“…we can not love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes along its own trajectory and immediately disappears.” – Italo Calvino
Virtual relationships are such a tenuous thing. Like anything else that occurs in an MMORPG, there’s a certain sense of detachment from reality to virtual “romance” – the keyboard warrior could also be a closet keyboard Casanova.
IRL (In Real Life), relationships suffer from mismatches in expectations – he sees the relationship as a serious affair with marriage in the future as a potential option, she just wants a no-strings companionship for the here and now; she thinks the flirtation is the spark of serious chemistry, his intentions are purely platonic good-fun sociability – these mismatches are magnified exponentially in a virtual setting. In an MMORPG, all of these traditional mismanagements of expectations are present, in addition to one new variable: “how real is virtual reality?”
I am a chronic flirt. I don’t differentiate male or female, reality or virtual reality (ofc I don’t flirt in situationally inappropriate scenarios – I’m a chronic flirt, not an idiotic one). All my IRL friends are “darlings” and all of my in-game friends are “bbys.” It is simply how I associate and connect with other people – by being lavishly verbally affectionate. Consequently, I don’t see my endearments as “serious” even in the most rooted in reality scenarios. Virtually, I see them as absolutely inconsequential.
This cavalier attitude resulted in two rather interesting “case studies”.
(づ￣ ³￣)づ *names have been altered for privacy
Shortly after I joined my first guild, Radiance, an IRL married couple also joined. Because they shared one computer, only one half of the couple was ever online at any given time. Mocha, the waifu, was a bit shyer and quieter and also wasn’t online as often, so most of the guildies didn’t know her very well. On the other hand, myself and the guild lead, Hachi, did a lot of instance runs with the husband, Latte. Sure, sometimes we’d joke around and do “nude” instance runs – our characters would run LLH (Lost Lighthouse) in the very covered up gray default “fashion underwear.” (No seriously, the “panties” are actually tight-fitting shorts and the “bra” is more strapless sports bra than anything remotely resembling lingerie) But, we never thought anything more of our interactions than just good, light-hearted, virtual fun.
hardly the scandal of the year
Then, one day Latte randomly pm-ed (private messaged) me something along the lines of “hey! I might not run as many instances with you guys, Mocha thinks I’m cheating with you two.”
My reaction: ┬─┬ ︵ /(.□. \）
There is something indescribably dizzying about being accused of an affair that never happened, especially if that affair was supposed to have happened virtually.
And thus was the awkward position that launched my short-lived career as a relationship counselor (´∀｀)♡
I eventually started an in-game mail correspondence with Mocha (since we were rarely online at the same times) in which she explained why she was as upset about (what I saw as) seemingly innocuous behavior.
Mocha and Latte had met virtually to begin with – a background that definitely provided them with a very different context from the one which Hachi and I were working with. They were originally both players in another MMORPG called RO (Ragnarok Online) – Mocha and Latte both played male characters and Latte was originally unaware that Mocha was a girl. After another virtual relationship (in RO) ended badly, Latte relied on Mocha’s support and friendship to recover and rebound from the experience. In the process, he grew to love her carpe diem joie-de-vivre. Eventually, he confessed that he was falling in love with her, still believing that Mocha was a guy. Through various *ahem* methods, Mocha eventually proved her gender beyond a reasonable doubt and they married after Latte moved to her geographic location.
Mocha was living a very real example of when virtual companionship translated into real romance and partnership, providing very valid grounds for her wariness about Latte’s virtual relationships with other women.
(There were various other strains on their relationship at the time which I tried my amateurish best to help them work through – mostly by just trying to get them to communicate with each other and reminding them why they were with each other in the first place – I had indifferent success, but Mocha and I became very close friends until she and Latte both quit game)
The second case study is a lot more personal in origin.
My first in-game marriage (ever~ like ever ever ever in my history of all things gaming – even Skyrim! Okay for Skyrim it’s because I thought all the male AIs were fugly and was trying to make my own dreamboat with the SCK (●°u°●) 」) turned out to be a Very Bad Idea though it seemed like all fun and games at the time.
I met BBT (●°●Bubble Tea●°● for the uninitiated) randomly while afk-ing in FH (Freedom Harbor) – he trolled me, which I found highly amusing, and we started joking around and flirting because, well, why not? When he asked me to marry him, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try a new aspect of social gaming and agreed because, again, why not? Being more fluent in the texts and subtexts of virtual relationships, I drew up a 3 clause prenuptial agreement, the 3 clauses being the 3 elements I believed were essential to a functional, drama-free virtual marriage (remind me to share stories of the drama-filled virtual marriages in the future ( • ∀•)」)
For the curious:
1. synchronize play time (because a marriage where you never do things together seems pretty pointless)
2. good, direct communication (it’s hard enough to tell what people are thinking without tone of voice [if not using voice chat] and body language)
3. virtuality-reality separation. no awkward “I love yous,” “my gfs.” in-game waifu, husbandu status only.
BBT’s post-nuptial behavior clearly indicated that he never took clause 2 and 3 seriously – particularly clause 3. He almost immediately began referring to me as his “gf” and ending raidcall conversations with “I love you!” – putting me in an awkward notsurehowtorespondtothat position (yes, awkward positions abound (ʘᗩʘ’) )
I saw the marriage titles as virtual titles with no significance – for me, BBT was just another in-game friend, only with a shiny new label. On the other hand, BBT’s virtuality was much more intertwined with his reality, causing a fundamental disconnect in our expectations for the in-game marriage. This disconnect, along with his inability to communicate in a non-passive-aggressive manner, eventually pushed me to file for divorce and to marry a guildie/friend simply so that I could break all ties with him.
Of course, more severe reality-virtuality disparities are possible. One of my in-game friends married an Egyptian player who then labored under the belief that they were married IRL as well. My friend was so creeped, she ended up quitting game for a few months.
Obviously, the greatest reality-virtuality disconnect when it comes to romance is “how does my significant other actually look?” Is emotional involvement, but complete ignorance of physical chemistry a healthy approach?