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Experiences from virtual worlds do not only have an impact on individuals playing these games alone, but they can also affect the real lives of romantic partners playing together in positive ways. As one player puts it:

         Not an experience but THE experience: My wife and I play EverQuest together, each playing a character on two separate accounts, but playing our characters together in the game. We both like the game because it embodies and teaches cooperation, mutual respect, helping others, working towards goals, taking risks, self sacrifice, and other good Real Life virtues in the context of the game. Also and as important we find it a very nice way to be together but as slightly different creatures in a different world and place. [m, 59, EQ]

MMORPGs can allow romantic partners to support each other in dangerous and stressful situations, and to help reinforce their trust in each other. It also creates complex dilemmas that both partners have to deal with, thereby forcing couples to discuss some tough issues, oftentimes with beneficial effects.

         My husband and I (we both play) have had significant opportunities to better understand each other and our real-life relationship through discussions involving EQ and our in-game friendships, roles, and actions. Sometimes this has been in the form of an argument but more often it is in the form of extensive discussions about how we believe things should be done in-game, what we want to do, how we want to handle certain situations that have or could arise. While there have been times when playing the game has led to conflict in our marriage, it has also strengthened it by giving us a shared pursuit outside of our daily life experiences. [f, 33, EQ]

But sometimes, these stressful situations actually create even more stress in real life. The following player relates her experience - a modern analogy of the old saying "you should never teach your spouse how to play golf".

         My husband and brother started playing together when EverQuest first came out. About 6 months later I started to play, though since I was brand new, I did not play with them, as they were in their 40s. I made my own circle of friends and playing partners. When I made it into my 30s my husband and brother (shaman/rogue) asked me to track for them as they were hunting rares in Traks Teeth. It was a dangerous area for me, a ranger in her mid 30s, and I had never hunted with them before, but I wasn't worried about dying, and I knew I could outrun most anything that might want to make mincemeat of me. They were not quite so confident of my abilities, however. There were a few dicey moments where my hit points dropped rather low. My husband was a nervous wreck watching me play, seeing my hit points drop, worrying that I would die. And since we play side by side I had to listen to his ranting and cursing, his 'suggestions' on my play style, and various other comments. I came to realize that day, that though we might be playing the same game, we would never be playing it together. Our real life marriage would not be able to stand the stress of him watching me be hurt or possibly die in game. [f, 43, EQ]

For other couples, the tension doesn't come from these "dicey moment", but instead, it comes from the interactions that the partner has with other people in the virtual world. As the following player illustrates however, these stressful situations can be blessings in disguise.

         My husband and I originally shared one EQ account, but decided to upgrade to individual accounts, despite the costs involved. We rationalized it by agreeing that while we're playing EQ we're not spending money elsewhere! ;)
         Initially, it didn't go so well - I was used to having 'my' friends around me and I was surprised to find how jealous I felt when he first started playing during 'my' time. My friends all accepted my husband immediately and loved having him around - if anything, that made me MORE irritated.
         In addition, he'd be annoyed if he heard me typing and didn't see anything on the group or guild line: who was I talking to, and why did I feel the need to keep it private? This only went on for about a week before my husband and I sat down and actually discussed what it was that was annoying us. I explained that sometimes I'd be typing without him seeing everything because I have lots of friends and wasn't necessarily grouped with them - hence /tell was the only way to communicate. I told him he could look over my shoulder anytime he wanted as there was nothing 'private' going on.
         He in turn agreed to let me sometimes group with my established friends without him being in the party, so I could get some Away Time.
         Funnily enough, once we'd agreed to all this we actually ended up gravitating more and more to each other's company, and now if he's at work or I am (we work different shifts) the one at home really frets at the loss of the other. The game isn't quite the same without them! Sure, I still like catching up with my friends, but I truly miss the companionship of my RL "Best Friend" - my husband.
EQ has - oddly enough - brought us closer together. Most people assume that playing an immersive game tends to reduce the quality of a relationship, but we find that a couple of hours whacking away at virtual critters, laughing at the silly situations and socializing with our online mates has had a totally positive outcome for us! [f, 28, EQ]

Copyright, July 2002, by Nicholas Yee.
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