Well, this is quite a topic, but I'm going to start some musings over it. My husband and I have had many discussions over the past 2.5 years of WOW playing about how I should "get out more" and "make some contact in the real world". This got me thinking over my interactions with other people over my (many) years.
My teenage years were full of Citizen's Band (CB) Radio - I loved it - talking to people who I didn't have to see. Maybe arranging to meet them and then not revealing myself if I didn't like the look of them. I moved on to Amateur Radio because my Dad wanted to sit the exam and I was his support and companion for learning. From this I discovered people all round the world I could talk to. I began to use RTTY (Radioteletype) - this was a very early sort of MSN, but over a radio.
I then entered Higher Education and actually interacted with real people for a while, met my husband, bought a house, had a child. About the time I was pregnant with my second child I discovered a website called iVillage - a site for women, run by women (apparently). They had forums for people who were pregnant, had babies of various ages, etc. I became a community moderator for several of the message boards and began my anonymous interactions again. With this discovery I also found MSN. Most of the friends I made during this time are still on my contact list. Kind of interesting when I don't keep in touch with a lot of folks I was at school or Uni with.
During all these years my family and I played computer games - from early ZX Spectrum games like Chuckie Egg, to Age of Empires (which I rock at).
Then along came WOW - my son started playing in August 2005 - I held off from playing because it looked WAY too addictive for me. Christmas came, we had some spare family time - Hubby and I have traditionally had a game to play over the holidays (that we play until the small hours and chill). So - this year he started WOW "as a way of interacting with son". Not wanting to be left out I started playing too. So now we have 3 accounts and I am well and truly addicted. One of my first online friends was Mushymage (am imba Deadmine clearing lvl 45 mage when I first met him - thanks Mush - you showed us what it was like to really play the game), then followed Tuneman, Dondo (and his wife Ada) and so it grew. My friends list got longer and longer and my play time got less as I chatted more.
Then I discovered guilds and it got worse! I was communications officer for my guild during my hardcore days - mainly because people chatted to me, told me their feelings and I used to share the Officer thoughts back.
A lot of players were very sad when I shifted realm to join the people I now play with, but I still go back and visit to keep in touch. Some moved realm too and joined me, which was lovely and some I'm still working on.
I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this post, but think it's got a bit long for now and the kids need some time. I'm going to discuss more about the outcomes of my interactions with people I've only ever met through WOW and why it all IS important to me, almost as much as REAL people are.