Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 30, 2010
Virtual marriage

I got married yesterday, but only in virtual life, and not to somebody else: I married my main character and my second character in A Tale in the Desert. ATitD probably has the most extreme implementation of marriage in any MMORPG: If you are married to somebody, you have complete access to all of his possessions, and you can even log on as him. That is great for mule characters, but requires a big amount of trust when marrying another person. Worst case scenario is a bad divorce where your angry spouse first takes all your belongings and destroys your house before hitting the divorce button.

Many MMORPGs do not have marriage features at all. The best my wife and me could do in World of Warcraft was found a guild together and share a guild bank. But even in games which don't have any marriage game functionality, it is often possible to role-play marriage. You can get a suit, flowers, and a wedding dress in WoW, and role-play a big marriage in the Stormwind cathedral.

A long time ago I was playing Dark Age of Camelot, I was leader of a guild, and I was playing a friar. So when two members of my guild wanted to marry, I searched the internet for a transcript of a marriage ceremony some people had held in a MUD, and role-played the priest doing the marriage ceremony. And that is as close as I ever got to role-playing marriage. Because virtual marriage has one serious downside: Your real-world significant other might object if you marry somebody else in a video game.

This is one of the curious instances in which the virtual world somewhat overlaps with the real world. We are reasonably confident that shooting another player in the head in the virtual world doesn't mean anything in the real world, "it's just part of the game". But online relationships, cybersex, and virtual marriage aren't 100% confined to the virtual world. If you have a stable relationship in real life, a virtual marriage with somebody else is posing some moral questions: Isn't a virtual romance as much infidelity as lets say a steamy exchange of e-mails would be? You wouldn't want you significant other to write love letters to somebody else.

What do you think about virtual marriage? Is that cheating on your significant other, or is it just a part of a game with no meaning for your real relationship?
In Lotro I did attend a few weddings between character, usually elves. As Lotro tended to lean towards Role-Playing quite well, these things were common, as were other RP events.

I never heard of it leading to much trouble with RL relationships though. My character never got married but it was known that my character and the guild leader's had 'a thing'. Never lead to any issues either.

I suppose it all depends on many other factors as well, if I tried that nowadays my SO would go ballistic ;)
You can shoot anyone in the head, but it is difficult to practice love and affection to the potential degree involved in marriage for more than one special individual. If it was part of the plot or side-quest of a single-player game I would be fine with marrying an NPC (King's Bounty has this, I think), but I would not marry a player-character that wasn't my spouse's.
I'm not an RPer so I can't judge how far things can go there without actually having 'meaning' to the real players, but personally I don't believe there's any big difference between being 'in character' and 'out of character' when it comes to things like cyber-marriage. My main question would be 'if it means nothing, why are you marrying?'. while I understand you trying to merge bank accesses, in most MMOs it's just a way to show a deep sign of affection and belonging. I guess you could fake that but then really why would you marry at all.

so it does pose moral questions for real life relationships. i'm not sure i'd call it cheating (depending on what else occurs before/after the ingame wedding of course), but it's certainly questionable. for all I experienced ingame friendships can be very strong and compare to friendships in real life - the same would go for love affairs or marriage. we invest ourselves emotionally in these kinds of relationships which is a big difference to anything else we can do to other players while online.
It's really a question of what you construct it to be. If it gives material game advantage then you'll see more people "marrying" just for that mechanic. This, however, as you pointed out, is extremely rare.

I've known RPers who've developed IC romances but kept the OOC relationship platonic by having scenes fade-to-black any time they started to get steamy. That's pretty rare though. I think for most of us though, if the RP is any good then there's emotional immersion in the scene in addition to sensory. Not only can you "see" through your character's eyes but you can "feel" what they feel. This isn't the same as feeling it yourself, but very often if you're RPing something like this it'll quickly turn over into RL feelings too. Much drama happens when this only happens to one of the people involved.

I do think that if you're getting emotional intimacy filled elsewhere, that this violates most people's idea of what monogamy is supposed to be. Weather or not that constitutes cheating really depends on how you and your spouse have constructed your RL marriage.
It strikes me that a virtual marriage is kinda counter-romantic : you can interact with each other as much as you want, but you'll never possess or give anything (unless you're deluding yourself)

Well, i'm not a big fan of the idea :)
I'd consider roleplaying a "marriage" to another player character to be a form of cheating, yes. Anything with emotional connection and partnership with another person has that capacity and if you're outright calling it marriage well then...

Not a role player and my husband and I play together and have no desire to have our characters "married" (since he usually plays girl characters and I'm not a lesbian that would be awkward anyway).

Especially since our own meeting, most of our courtship and engagement took place online with little face-to-face contact, I do not discount the power of emotional connections across cyberspace.
I consider marriage strange in real life, in the first place. I consider it even more strange in virtual worlds :)
I agree, ATITD is interesting in giving marriage an actual game effect. Perfect World does also have marriage but I don't think it has any substantial effect on the game play. It just marks the two as married, put a special title over each other's names saying they are the "husband of soandso" or "wife of soandso." But there is a quest you have to do to pull it of and get the systemwide announcement. There is also somekind of wedding ceremoney quest you can arrange to have in a big cathedral within the game that you can invite guests to. The couple gets presents from the system and the script even has a jilted ex-lover show up that turns into a monster that has to be fought off. So at least there is something interesting to do for us guys. :)

Also interesting in PWI. Male characters can carry female characters in their arms. Never seen anything like that in a game before. Of course she has to accept the "embrace" and either can end it at any time but two character coordinated animation like that is very unusual. It is also unusual in the actual attention to gender that is there. Only males can carry and only females can be carried. And once the female is carried she basically looses her mobility. He decides where they go until she or he hits but button to end the "embrace." Interesting that only a Chinese game could get away with that level of un-PC-ness.

But it is very popular. Lots of people playing and just from eyeballing it in the big city, lots of people are married and you see at least one marriage announcement each evening.

So why is virtual marriage so popular in some games? Perhaps because it is so quickly disappearing from the real world.
I believe that bringing as less as possible from the baggage we have from this life to the immersion of the other life is best.

Feminism, political correctness, religion, marriage, sex? no ty.

Just leave it at a bunch of people slaying some dragons and eventually joking around over vent.

Wanting more is both sad (as it clearly shows you lack stuff irl) and asking for trouble.
I'm of the camp that when it comes to intimacy, it is impossible to separate RL from game life. It is a form of cheating.

But @Okrane: I think that doing so in a virtual world is equal to doing it in a real world, in so much that it is a sign of something lacking.

@the idea of cybersex/virtual marriage: They are not chained together, but virtual worlds allows us to explore certain aspects.

A friend of mine (a complete closet lesbian if I ever saw one) who suffers the onus of having parents who hate homosexuals, leaving her stunted, ended up not once, not twice, but three times, getting her male toon married to a female, "in-game". I never saw hanky-panky, but I did see something that she seems desperate for, a girlfriend.

Is her real life lacking? Obviously, but I don't fault her for exploring online.

As for my own experiences, I met my wife online (not in a game, but through traditional chats), and after months, we decided we liked each other enough to meet. So for us, more than others perhaps, online can most certainly = RL.
"Is that cheating on your significant other (...)"

Let's ask the significant other, shall we? But let's add a variable: gender. Let's say that someone straight tells his significant other that he has been virtually cheating on her with another man. Or beast.

Oh, I've seen some screen shots from the game. Pretty shitty graphics, man. Were they made in the 90's?
I’m going to be the odd man out and say that I have been married in a MMO before. I was 18 and she was 16.

In EverQuest I was in a very small guild. We were all a family and in some cases many people really were related. I grouped with 1 Wizard a lot and his daughter also played a female Wood Elf Druid. When she was on her and I would often duo, I played a female Iksar Necromancer. (I came from Diablo where character sex didn’t matter)

We were camping Ragefire for a week, Ragefire is one of those rare spawns that causes equal amounts of loathing and awe from the EQ community. After 4 days straight of just sitting there talking myself and the druid thought it would be funny to get married. We didn’t really roleplay like RPG servers do but even on normal servers EQ had a certain sense of I’m this race and it matters. So we found humor in two female characters, one evil, getting married.

We got married a few weeks later and continued to duo. In EQ if you just /petition to a GM and say you got married they would change your last name. So we became Mr. and Mrs. Jhulia Hobbitslayer. (My Necro’s full name)

We talked a lot after that and discussed meeting in real life but just couldn’t logistically do it. Our guild had a few meet ups and I was typically to broke to ever go.
I think this is a really interesting topic.

My girlfriend and I play World of Warcraft. "Together". We raid together, but that's about it. She roleplays a lot, and I raid a lot. She's been married in-game twice, to different people.(interestingly, the second marriage came after an in-game divorce...since that seems to matter?)

I'm of the opinion that I have what I want out of my relationship with my girlfriend. Love, support, happiness, a warm body to sleep with, and all of the other things that go along with being coupled. So why would it matter to me if she chooses to spend her free time with someone else? It's not as though love is a finite resource. She could be watching TV, crushing on Gil Grissom or she could be playing Warcraft and exchanging steamy messages (actually, I have no idea what they do) with her husband.

"Cheating", in my opinion, is when you lie to someone about being with another person. Or if you've been honest, and been told "no", and do it anyway. You can't have cheating when the other person says "go ahead". that I think about it...this story gets weirder. My shaman officiated her second marriage, after her first choice (a priest friend of ours) stopped playing Warcraft. :)
@Craig: You're right, concession does change things. The thing is MOST of the time, it is not done with consent.

At the same time, my view of what you are doing is akin to telling her its okay to be free with her love, since it won't run out for you. As long as she sees it as play time, then you have nothing to worry about. I'm just wondering how many people are able to have intimacy as something separate from reality. I'm just not sure if it falls to the same category as playing war, or monopoly.
It would be cheating, both to me and my wife. She doesn't play online games, but I would never even consider marrying another in roleplay.

She and I first got "married" at an alternative art festival called Burning Man. We spent months writing our vows and developing a pagan "handfasting" ceremony.

We incorporated elemental imagery. Four people played Fire, Earth, Water and Air, and the "official" (a very dear friend to both of us) was ether. They used body paint, were positioned in the appropriate compass directions, each placed a ribbon around our wrists, we wore amulets that were carved from the same piece of wood that were then bonded together during the ceremony...and on and on.

My point is, although we got married in the eyes of the law and our families a year later (to the day), the first ceremony still represents to us the real thing.

And it was essentially a "roleplay".

For me, I would never seek to duplicate that amazing day or the intensity of truly comitting my life to someone else. Forever.

Some "roleplays" should be reserved for your real life.
I think I can tease out another point from what you said Bristal.

The two marriages my girlfriend has been involved in have been with people whom she has loved. She hangs out with them at least once a day in game, she's been to visit them in real life a couple times. As far as I'm concerned (and I think her as well), these are real relationships that just happen to exist primarily on the internet.

Having said that - clearly we value the solemnity of the occasion less than you do. I don't mean that to say that either of us is right (or righteous), but I think it's important to be clear about what is a difference of opinion.

I think that you and I can agree that you shouldn't "play" at being in love. But we disagree on how that point expresses itself.
They added divorce? Back in the First Telling, someone had a bad marriage going. His in-game spouse would log him on, drink more of a slow-acting poison, then burn his offline time and run him to the middle of nowhere.
@Craig: Was that point aimed at me instead of Bristal? It makes more sense with what I said.

I agree that we have a difference in opinion. I'm amazed that you are okay with her loving these people, that she married them in game. There is some things I don't understand from it. Is she visiting them and having sex? Why would the love she feels for them need to lead to marriage if it is not the kind of love that would involve a sexual intimacy?

To me, it is a condoned affair, something that is rather strange to me. But then again, I've always been a serial monogamist. Somehow though, I wonder that perhaps you are the minority, regardless of what those online relationships imply.

And no, I don't think anyone should "play" at love, but I think plenty play at cybersex.
Apologies to you, Craig. No offense intended at all. The idea of "marrying" someone in WoW just seems to cross a line with me. And I'm not one with that many lines in the first place.

I've also been to 5 "commitment ceremonies" of close gay friends. The fact that they can only roleplay a wedding also bugs me.

But then again, what is a "real" wedding or marriage?

Totally an individual opinion. And I can definitely see myself as a younger person roleplaying a marriage in WoW.

But alas & alak, I'm forty-freakin'-seven and my lines in the sand are getting harder to cross. Hell, the sand is just getting harder to walk through.
No apologies necessary. I worded my comment in that way because this is a VERY sensitive topic, my opinions are not the normal ones, and the internet is dangerous for opinions.

I think I'm done airing my own relationship in this thread, though, so I'm afraid the answers to your questions will have to stay where they are for now :).

I was thinking about the relationship Pangoria writes about "the love she feels for them need to lead to marriage if it is not the kind of love that would involve a sexual intimacy." I want to refute this, since I don't believe that marriage and sex are related. But I really can't, since there is no way I want to argue for a sex-less marriage!

I think that if I was going try, it would look similar to this: Marriage is an institution that has a certain meaning, but it doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. I know a couple, with children, who aren't married and don't plan on being. They love each other enough to make the commitment to raise a child together, but they don't share the same meaning of marriage as what others feel.

So, in my mind, marriage is a big party. It's a big facebook status. It says to everyone out there "I LOVE THIS PERSON", but I don't think that it necessarily says "I'M GOING TO HAVE SEX WITH THIS PERSON!", or "I'm going to have children with this person!" or even "I'm going to wash this persons dirty underwear for the rest of my life!" (even though, in "normal" society, all three of those are probably going to happen. Especially hopefully the first!).

Which is where online marriages come in. You have this big party, with fake fireworks and fake food by the fake ocean. And you say to everyone attending that you love this person, and that's not fake. But that's all it means. It doesn't mean you are going to have sex with them, have children with them, or wash their dirty underwear. Because thankfully, no MMO has come up with the skill "Wash laundry". :P
depends on whether its just your characters getting married, or if you are acknowledging a real life relationship that's long distance.

to me if you are serious roleplayer, marrying a character of someone else has nothing to do with real life. its like acting really. are actors playing people in love, kissing, getting naked on a stage - cheating on their respective spouses? not really and no one thinks they are.

so why should it be different in game?

some people don't even roleplay their own gender (a lot of people actualy)

to me there's a difference between an avatar and a character. when I play, I have avatars. doesn't matter which character I'm on, they are still all me, pixelated into virtual world and when I relate to people its as the same person (I often hop characters mid conversation and continue it on different alts and people I talk to often do the same).

with roleplaying, each character is an individual with their own story, personality etc.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, its in intent.
Craig, you hit the nail on the head. From personal experience, discovering hidden (and I argue omission is equivalent to lying) virtual relationships hurts, even if they stayed completely virtual and "harmless" as no one actually met eachother, etc. If it's something you wouldn't do with your S.O. sitting next to you fully aware, it's probably considered "cheating" at some level.
"As long as your feelings towards me are true you are alowed to role-play all you want".

thats what my girlfreind told me just now when i asked her.
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