Over my years online, both working and gaming in LOTRO, I've made what I consider "real" friendships with people I've either never met, or only met once or twice. Maybe it is just me, but far from being just a place of trolls, LOTRO is full of lively minded, like-minded engaging people, people that share my interest and passion for Tolkien's world and for gaming – for the first time in my life I am lucky enough to choose friends not by location or luck, but choosing perfect friends by rounding up hobbits, dwarves, men and even elves with amazingly similar interests, matching ideas, senses of humor, passionate feelings about the most lovely gaming community I ever came across. The friends I have now might be spread wide, geographically, they are all over the world, but I'm closer to them than anyone I went to school with, by about a million miles.
That said, I am hoping to meet many of them in person at some point--to hear their voices and inflections, see their mannerisms, have a conversation that is not limited to a in-game chat. But then again the in-person contact doesn't feel absolutely necessary for maintaining these friendships. It will simply enhance and deepen friendships that already exist. Yes, of course I am a little shy, some may say I am socially awkward, but to be honest there are plenty of us about, real life experiences have made me who I am. I follow a simple rule when it comes to my friends online and in game - I respect them as I hope they respect me, I give them my trust and my time without expecting much in return, I show them affection and kindness, and I would never hurt them. Maybe I am just a dreamer to think everyone online is doing the same - I know there are people that are using their online relative anonymity to make fun of others, hurt, even bully sometime, without any care or understanding of the other person's feelings.
Friendships and even relationships that started online and in games are not something new - these friends are 'real' friends, people have found love and happiness in real life after meeting their soul-mate in game...sometime it works, sometime it does not but relationships are relationships .People are people .Making hobbit friends (or dwarves, or elves, or men) , we are bypassing our shyness and getting rid of the social awkwardness that comes with trying to make a friend out of a stranger at a party or in a coffee shop , or at work. More and more ,'virtual' friends are replacing 'real' ones, yet somehow, as 'real' becomes 'virtual' , so does 'virtual' become 'real'. Call me silly , call me socially challenged, I don't really mind . 'Virtual' people, hobbits and all make the best 'real' friends.