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They’re also really into “Star Wars” – and have been known to play the original trilogy of movies in the background, with blinds drawn, while they sit at their respective computers and play the game together.

Traum’s perch is an old stuffed swivel arm chair in one corner of the living room. His character is a “mon calamari” – a blue, squid-like being – named Nonagon.

“I’m not a master of anything, except wearing shorts and boots,” he quips. Also 24, he’s an artist and student performer at Chicago’s famed Second City comedy club who – by day – works at an ice cream shop.

Nelson, on the other hand, is totally enmeshed in the social hierarchy of Star Wars Galaxies and plays it nearly every day.

“You can learn from any person you talk to – and being online is just an extension of that,” says Nelson, a 23-year-old computer animator who recently moved to Chicago from Florida. “There are no borders.”

In the game, he is a lanky, blond-eyed wookie named Hotpocket who’s earned Jedi rank and has a light saber at his disposal. He’s also the leader of the guild.

“Owen has fame,” says Collier, who – like his friends – has been playing the game since it launched in the summer of 2003. “We’re like the entourage.”

Having a friend like Nelson can, in fact, be a real asset in this game – kind of like knowing the leader of a virtual old boys network.

Nelson’s Hotpocket gives his friends’ characters old armor and online toys he doesn’t need anymore – and watches their backs when they’re at class or work, logging in with their character names to perform tasks necessary in the game (paying rent, for instance).

Rival clans – formed by other players – also can start fights and other problems.
“Not to make it sound like a gang,” Collier says, “but people help you, come to your aid.”
It can become a pretty time-consuming pastime, one that Collier concedes sometimes causes him to play “until I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“There are times you have to separate yourself – or you’d never get anything done,” Collier says, noting that when the latest version of the game Final Fantasy came out, he got to level 20 in a few days by playing for hours and hours on end. “Everyone else was on eight,” he says, laughing.

Now he’s heard that a Star Trek online game is in the works.

“Whew!” he says with a smirk. “Where will my time go?”

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