is a tough time for many teenagers as they try to form a sense
of self-identity while carefully treading the thin line between
peer acceptance and ostracism. Many teenagers are forced to
answer complex questions to which there are oftentimes no good
answers. MMORPGs can provide a safe space for teenagers to try
out different identities and personalities without the risk
of serious repercussions.
a deeply upset adolescent, struggling with my parents, my
friends, my sexuality, and my education - none of these
mesh well together, mind you. I'm comfortable with many
of these things in an oblique way, particularly I acknowledge
and accept my individual sexuality, but I find myself set
aside from my peers. I'm certainly not the most popular,
but I find a wedge being driven between me and those around
me because I can't share how I feel about the same sex,
nor the opposite sex, without feeling further ostracized.
So I've taken to an online persona in the game known as
Asheron's Call where I can pursue that issue and speak with
people in a much more anonymous, comfortable setting. I
have built friendships with several of my guild/allegiance
members, and have been able to express my sorrows and dilemmas
to them without fear of lasting judgment, and where they
can do the same. I use the game as an escape from real life,
but also as a form of peer/societal therapy, enabling me
to work through my problems, albeit temporarily, and help
others to correct their own. I can't offer many particular
instances, but I find myself at peace when I'm in a disconnected
world where my inadequacies and depressive tendencies can
be suppressed, or completely lifted from me for a few hours.
find myself much more satisfied venting my stress through
repeated slashes of an imaginary sword on an imaginary creature
and having someone there to listen without the face-to-face,
truly personal connection other mediums of therapy offer.
Plus it costs a lot less per month. And while this does
certainly sound like a narcotic, I would rather be dependent
on a game world than on a more damaging physical drug that
wouldn't offer the same connection with others (hopefully!)
nor the *true* tranquility I find, as opposed to an artificial
hallucination as a result of some recreational pharmaceutical.
[m, 17, AC]
As this young player points out, the peer
group is both the problem and what aggravates it because the
individual has no one to talk to. On the other hand, the game
can offer solace and support because it gives this player
someone to talk to in a safe space. The allusions to game
dependency are troubling, and yet spending more time with
the peer group might be more problematic as the player implies
towards the end. But the theme of having someone to talk to
is expressed by other teenagers.
had a friend with me hunting at this village, and prior
to that day he was just a friend, we had left an old guild
and joined the same one, sticking together. It was 2 am
at the time where I lived so I really had no one to talk
to about my issues in real life, but I really needed to
get them off my chest. So I spoke to my in-game friend for
two hours straight, without killing a single mob the entire
time, and I realized he and I were far more alike than I
originally thought, and he helped me feel better about my
issues. I'm pretty sure that he is a better friend than
most of my real-life friends, by far. [m, 16, DAOC]
One might be inclined to doubt his judgment
of the quality of this friendship, but it forces us to ask
ourselves whether our friends are the people who we see and
talk to on a day-to-day basis, or the ones who are there when
we need someone to listen to us.
Across 5 of the most popular MMORPGs, about
40% of respondents felt that some of their online friends
are comparable to or better than their real-life friends.
Female players above the age of 22 were more likely than male
players from the same age ranges to feel this way.
Virtual relationships confuse
outsiders because they wonder how people can be friends with
someone they have never seen, and perhaps one answer is that
for a lot of people it's easier to talk about personal issues
with someone you've never seen.
Around 15-25% of respondents
from 5 popular MMORPGs have told personal issues or secrets
to online friends which they did not tell real life friends.
Female players of all ages were more likely to talk to their
online friends about personal issues than male players.
Of course, one of the fundamental
assumptions that many insiders and most outsiders make is
that an individual's real identity is his real-life identity,
and this is another reason why virtual relationships trouble
them - because it all seems so fake. But what if that assumption
is false? What if some individuals are more comfortable expressing
who they really are in a virtual space?
I first started playing UO it was pretty different then
it was now. I enjoyed it, as I still do, but in a different
way. Me and my real life friend were playing as miners in
a town called Minoc. A man came by and killed our packhorses
just to be mean, and I chased after him, I chased him for
nearly 5 minutes when he stopped and we fought. I got my
ass virtually handed down to me. But he never came back
again, which from what other miners told me he usually did.
It's something that you always secretly wanted to do, you
know, stick up for people, the little people. You can't
just go up to your boss and tell him he's an ass in front
of everyone and expect a normal day tomorrow, but in an
MMORPG there is no reason not to. I felt good after doing
this after I he killed me, because I at least tried to do
something, which is not normally seen in my real life. People
in game see a side of yourself that usually remains hidden,
your inner self. I originally thought I was going to play
a daring thief when I started ... who would of guessed I
would turn out a craftsman and take up fishing. [m, 17,
About a quarter of respondents from 5 popular
MMORPGs felt that they are more of "who they really are"
in the game than in real life. Male and female players were
not significantly different from each other in their response
to this question.