Note: This essay was originally written for the MMOG magazine which has since gone out of business. This essay is a more fleshed-out rewrite of the "Befriending Ogres and Wood-Elves" presentation.
We are on the cusp of a new generation where parents telling their children about the circumstances of how they met will not revolve around college parties, chance encounters at a coffee shop or business conferences. Instead, they will tell their children how they met each other while battling gnolls in subterranean caverns or slaying the undead in forgotten crypts while pretending to be warriors or clerics. Of course, this could have happened in the MUD days, but it is the success of MMORPGs that have suddenly increased the number of romantic relationships that began this way. Survey data collected from players of EverQuest (EQ), Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC), and Ultima Online (UO) show that romantic relationships that began in MMORPGs are not particularly rare.
This is especially true given that 2 out of 3 MMORPG players are already romantically involved (dating, engaged or married). In other words, only 33% of players are available for a romantic relationship to begin with.
But the prevalence of very close friendships, as opposed to romantic relationships, that develop online is also very striking. Most MMORPG players have become good friends with someone they met in the game.
And many of these players feel that they would consider their online friends to be comparable or better than their real life friends.
About 3-4 years back, the prevailing talk-show wisdom was that people who fell in love online were socially maladjusted and had deep-seated psychological issues. This view still lingers, but the prevalence of both platonic and romantic relationships that occur online force us to ask whether it is not something about these environments and the mechanics of the communication, rather than something about the people, that change the way that relationships form. Could it be that people become friends and fall in love in a different way in an MMORPG?
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