Start Page


While it strikes some people that meeting someone compatible in an MMORPG is like a shot in the dark, the opposite might be more accurate. MMORPG players who are working in real life tend to work in the IT industry (36% of employed EQ players, N=1099), and most MMORPG players tend to have had previous experience with table-top RPGs (68% of EQ, DAOC, UO, AC, and AO combined, N=3415). IT workers are typically analytical and rational; RPG players are typically imaginative and idiosyncratic. Both tend to be non-conformist. In other words, people who play MMORPGs are probably similar in more ways than not. When you think about it, people who enjoy simulated battles, level advancement, and item accumulation in medieval worlds using sword and spell metaphors under the D&D system probably share other interests and attitudes. And the MMORPG effectively keeps away people who do not share those interests and attitudes. And thus, the following kinds of remarks by players are fairly common:

We've discovered that we share many values and beliefs. These relationships are different from my RL relationships because it was much easier to open up to someone under the relative anonymity of online communication. [m, 26]

We have more in common then most my real life friends. [f, 33]

Meeting someone compatible in EverQuest would only be a shot in the dark if you believed that the players of EQ come from an evenly-distributed cross-section of the general population, which is probably not the case. Thus, another reason why MMORPG players are able to form relationships online is because the people they meet in these worlds tend to be more compatible than a random person they meet in real life. It's similar to meeting someone on a message board about the French culinary arts during the late Renaissance. The interest is so focused that other shared attitudes are highly likely.

In other words, each MMORPG effectively pre-selects for compatibility among its players. The genre, medieval as opposed to futuristic, of each MMORPG probably influences this to a certain degree. Because Sony is developing both EverQuest 2 and Star Wars Galaxies, it is fair to assume that their marketing people think that these two games will attract somewhat different kinds of players; otherwise they would be competing with themselves. Thus they will probably attract a different subset of the overall population, facilitating compatibility.

Even though compatibility between players is higher in MMORPGs than between strangers on a street, another important factor artificially boosts the sense of compatibility, and encourages players to feel that the people they meet are more compatible with them than they really are. It has been well-documented that people tend to like those with similar attitudes and ideas. In psychology, this is known as the "law of attraction". Relationships in MMORPGs, much the same way as in real life, typically begin with a shared attitude or belief - such as "Oh, you grew up in Chicago too?" or "Yeah, I agree with you that she was out of line there." The "law of attraction" states that it is the proportion of shared attitudes rather than the number of shared attitudes that matters. So, if Jane knows only one thing about Bob and they feel the same way about that one thing, then they have a 100% concordance. If Jane goes on to find out 19 more things about Bob and only 4 others match, then the concordance rate is down to 25%. Thus, Jane likes Bob less than she did at the beginning.

The internet is very good at hiding differences because a lot of physical cues we use to judge others are missing - clothing, hair style, speech inflection, accent, age, appearance, expressions and gestures among others. Oftentimes in real life, we feel we would never get along with another person just from these physical cues alone. But in online relationships, the concordance tends to remain high because so many cues are missing. Until given explicit information otherwise, people tend to assume that others are similar to themselves. Therefore, this sense of concordance is augmented because similarity is assumed for many of those missing cues. The following player puts a different slant on this point.

They are good friends due to the fact you must throw all prejudices away about looks, language impediments, color, race everything related to physically meeting a person. This is similar to RL friends I believe. In RL a close friend is one who you have looked past all that stuff previously mention and you like the person inside. [m, 28]

This is a particularly salient factor in the formation of romantic relationships. The initial stages of passionate love tend to be marked by an idealization of the other person; they become god-like, flawless, and perfect in every way. The thin communication channel in online environments promotes this projection of an ideal onto another person because it lets people idealize much more than there really is while hiding the flaws as much as possible. These idealizations are enforced by the game metaphors themselves - warriors are strong and heroic, clerics are healing and graceful etc. Thus, these metaphors also encourage projecting a superhuman idealization upon another player apart from the underlying inflated sense of compatibility.

Copyright, October 2002, by Nicholas Yee

MMORPG, relationship formation in MMORPGs, good friends in everquest, why do people make such good friends on MMORPGs, the psychology of MMORPG relationship formation, making friends in MMORPGs, dark age of camelot, asheron's call, EQ, DAOC, AC, getting married online, getting engaged in everquest, marrying someone in everquest, mmorpg marriage, making friends online, romantic relationships in everquest, virtual romance, virtual marriages, statistics of online relationships, understanding online relationships, virtual worlds, virtual community, virtual communities, virtual constructs, virtual societies, virtual relationships, virtual social networks, online community, online communities, online societies, cyberculture, cyber-culture, relationships in cyberculture, online communication