was really starting to wonder what was going on. I checked Gmail to ensure the message actually went through, and it did. I considered writing him another e-mail to see what was going on, but then figured he was just on vacation with his girlfriend. He had spent previous holidays at her parent’s, so I wrote it off to him being away, and that was it.
Then on Friday morning I turned on my Vita and noticed something odd. There was a message waiting for me from Mac. I thought this very weird as we hadn’t sent a PSN message in years, ever since we exchanged e-mails. I opened up the message and was utterly shocked. The message wasn’t from him, but from a friend that lived near him. She was taking the time to inform a few of his friends that he had committed suicide that Wednesday, July 2.
I was at a loss. I had no idea that this caring, laughing, generous guy was so troubled. He had seemed his normal self when we played less than a week before this happened. Suddenly I was down a friend, and I lost him in the most awful way imaginable. Sure, he may have been a guy I never met who I played video games with, but I always felt like we had a true friendship. If it hadn’t been for the distance I know we would have met up in person multiple times prior to his untimely passing.
I was able to talk to a few people about it who helped me cope with this loss. My wife understood my grief since I always talked about playing with Mac. She reminded me that I probably gave him some good times to help him forget the bad, which I hope is true. I spoke a bit with a couple of the other guys who were messaged about Mac’s passing, and a member of Co-Optimus messaged me and we talked about the whole thing. He had gone through a similar situation with where he lost an online friend to suicide, and his words and thoughts helped me a bit.
I woke up this morning to an e-mail from Mac’s friend who had sent me the initial message. She had a lot to say and filled me in on some details of his life that helped give me a little bit of closure. She insisted that Mac had spoken about me often, and really valued our time playing together. I had unintentionally helped him cope with his struggle over the years, even though he never directly talked to me about it. He had his reasons, though I don’t fully understand them, but I take solace in the fact that he is finally at peace now.
I originally wanted to write this post as a tribute to my good friend Mac. However, as I thought more about what I was going to write, I decided to take the time to tackle two other points as well. I like to think of it as two lessons that Mac ended up teaching me through his life and death.
First, I wanted to use my relationship with Mac as a shining example to others. Though we never met, our relationship went beyond video game partners to good friends. It is possible to build actual, meaningful relationships through online interactions. This serves as a reminder that there is a human being behind every character you play with or against. Mac was a class-act all the way when we played. He was the wizard who always offered a sword to the soldier in the group rather than selling it to line his virtual coin pouch. The only time we argued was over which of us should get the lone health pack or power up…he would always insist I pick it up rather than take it for himself. On the rare occasions we played a multiplayer versus match together, it was always in pure fun. There was never any cursing, grudges or gloating to me or any one else we played with, be it someone from our friends list or a complete stranger. Be like Mac and be the bigger man when you play online. Not only does it make the game more enjoyable for yourself and others, but you may actually end up making some meaningful friendships.
Lastly, I feel like I have to touch on the taboo nature of suicide itself. It’s a terrible thing to do, especially to the others that care about you. If you are contemplating it or are just feeling depressed, do not bottle those emotions up where they can fester in the darkness. Don’t feel like you’ll be a burden if you discuss these feelings with your family or friends. I can vouch for this…I would much rather talk to someone about their issues time and again and be “burdened” by it as opposed to be the one sitting here writing a blog post about the loss of a true friend to suicide.
This goes both ways. If you know or suspect someone is in a dark place, make a point to check in on them, especially when they do something out of the ordinary like ignore you. If I had known Mac was going through this you can bet I would not have hesitated to shoot that e-mail off that Tuesday afternoon. While a simple e-mail saying “hey man, is everything ok?” may not sound like much, it might have been enough to get his mind off his despair long enough to reevaluate his decision. Even if he hadn’t responded to it had I sent it, I know I would have felt better and wouldn’t be asking “could I have done something more?”
I will always remember July 2 as Mac’s deathday. Over the course of the year I hope to come up with some kind of way I can celebrate his life each year on that date. I’ll never forget the gaming buddy I never got to meet, but I’m honored to have had him not only as a co-op partner, but as a true friend as well.
Rest in Peace, Mac. You’re sorely missed
-note: I contemplated using his real name, but due to the nature of his passing, I thought it might be more respectful to go with with his online name