To the average person the online community is a very foreign concept. They generally have no idea what kind of bonds are forged and to what extent the friendships go.
Playing on Xbox LIVE you meet a ton of people, but for the most part the only talking is of the trash variety. There are exceptions, real life friends and long time clan members usually chat with each other, but that is generally in a private party.
I didn't fully understand the online community until I picked up WoW. The PC community seems to form larger and closer bonds than their console counterparts. Even after being off of WoW for well over 2 year now I still chat with some of the people I met in game. Granted, Facebook has helped carry over those relationships and made keeping in touch so much easier.
I was talking with a co-worker/(ex)gamer about why the PC community is so much tighter, we came up with a few possible reasons. It could be because typing chat under a screen name rather than voice chat allows one to be more open and anonymous. Could be the sense of comradery that is formed by joining a clan/guild and playing with similar minded people. Could be the vast amount of time spent with those people every day. Perhaps it is a bit of everything.
The beauty of joining a clan/guild is having a chat room with generally like minded people. On WoW it wasn't long before I floated towards a handful of people who shared my views and they in turn accepted me and my views. I started off slow, throwing in a joke or two. Before long I hopped into the guild chat room and started conversing with them.
The thing people seem to have a hard time understanding about online friends is how you can form a bond with people you have never met. Really it is the same theory behind online dating. You find people of similar views and tastes, you start to talk to them and it moves forward from there. When you spend a few hours every night talking to someone you are bound to talk about more than just the game. Some people might even find it easier to express secrets to someone across the country rather than someone close, it allows them to get out what is bothering them without having it affect their daily life.
I now have contacts across Canada and the U.S. and trust them dearly. If ever a time occurred where I was in their home town I know they would drop almost anything to hang out or help me out. In fact I have already met a few of them face to face. I know plenty of close friends who have also met up with their online friends.
There was one time when I had just started at my office and one of the guys was trying to get some shoes from the States and they wouldn't deliver to Canada. I told him he could get them delivered to a friend and they would send them on up to Canada. He asked how I knew this person, and was instantly against the idea when I told him I knew them from gaming. Yet 3 years later and I'm still closer to that online friend than the guy I work with.
There is a certain sense of accomplishment and comradery that you build when you work together to finish certain goals or quests that seem unachievable. When you spend hours working on a goal with 9 (or 24) other people and emerge victorious and hear the cheers of your fellow teammates the feeling is great. The only way I could describe it to a non gamer would be to imagine the feeling you get when your favorite sports team wins a close game. Now imagine if you were watching that game with 9 of your closets friends. That is the bond and feelings you experience as an online gamer.
To all my WoW peeps, past and present, thank you