Thursday, December 17, 2009

Virtual Relationships in MMOGs




MMO gaming can arouse most (if not all) of the sociable passions. Of course there’s the competitive verve, the shared glory when your group outlasts a tough mob or outwits the opposing team in PvP, and of course the agony of defeat. But there’s also the vain satisfaction of kitting out a character with some rare or good-looking equipment, and the also the shopper’s high as you find a bargain on the player market. And any veteran

Where’s the love?

Relationships in MMORPGs


MMO gaming can arouse most (if not all) of the sociable passions. Of course there’s the competitive verve, the shared glory when your group outlasts a tough mob or outwits the opposing team in PvP, and of course the agony of defeat. But there’s also the vain satisfaction of kitting out a character with some rare or good-looking equipment, and the also the shopper’s high as you find a bargain on the player market. And any veteran can attest to the fact that longterm MMO gaming can build real-life friendships that outlast a guild or a game’s popularity.

Friendship is important to any trusting relationship, but most would agree that love and romance are on another plane altogether. So is romance really possible in an online game?

Let me preface this article by saying that I’m not relationship expert, psychologist, sociologist, and I’ve never gotten embroiled in a steamy online attachment via MMORPG. Admittedly, I’ve never really looked; gaming has always been an escape from real-life complications (and I’d rank romance as potentially complex as a Jackson Pollack jigsaw puzzle). What I do have is a few observations on real-life romance in MMORPGs, and I thought I’d share them in honor of Valentine’s Day.

If statistics don’t lie, 85% of MMO gamers are males like me, and there’s reason to believe that most of the other 15% are lying (or perhaps… hmm, how to put this delicately… embody non-standard views on traditional gender roles). The ones that are heterosexual females are probably sharing a broadband connection with a mate, and the single ones are likely on the rebound… maybe their husband/boyfriend ran off with a lower level night-elf.

I’m painting in broad strokes here, but I’m skeptical about the possibilities of even finding an amicable, legitimately available female (that will confess to both counts without, oh… say, a year’s worth of frenzied pursuit) on an MMORPG. Girls, I know you’re out there, and your secret’s safe with me. But if you should make that special connection, what are your chances of making it into a lifelong attachment?

Hookups and Heartbreak

In my World of Warcraft (WoW) days, I had the privilege of knowing one such couple that met while playing, then married in real life. Let’s call them Alsinor and Illayni. Things seemed to go well for a while, both were excellent players and let my lowbie self pal around with them in some serious high-level areas. Illayni was a cleric, so she brought much more to the raids than Al and I, who were rangers.

Being more useful to other players in the guild wasn’t exactly why Illayni played the game, however. I only picked up bits and pieces of why she was unhappy, and I tried not to stick my nose into other people’s business. Both seemed to miss playing at each other’s side; but unfortunately the game sometimes dictates where you need to be and what class you need with you. Illy felt close to other guildmates and didn’t want to disappoint, and Al tried to be congenial.

For a period of time, I continued to see Al every night, but Illy: less and less. I was concerned; I considered both to be my friends, but my expressions of concern for Illy met only with vagaries from Al. College started to heat up, and EQLive took a backseat to projects and finals. When I finally logged back into the game a few weeks later, I was shocked to learn that Al and Illy had divorced.

Outsiders would say “it’s just a game,” that no game is worth real-life aggravation (and I would certainly agree if in-game issues began to create serious relationship angst), but to Al and Illy, the game was a major part of their lifestyle. Somehow, someway, in-game issues bled into their marriage. I’m not naive; I’m sure there were other contributing factors. But I’m equally sure that gaming was so ingrained in their lifestyle that their problems started in Norrath.

It was about that time that I cancelled my EQLive subscription. I loved the game; it’s the archetypical MMORPG, the original blueprint for a 3D perpetual world, and it continues to grow in significant ways almost 7 years after it was released. But Al and Illy’s divorce fouled me, if temporarily, on the prospect of a successful relationship (or even a true friendship) in an MMORPG. I continued to game, but in Dark Age of Camelot (where I hardly knew a soul and indeed never joined a guild). And nowadays I really enjoy the friendships I’ve made in EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft.

This Valentine’s Day: diamond earrings vs. a 2nd account?

So enough about meeting in MMOs and marrying. What about dragging your significant other into an online world with you?

My experience screams one thing: don’t push it. I tried to get a girlfriend interested in EQLive once five years ago. She made a bard, I gave her a queen’s ransom in plat and made a few strained attempts at powerleveling, then she cancelled her account and broke up with me about a month later. If there’s a moral to the story (besides to get your plat back before your girlfriend cancels), it’s that pressure to develop quickly will stifle anyone’s petty (if well-intentioned) interest.

Looking for a date in a virtual world or bringing your mate into an MMORPG, it turns out, is a lot like dating in real-life. The harder you try, the bigger the disappointment. Regarding an in-game romance: if something works out, awesome. Make the most of it. And when it comes to involving your love interest, it’s great that she wants to be more involved with something you love. Make an alt, keep it light, show her a good time and the time you spend together in-game can be a real asset to your relationship. It may not be “just a game,” but there’s no reason it can’t be fun 98% of the time, and if you’re able to enjoy the game with someone you love… that’s just icing on the cake!

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