Let's turn now to how these role-reversals can affect existing relationships. We'll consider the positive impacts first.
Some players talked about how the in-game experience led to a better relationship face-to-face, typically via the bonding experiences. While the first narrative below gives an example of how the role-reversal created a salient bonding experience, it's less clear in the second and third narrative whether the role-reversal itself contributed to the bonding above and beyond interacting in an MMO together.
I have one more story - about the snow-covered mountains of AC (and I've still got the screen cap) - my son, in his avatar, standing over a resting me, in my avatar, while I rest. We'd been in heavy battle and we'd each stood guarding for respawns while the other laid down to rest, (remember AC had that feature). It has been a story my son and I still enjoy telling about the screen cap of the virtual 'child is father to the man' moment. I have to be honest and say it has always stirred a deep fatherly thing deep in my soul this image of us protecting each other on the side of that mountain. [LOTR, M, 56]
I have played with employees, and they had different needs from the games than I did. Did it affect our relationship? In a way in that as fellow gamers we had a better relationship than others around me. We had a lot to talk about. We talked about the game and other things. It opened us up to a friendship that otherwise may not have been possible. [Eve Online, M, 45]
The experience was generally positive (team or relationship building) and -so far- results in a much better real-life relationship. [WoW, M, 50]
Rebalancing of Power
In other cases, the role-reversal in the online environment helped to rebalance the power structure in the existing relationship in ways perceived as positive by the respondents.
My two best friends play in the same guild as I do, and while they tend to be more active and the center of attention in the physical world, they are much more subdued in the gaming world. I am an officer and quite active on our guild forums and in chat, whereas they only post or speak occasionally and hold no 'rank' within the guild. This has led to me being the 'expert' on all things that are happening relative to our guild and in the game. As a result, we have had more of an equalizing of power in the physical world between the three of us, in that my opinion on a major topic of discussion is now more respected and asked for than it was previously. [WoW, M, 25]
I started playing WoW before my older brother. He has always been the domineering one in our sibling way, he was always the boss whenever he deemed me worthy to play with. When I started playing WoW, and he got interested in it too, at first he was playing on my account and he had to ask me for permission before he could play and, occasionally, it was he who came to me for help in certain things. When he got his own account and transferred his character over, things started shifting back into old ways but, at least now, he's a lot more friendly about it. When we were really young, we did somewhat get along but he was 'boss' and, as we grew older, it developed into a true hate-love relationship where most of our time together was through screaming and yelling at each other ... Now, we're almost friends. [WoW, F, 24]
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