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The safe space offered by virtual worlds isn't only helpful to male teenagers experiencing identity issues. It is a space where even adults can grow from their experiences. For many players, being in a leadership role in the game has helped them gain confidence in real life.

         Last year, I was elected as the leader of the guild I'm part of when our old leader (a good RL friend) left. At first, I was a bit concerned about my ability to organize 100 some people from all over the world, but, as it turned out, I learned that I was much more organized that I had thought I would be, and ... that I had an uncanny knack for diplomacy and leadership. The experience made me feel very empowered, and good about myself, and I've recently made the decision to pursue a career in design, something I've always wanted to do, but was afraid to, because I never though I'd measure up (I'm currently a marketing professional, and am pretty bored with it). It's hard to describe very eloquently why EQ helped me feel like I could do it ... but it has. It's given me confidence in myself, and made me realize I make good decisions, and am pretty smart, and that gave me the push I needed to make a "scary" real life decision. Now that I'm pursuing a new career, I'm feeling MUCH happier in general with my life, even though I've not landed that job... yet. :) [f, 34, EQ]

         I've never been one who is particularly comfortable with a leadership role in real life. In the game, friends and I left another guild that no longer suited us for various reasons and formed our own. I was approached by several of these friends to assume leadership of the guild and agreed, even though I was uncertain of my suitability. I've grown more accustomed now to directing various aspects of running the guild and providing a vision and leadership to the members. Follow-up and assertiveness now feel more natural to me even in real life. It has been an amazing opportunity to push myself beyond my boundaries and a rewarding experience. [f, 46, EQ]

As these two stories illustrate, the experiences in virtual worlds can transfer to real worlds in beneficial ways. These experiences can empower individuals in a way that might be difficult in achieve in real life, because oftentimes our real lives and peer group force personas upon us, and we become who we are expected or supposed to be instead of who we really are. The following player presents a more dramatic tale of how her virtual identity helped her overcome problems she had with her real life identity.

         My online romantic relationships have been crucial to me. Before EQ I didn't used to like being a female. I am overweight some, and that helps to keep men away. :( But through the online relationships I have had, I have grown to like being female, and to even enjoy it.
         I think just the fact that men find me attractive online that my brains and sense of humor add up to a person they want to know, has had a major effect on me, and given me more confidence with men. Playing EQ, folks tend to be more honest. So if I screw up in how I interact with someone, they are more likely to indicate they are pissed or whatever, than in RL.
         I have learned how to flirt in EQ, by watching how other women do it, and imitating them. That is huge. Also, cybering in EQ I have been able to explore parts of my sexuality that I was afraid of, or are physically dangerous. With the safety of /q just two taps away, I can do that. Also cybering has made me more honest overall. It only works well if you are excruciatingly honest about your feelings every moment, both your sexual arousal feeling, and happy/sad kinds of feelings. That has spilled over into my RL life, to great benefit. I am far more willing to be emotionally honest with people now than 3 years ago. [f, 42, EQ]

Copyright, July 2002, by Nicholas Yee.
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