And ultimately, itís really what you want it to be, which is what real life relationships turn out be about as well:
A relationship is as meaningful and real as you make it, in-game or in real life. I have some very good friends in-game who ask me if I am feeling better when I have been sick for a while, while people in RL hardly even noticed that I was gone. Someone whose real name I don't even know remembers my birthday, while my closest colleague doesn't remember that I don't smoke or drink alcohol. [AO, F, 28]
I, personally, feel that a relationship in any medium, Real Life or any game, can be as true as *both* sides want it to be. I had a friend on the game EverQuest for several years. He eventually decided to actually come and visit my family for a month. it was an absolute blast and I wish he coulda stayed with us longer. [Planetside, M, 16]
Actually, both of these are correct statements. The relationships formed are as 'superficial' or as 'meaningful' as you allow them to be. I have people that I group with on a semi-regular basis that I know next to nothing about other than their character information and yet I still enjoy their company. I look them up when I need a group, we have fun and experience the game together but it never goes any further. There are others, however, whom I have formed deep friendships with. These are people I speak with on the phone, who I share RL experiences and problems with and whom I confide in. I am still of the firm belief that MMORPGs are like RL; the experiences you have are what YOU make of them. YOU dictate the length, depth and breadth of the relationships in them. The one caveat I would like to make is that I have found MMORPG friendships to be be more 'dangerous' based on the fact I have to take a person's word for their actions and their true hearts. You can be one person IRL and a completely different person in game. All players must keep this in mind. [EQ, F, 39]
Relationships in MMORPG's can absolutely be as meaningful as those in real life. In general, as with real life, you get out of relationships what you put into them. I have a friend from DAOC that became quite ill, and I called her (for the first time ever) at the hospital. I made brief phone calls to her every day I could after that, until the time that she passed away. I can not say that if she had been a 'real life' friend, her loss would have affected me any less. [DAOC, M, 35]
I disagree completely with the idea what MMORPG relationships are meaningless. However, I have to concede that the answer really depends on the player. I'm sure there are many players who do not take friendships forged in the game seriously, simply because it is, after all, a game. One rarely even sees what the person on the other end of the relationship looks like, or sounds like, and quite often a player will not truly project their real persona into the character in the game--I know this because I know I act somewhat differently in the game than I do in real life. However, for many people I've seen besides myself, that's not the case. I have met several people I truly consider friends through online gaming. I'm happy when I can talk to them, I miss them when they're gone, I am familiar with their personality and interests and generally know when they will like or dislike something. Distance doesn't preclude friendship or even familiarity. [DAOC, M, 22]
I find it difficult to believe that people would play a MMORPG to find friends or meaningful relationships... Personally I play MMORPG because I love playing games where people are involved as they add more interest than AI. That sounds very cold - if you met me online then I'm sure you'll find me talkative and helpful but as to descussing personal issues or where I live or anything like that... well, I don't see the point - I'd rather go see a friend to be honest... Some of us play them because it's a good game. No more, no less. In effect, socialising is something you do when your waiting to be healed or the like... something which passes the time more pleasantly.
In the four years I've been playing MMORPG's, I've got to know a lot of people, but I've only kept it contact with one of those outside of the game. If I get bored of a game, I stop playing it whether or not I've got to know people. Harsh as it may sound, other people in a MMORPG are just a part of the game, something to keep me occupied while I'm playing. If I drop the game, I drop the people, and I very rarely think of them afterwards. I guess it's because people in game seem less real, I don't make a particularly strong relationship with them.
I've had the rare experience of playing MMORPG's with most of my RL friends and family. I must say that it is much more fun to interact with players whom I have an alternate RL relationship than with players whom I have only interacted with via the game. However, there is one exception. In EQ I fondly remember one player who would always hang out with my friends and I. I felt closer to this player than I have to some people I call friends in RL. Also, I regret not having talked to this player in some time. The same could not be said about some RL friends. Here is my philosophy: I believe that people across the net are as real as people in front of me. Our bodies help us interact with people in the real world, just as the computer helps us interact with people in the electronic world. I've been to Naboo, but I haven't been to Taiwan. So which one is more 'real' to me?
I have played MMORPG and I can say that to me the friends that I have found in the games are just as real to me as the ones that I have in RL. Some have become RL friends from playing EQ. Yes, some of us may live in other parts of the country and the world for that matter, but I have kept in touch with them via the telephone and in emails when we are not together in RL. Especially since I have not played the game in about 10 months now. Some of these people I could not ever think about loosing touch with. EQ was addicting to me for the people not the game so much. Especially since most of them were there for me through most of my RL experiences (including my divorce).
It depends wholly on what you define as a relationship and what makes it superficial vs meaningful, ne? However, seperate from that little quibbling detail...
It depends also on how a person approaches an MMORPG. Sometimes, these games serve to draw out different aspects of a person, which is interesting. If you want to seperate a person from their physical shell for a moment, and think of them a single pool of different personality traits, then their physical housing allows them to present a number of these traits in that particular avatar, whereas they present entirely different personality traits in their online avatar. The medium through which each conciousness communicates with others directly affects what personality traits come forward in their interactions. Thus, knowing a person in an MMORPG can be entirely different than knowing them in real life. This doesn't necessarily apply to all players though...
Seperate from that, too. The level of commitment to relationships is far different in an MMORPG. People are more willing to take risks, which I would have to say is a good thing. In an MMORPG, you can be far more extroverted than in real life, because you don't really feel that you have to deal with the consequences in the same way. If you see someone a lot in real life, and you screw up a relationship, then you are constantly reminded of this. In an MMORPG, if you screw up a relationship, put the person on your ignore list, or move to a different zone. Problem solved, if indeed the fall out of whatever relationship existed creates very much angst. The success of an online relationship can be as invigorating as one in real life, despite the lack of physical interaction, whereas one that fails online is far less troubling than one that fails in life, presumably.
And there goes my brain!
The meaning given to an MMORPG relationship depends very much on the parties involved. However, as a disclaimer, I am a regular player of text-based MUDs (one in particular that I have played for slightly over 7 years) and not MMORPGs per se.
I have never played EQ, SWG or UO.
However, the question of meaning in interpersonal relationships still comes up.
This meaning is assigned by as many parties as are involved, but for simplicity's sake, I will stick to the interaction between two people.
I have made some friends on my regular MUD that remain close friends, and others that no longer are. These are my 'OOC' friends, as it were. I have met some of these in RL, and others not. I can only recall one case where I and the other person didn't really 'click' on meeting in RL - *if* we were already friends. I would not, therefore, classify these relationships as meaningless even before I had met these people.
However, while I am female, I tend to prefer to play a male character online. Additionally, I have a fondness for role-play via immersion. I assume a persona and sublimate my own personality while in the process of roleplaying. I have found that this is relatively rare even among roleplayers - the most common method seems to be to build up a role and act according to it. I don't do that.
When I am 'roleplaying' the line between "me" and "my character" is a very fluid one. It has far less in common with pushing and prodding an Avatar around the screen, and more in common with running - say - two separate and totally different programs on the same computer! Both are valid and function independently with their own internal structures, yet both depend on the computer itself to exist.
As such, it is hard to assign a traditional notion of 'meaning' to relationships developed whilst immersed in a persona. During immersion "I" feel things deeply and truly, but the "I" is emphatically *not* the RL "me". It is the "I" of the persona I am currently immersed in. It is possible for the me-persona to fall in love while the me-RL is squealing in horror at the inappropriateness of the me-persona's choice. And as the computer that runs both 'programs', both are equally valid.
This is only what is happening on my side. Let me then complicate things further by stating that one of my most loved persona is an unreformed rake... who - among other things - delights in breaking hearts, usually (presumably) female ones.
You could turn around and say, well - caveat emptor - just because someone presents themselves as a charming handsome fellow online doesn't mean they're a charming handsome fellow! If someone falls in love with a personality they meet online,a nd get hurt, it's their own fault.
True enough. However, when that someone takes it far enough as to 'hunt' women for the thrill of making them fall in love with him... One tends (cultural construct?) to assume that that someone is a male. Adding cybersex to that equation further tips the balance of that assumption. So the fact that the *real* player sitting behind the screen is actually a female - adds yet another layer to the meaning or lack thereof of MORPG relationships.
For me, as the me-persona, as well as me-RL, if I make someone fall in love with the me-persona, the relationship is a 'success'.
For them, if/when they find out - and they don't always, the me-persona often abandons them before then - the 'relationship' will probably be considered a dismal failure. Of course, they may consider the 'relationship' a dismal failure when the me-persona abandons them as well...
Just some thoughts from a virtual drag-king...
I think that because it is easier to "become" [present yourself as] someone/something else - something possibly better, online, that the temptation is stronger to do so. This is true in IM, in chat rooms, and in MMOs. In person, you can't be a 5'1" 150lb brunette and claim to look like Uma Thurman. Online, you can make that claim and it is harder for someone to know you're lying. It's easier to fabricate a job, a school record, a family, or a value system when the person you're trying to fool won't be interacting with you in those contexts.
Since the temptation is so much stronger, the incidence of people giving in is so much higher online.
I think that the more times you get to know someone online and then get a chance to verify your judgement in person, the better you become at doing it. The better your success at discriminating when people are misrepresenting themselves, the safer you will feel having deep relationships with the people you meet online.
(Of course, the flip side of this is that very naive people may think that they have deeply connected with someone, when in fact they are just being deceived.)
So, I think whether you feel game relationships are superficial or deep depends on your trust of your own judgement of others (if you can't be sure you picked someone sincere, you can't deeply bond with them). Additionally, it is conceivable that someone with total confidence in his/her own judgement could make acquaintances with those s/he judges to be fake or uncaring or what have you, and still feel secure because s/he knows to what extent that acquaintance can be trusted.
So, this raises another question - do you feel in-game relationships are superficial because you choose to only have superficial acquaintance relationships such as I have just described... or because you don't trust your own judgement to choose friends that will stand the test of time?
Still, I think that it is wise to limit your own confidence in that regard, because even the wisest, most experienced person can still be decieved.