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Suggesting that online friendships can be just as deep as real life friendships, or that these environments can help people grow, troubles a lot of people because they feel that nothing real or lasting can come out of a fantasy make-believe world. As many players point out however, behind the virtual avatars are real people, and that is why the interactions in virtual worlds are real.

         I've been playing for over two and a half years. Like most people, I have found that you can make real friends in this game once you realize there's someone behind the toon. You look forward to seeing them every time you play; when they are gone, you feel the loss. The day our guild leader retired from EQ, we held a ceremony in her honor. As the MC of the ceremony, I was startled to realize I was crying real tears when we said goodbye. A year later, when a guild mate's RL partner died, we posthumously inducted his character into our guild as an honorary member. I MC'd that ceremony also, and that time the tears didn't surprise me. [f, 39, EQ]

         I am guild leader of a small to medium sized guild on EverQuest and the longstanding members of the guild are in some ways like a family, certainly nothing less than very good friends. So, there are close ties.
         Recently, I, in real life, have had a series of crises, financial and otherwise. Firstly, my roommates stopped paying their bills and then, without notice, moved out of the apartment, leaving me with over $2,000 of bills to pay. A couple of weeks later, I lost my job and a few weeks after that, my grandfather had an accident, and is still in the hospital because he has contracted numerous ailments just from being in a hospital environment. There is great concern on the part of his physicians that he will live through this experience.
         Not because I am guild leader, but just because I have become one of the guild "family" members, I have had more than one guild member offer to help me financially. One of the young members of my guild even offered to take money from his college savings to help me. I did not accept the offers, but just the fact that these individuals who only know me from the game have offered their support, say quite a lot of good things about people in this world.
         I am not the first person from this guild to experience this. Another member, who passed away shortly before my crises occurred, was ailing from a heart condition which prevented him from leading a normal life. These same guild members also offered him the same support, one of them sending this person's family money to help with bills, etc. These people had never met in person, but still, just as if they had known each other in real life for years, one helped the other and we all offered this person and his family our moral support.
         I think this shows that there is more to a MMORPG than just the gaming part for some people. It is a way of making contact and friendships with other individuals worldwide, that would be pretty much impossible otherwise. [f, 40, EQ]

The main reason why the virtual lives and identities can affect the real lives and identities of MMORPG players is not because it creates a space that is isolated from the real world, but because it creates a safe space that allows real interactions and relationships. And when these environments have the ability to change a person's life for better or for worse, then to label MMORPGs as "just games" would be a denial of how MMORPGs are affecting the real lives of players, and a denial of the potential of these virtual worlds.

Copyright, July 2002, by Nicholas Yee.
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