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MMORPGs are surprisingly good at placing groups in stressful crises while they are hunting. For example, an unexpected "add" at a time when the cleric's mana is low, or a bad pull that doesn't immediately seem impossible to take. Most of these situations force groups to have to work together and support each other effectively. These experiences often become salient trust-building situations for the players. Because most MMORPG players spend a significant portion of their free time playing the game, they become very emotionally invested to their characters and what happens to them. The degree of emotional investment influences how elated and excited they become in real life when their character makes a level or finally gets a rare drop, or how devastated and angry they become when their character dies or is treated badly. For the most part, this emotional investment causes many MMORPG players to take the game very seriously. In a way similar to the deep bonds between war veterans, the pairing of emotional investment and frequency of trust-building situations in MMORPGs facilitate the "jump-starting" of solid bonds between players.

To succeed in EQ you need to form relationships with people you can trust. The game does a wonderful job of forcing people in this situation. RL rarely offers this opportunity as technological advances mean we have little reliance on others and individuals are rarely thrown into life-or-death situations. [m, 29]

Moreover, stressful situations in MMORPGs seem to bring out the best and worst of individuals. Most MMORPG players can recall experiences where another player displayed a remarkable degree of honor, altruism, self-sacrifice, betrayal or cowardice. This is not to say that players who act honorably in MMORPGs are honorable in real life, but because most players assume that other players are as emotionally invested as they are, they tend to feel that these honorable or cowardly actions give a glimpse into how this other person might be in the real world. In a sense, all of us would like to put our friends into simulated crises to see whether they would stand by us in a time of need. We would all like to know which of our friends we can count on. Unfortunately, we usually don't find out the answer until that time of need arrives. Friendships in MMORPGs go through this process almost in reverse. Instead of making friends and then slowly finding out whether they can really be trusted, MMORPG players are making friends with people who have demonstrated that they can be trusted because of their actions under spontaneous crises that required difficult decisions.

In EQ, we engage in difficult, sometimes dangerous and often life-threatening struggles. Even though it isn't RL - you learn a lot about the character of the person playing the game. Some are selfish and greedy in EQ and you figure they are similar in RL - others are eager to help and think of others over themselves - and I have found them to be the same in RL. The difference in between these friendships and RL is the ability to watch someone in action before allowing them into your life. Also, the fact that we are all unable to see out real faces prior to becoming friends - we can't prejudge someone on the basis of their looks. [f, 45]

They are able to prove themselves as trustworthy, or intelligent in the game environment … which I find to be just as taxing and valid as RL at times. [m, 26]

Copyright, October 2002, by Nicholas Yee

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