The Day I Met Mr. Penguin

13483068_10154310221373928_4834849933596836400_oOn March 11, 2008, I sent an email that would make a huge difference in my life. An “editors wanted” post had gone up on a video game forum I frequented. A guy named BAPenguin was looking for help as he started a site dedicated to cooperative video games. As the father of two boys aged 13 and almost 7 at the time, most of my video gaming was done teaming up with my kids. I considered the request for a moment, then figured why not? I emailed Mr. Penguin (literally, that was the greeting I used) and expressed my interest, attaching an essay I’d written for a Transformers contest as a writing sample. I wasn’t sure whether I would hear back from him or not, but figured it was worth a shot.

Later that day, I did indeed hear back from Mr. Penguin, whose real name was Nick Puleo. Nick asked me to write a news article as a final test which I apparently passed. I have been writing for Co-Optimus ever since. It has been a great creative outlet for me, and I am quite proud of my work there. Besides news and reviews, I’ve done a few regular columns: Co-Op Classics, Co-Op Casual Fridays (featuring more kid/family oriented fare), and Tabletop Co-Op, based on board and card games. Nick graciously allows Tabletop Co-Op even though Co-Optimus is primarily a video game site.

As you might expect, Nick and I have come to know each other well through these eight years. Countless Google Chats about administering the site inevitably led to more personal discussions. We teamed up to play co-op games online, followed one another on Twitter, and shot the breeze and/or cracked jokes during Co-Optimus staff Google Hangouts. I am notoriously bad at meeting deadlines, and though Nick has to be frustrated when I need another day/week/month, he never treats me badly. Even when I broke the website entirely, more than once, he was totally cool about it.

0000_co-op_classicsEight years is a long time, and both Nick and I have gone through many changes in our personal lives over this time. Nick and his wife had a baby what seems like yesterday, and now she’s going to be a second grader. My thirteen year old is now a married college student, and my seven year old starts high school in the fall. Nick got a promotion at work, and I took a position in another school district. All these changes make it feel like I have known Nick for a very long time.

This past week, Nick and I finally got to meet face to face. A business trip brought him to St. Louis, just four hours away from us. The timing was perfect, right in the middle of my summer break. Deana and I picked Nick up from the airport, and in the sweltering heat, I finally got to shake the hand of a man I consider to be a great friend for the first time. It was a wonderful moment. We toured the Botanical Gardens, ate lunch at an interesting placed called The Shaved Duck, and went way, way up in the Arch. The day was hot, sweaty, and tiring, but it seemed very comfortable and relaxing at the same time.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the internet is an amazing thing. I’ve met many people online, whether by playing MMOs or through Co-Optimus or by listening to podcasts and reading blogs. I consider them to be my friends, some of them even my best friends. And yet, for all but a very few, I’ve never even been in the same city as them. The physical distance between us has not weakened our relationships at all. And it’s all because of the internet.

So thanks, Al Gore, for inventing this wonderful thing that allows people to become close to one another, even when they’ve never met “in real life”. And thank you, Nick, for the opportunity to get to know you, and to finally have that bro hug, eight years later.

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