Last month, Andrew, a 29-year-old in Texas, ran into a close childhood friend he had neither seen nor heard from in a decade. The encounter, however, didn’t take place in Andrew’s hometown grocery store or on his old college campus. It happened on the battlefield — at the Behemoth level of the recently released Halo Infinite for Xbox. “I noticed someone had a similar username as one of my old Halo buddies, but I didn’t want to blurt out his name or anything so I just ignored it,” Andrew says. “Then, as soon as I heard his voice, I knew it was him — it was Allan. We both geeked out; it was hilarious.”
But the encounter might not have been as random as Andrew believes. It seems many people are reuniting with long-lost gamer friends with increased regularity, partly due to the pandemic-induced uptick in online gaming overall and partly due to the arrival of Halo Infinite. In terms of the latter, the year 2006 saw the release of Halo 2, a sequel to the original, wildly popular first-person shooter. Unlike its predecessor, though, Halo 2 allowed players to play online via Xbox Live, marking an unprecedented shift from people gaming with a few friends IRL to battling hundreds of thousands of strangers online.
That’s, in fact, where Andrew and Allan’s friendship first began. “I remember we were playing the Foundation level, and he and I were racing to where the Energy Sword and Rocket Launcher spawn,” Andrew recalls. “After that match, we exchanged [usernames] and just kept ending up online around the same time.”
In the ensuing weeks, the two voice-chatted throughout hours of gameplay, learning more about each other’s family life, their schools and “pretty much whatever else 13-year-olds talked about in 2006,” Andrew laughs. “At one point, I would say we were probably playing a couple hours a night, an average of three nights a week, and that lasted for at least three years.”
The two followed each other to different games, but around 2012, Andrew and Allan had more or less lost touch. “We were both in college, getting on less and less, and without that platform, we sorta lost touch,” Andrew tells me, “I honestly hadn’t even thought of him for probably three years before he was just standing there in front of me last month.”
Andrew and Allan reconnected, exchanged Discord usernames and now get together to play the new Halo whenever they can, barring their respective adult responsibilities. “He’s got a family now — one of his kids has even logged on to play with us,” Andrew says. “It’s so cool, I really missed him.”
Even when accounting for the cruel march of time, it’s easy for gamers like Andrew and Allan to lose touch, given the constantly evolving nature of games, usernames and platforms. You might have someone you play Halo 2 on Xbox with every night for a year, only for that person to get the new PlayStation and never log onto Xbox Live again.
Such was the case for Max Young, a 24-year-old in Sweden who streams on Twitch as deathboxgg. In 2008, Young met Alfons, his “first ever online friend and pretty sure my first ever Swedish friend,” while playing Halo 3. “Having someone that actually spoke the same language was really cool to me as a kid,” Young tells me. “We used to play pretty much every day and get more friends and create our own little ‘clan’ called Tea Bag Company, so we’d teabag everyone we killed in the game.”
Teabagging, for the uninitiated, can be best described by the gif below:
Young and the rest of the Tea Bag Company played together for years throughout Halo 3’s lifespan, “but as the newer games changed, so did our directions toward other games, and we all kinda drifted apart,” Young explains. “Some of us still had some sort of contact with each other, whether it was through Twitter or Facebook, but nothing more than just a short message every once in a while.”
To get a sense of what a ruthless churn of lost friendships online gaming can be, look no further than the subreddit r/LongLostGamers. Described as a “place to reconnect with long lost friends/enemies and groups from the past,” the subreddit has over 19,000 subscribers, most of whom joined in the last two years. “I met a nice guy, he was probably in his mid-20s named Brent. His ps4 was Veritas_25. We played R6 everyday back in 2017 [sic throughout],” writes one user, named Jakob. “He was like a role model in a way to me cause i was much younger and he kinda helped me paved who i became today. … He was my only friend at that time and he gave me a chance. I’m praying he’s not dead but i know he’s still out there somewhere. … I just want to reconnect with him. I miss ya Brent you were a good person.”
Others, meanwhile, have reunited not necessarily via Halo Inifinite but via recently released online multiplayer games like it. “Valorant is a [PC] game that intrigues a lot of like-minded people who enjoy games like Halo where teamwork matters a lot,” Young tells me. “So when Valorant came out, I decided to give it a try with some friends.” At the conclusion of an otherwise standard match, Young received a friend request and message from someone who’d been on his team with a username that looked kinda familiar:
It was, of course, Alfons. “I hadn’t talked to him in almost 10 years,” Young tells me. “I was so shocked and just ecstatic to run into him again.”
Today, much like Andrew and Allan, Young and Alfons connect to play Valorant when they can, and get together on Discord to “just talk every now and then.” “The best thing about online friendships is that you build a connection, and they’re always available — no matter where the friend is in the world,” Young says. “In a way, they truly never end.”