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A Free Ride to Friendship in the Elite Dangerous Community – by Barry Floyd

Here’s a bold statement to begin with. I firmly believe a video game and its community saved my life. How’s that, I hear you ask? What’s the punchline? Well, dear reader, the statement is the statement. Take it as read. I firmly believe a video game and its community saved my life.

On Boxing Day 2012 my 44-year-old wife, who I’d been with for 24 years, died having fallen ill just 72 hours before. The doctors at the hospital switched off the machinery at tea-time and, whilst most of the country settled down to cold turkey sandwiches and a Bond film, pretty much everything I’d known for most of my adult life crumbled and collapsed around me.

I won’t go into detail but, despite putting on a pretty darned good show of behaving ‘normally’, I lived the next few years like a wraith. Ghosting around in the remains of my old life and trying to mend something that couldn’t be mended. To block out my anxiety and self-loathing I’d drink and watch rubbish on TV. Anything to save me engaging with the outside world, away from work. I’d get home from work, go to my room away from my two grown up kids and cry for half an hour or so before coming downstairs, pouring a glass of wine and plonking myself in front of the TV. I’d thrown away the anti-depressants the doctor had prescribed. I think it was because I felt I didn’t deserve to be happy, but I can’t be sure. My head was all over the place at the time.

It was in the run up to Christmas 2014 that I jumped on Kate Russell’s ‘Slough Bells Ringing’ Christmas fundraising stream for the brilliant SpecialEffect. I saw her playing Elite Dangerous, chatted to her viewers and the combination caused a spark of my old self to reignite. It was enough to make me want to investigate more.

Six years later, having established myself firmly in the game and the Hutton Orbital Truckers community group, I look back and think of the friendships I have made in the community and the incredible support they’ve given me and SpecialEffect. I thank the stars for them, and for Frontier – for unknowingly reaching out for my hand and pulling me out of the abyss. So, as I said, I firmly believe a video game and its community saved my life.

I’m in a good place now. In 2017 I got together with my wonderful partner Ali (who also works for SpecialEffect and is very tolerant of my Elite obsession). I love my job, have great friends and look forward rather than back.

So, when the lockdown kicked in back in March, I thought long and hard about the possible effects of isolation on some of my Commander friends and saw an opportunity to try and pay them back for the care and kindness the community have shown me over the years. The engines of Baz’s Banter Bus rumbled into action.

The idea of the Banter Bus was to set something up in Elite Dangerous that would act as a gathering point to members of my Hutton Trucker community if they’d had a lousy, lonely, lockdown day or just wanted to join in a bit of fun in-game. Each evening at 9pm (UK time), there would be a sanctuary for them to visit and a group of like-minded gamers waiting to chat or just listen whilst we played.

The community’s technical guys set me up with a Banter Bus Teamspeak channel and publicised the Banter Bus each day on the group’s Facebook channel. At 9pm on 26th April, I sat down at my controls and heard ‘user has entered your channel’. The Commanders were answering the call.

Over the coming weeks, we established a core group on the Banter Bus who would be with me night after night. And most nights, other Commanders would jump on too. From the UK, USA and Australia, they came. The Banter Bus had become a thing. The exact thing I wanted it to be. A safe, constant place to go, chat and have a bit of fun exploring sites and places in the ether we’d never been to before.

And Frontier did their bit too. The wonderful Stephen Benedetti, one of the Elite Community Managers, joined us on the bus to chat and answer questions on the latest update to the game. Another example of how supportive Frontier are of community initiatives.

The Banter Bus was scheduled to stop after 26 days. On the last night, the 21st May, we cut the handbrake cable and let the bus carry on going and it’s been running ever since. That safe place, out in space, where Commanders can go for company and laughs is still there ready to welcome new faces and old. With a mix of gentle banter, puerile humour and friendship, the Banter Bus is a great example of how communities can support and help each other through some bleak times.

Did the Banter Bus help as far as mental wellbeing is concerned? I’ve no idea but I’d like to think so. The important thing is, it was there for anyone wanting to jump on and, if nothing else, it drew together a random group of the community who barely knew each other and established some firm friendships that will hopefully continue long into the future.

I’d love to see more community initiatives across all games that promote positivity, care and support of other players. I hope I’ve paid back a fraction of the debt I owe to my community and Frontier but will continue to try and lead the way in showing the haters how wrong they are about us gamers. That we can be – and are – a force for good.