Part of what we mean when we say so-and-so is a good friend is that we know a lot about them, and not just that we have a good sense of their personality and how they might react in a certain situation, but that we know revealing personal details about them that very few other people know. The process of mutual self-disclosure in a normal real-life relationship is like a dance, with a lot of expected reciprocations and rules. If you tell someone about your childhood traumas on the first date, they may not return your phone calls for a second date. If someone shares an intimate secret, and you donít reciprocate, they might feel slighted. But ultimately, it is this dance of give-and-take that builds the foundation for a close relationship Ė whether platonic or romantic.
While it may come to a surprise to some people, there is a good deal of evidence that people are more revealing about themselves and more forth-coming with intimate details when communicating over a textual, computer-mediated channel. This was first observed by clinical psychologists who began using computers where new patients would type in their answers to some screening questions. What these clinical psychologists found was that patients using the computers were much more forthcoming than new patients who were asked those same questions face-to-face. In other words, even though the patients knew that the clinician would read or hear their answers, they would be more revealing when answering in a typed channel as opposed to in a face-to-face situation.
One reason why this occurs is that when youíre typing to a computer, you donít worry about how you look, what youíre wearing, or whether youíre smiling at the right time. A lot of this self-consciousness is irrelevant when typing on a computer, and all this energy is instead channeled to the message itself, which typically becomes more detailed. In the case of an MMORPG, the ability to be in the safety and comfort of your own home while typing relieves some of the tension of saying something intimate. Also, oftentimes in a face-to-face conversation, we censor ourselves because of what we perceive to be a subtle frown or a slightly raised eyebrow on the other personís face. We donít want to elaborate on something if the other person isnít interested. Many of these gestures and cues are absent online, and this allows us to finish our original thought more often Ė the unchanged, uncensored version of what we wanted to say. And we also have anecdotal and survey data that supports that a high level of personal self-disclosure occurs in MMORPGs.
I'm not sure why I am such close friends with my EQ buddies. I do know that my EQ relationships are better than most of my relationships in RL. I think this is because when you are talking with someone on-line it's easier to talk about certain things since you don't have to look at a person face to face. [m, 15]
Being able to talk to someone about a problem that is bothering you can often bring some relief. The problem is that this is not always possible in the real world. The anonymity of online environments makes it easier for a lot of people to share their personal issues, because oftentimes the very people they might turn to in real life are part of the issue itself. Another reason why the anonymity helps is because it removes any fear of repercussions. A teenager who is unsure of his sexuality is highly unlikely to share this information with his friends and family. A husband who is experiencing difficulty with his spouse might be able to talk about the problem with an online friend without fear of aggravating the problem in real life.
I would say its easier to open up to a person whom you are only writing to and never have to face in RL, I can discuss issues with some of them without worrying that that they will tell my other friends about it. [f, 19]
Itís easier to communicate without getting uneasy about the usual "is he going to tell anyone what Iím saying?" thing [m, 15]
This dance of sharing secrets and intimate details occurs very slowly in real life because usually we only feel comfortable saying these things behind closed doors or when we are alone with the other person, and only after knowing them for a long time. In the MMORPG world, this dance happens much sooner because there are far fewer consequences and the environment facilitates this kind of intimate disclosure. In other words, this foundation of a good relationship is far easier to reach in an MMORPG than in real life because of the textual communication and the anonymity.
Of course, this is not to say that everyone who plays an MMOPRG will share their personal lives with their fellow players, but in general, people are more likely to disclose personal information online than in real life for the reasons mentioned. But apart from being more likely to share intimate issues and problems with other players, there are other reasons why relationships in MMORPGs begin and develop differently.
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