Virtual Love to RL

On June 15, 2006 by Christy

There is alot of talk about cybersex, virtual love, in-game weddings and so on. I’ll be talking a bit about this soon. But for now, I’ll share with you something that is a bit closer to home. My brother, David Knife, and his wife were interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article on people who have made real life relationships from MMOGs. Just in case it switches to paid access I’ve reposted the text here but there are pics at the article. I attended their in-game wedding and it was great. The article didn’t include any pics from my brother and Traci so I’ve added one here. 🙂

Over the years, Mark Brown searched for Ms. Right in all the usual places: at parties, work functions and the occasional singles bar. He ended up meeting her inside a videogame.

Mr. Brown was sitting at his computer in England, controlling a character named Mighty Thud in an online game called City of Heroes. Across the ocean in Maryland, Jody Petroff guided a figure named Molecule Witch.

The two superhero characters began chatting after each survived a brutal ambush by villains. “We seemed to work on the same wavelength,” the 38-year-old Mr. Brown says of the couple’s first online exchange of text messages. “There was something that first night, something about the personality behind the keyboard.”

Soon, the two, who both are computer programmers, were playing and chatting online every day. Three days ago, they were married. “Meeting Mark was completely surprising, but he’s the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Ms. Petroff, 37.

The pair is among those who have fallen in love while playing so-called massively multiplayer online games, known as MMOGs. In them, enthusiasts spend hours killing monsters and completing quests in ever-changing virtual worlds.

Several videogame publishers report that dozens of their players have tied the knot after meeting inside their games. Sometimes they take the leap after first staging an in-game wedding. Sony Online Entertainment, a unit of Sony Corp., says at least 20 couples have wed after meeting in its medieval fantasy games EverQuest and EverQuest 2. That includes the company’s senior vice president of legal affairs, Andrew Zaffron, and his wife.

Nick Yee, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication at Stanford University who studies online games, found in a survey earlier this year that 29% of women players and 8% of men said they had gone on to date someone they met in a game. He says the games are filled with scenarios that shed light on players’ personalities. A risky raid on a dungeon, for example, can reveal whether someone is a team player. “These are trust-building exercises,” he says. Players “are constantly having to make decisions like, ‘Do I run out and save myself or help the others survive?’ ” Situations that reveal so much about someone’s character are less common in the real world, he thinks.

Yankee Group, a Boston technology-research firm, estimates that MMOGs, which can be played simultaneously by thousands of people using the Internet, are played by 25 million to 30 million people world-wide.

Susan Bard, 26, says she wasn’t looking for love when she began playing EverQuest 2. But then her character met Randall Zenonian’s early last year.

Mr. Zenonian, a U.S. Navy corpsman who was stationed in Everett, Wash., had his character, Lord Krideldek, approach Ms. Bard’s Koloara to discuss her interest in a leadership position in a guild, or group of players.

Ms. Bard, who lived in York, Pa., says she was impressed by Mr. Zenonian because he was an avid role player. She also liked the care he took with his typing. Unlike a lot of players, she says, “he made sure his sentences weren’t choppy.”

The next time she logged on to play, Ms. Bard began having her character flirt with Mr. Zenonian’s. Though she had an actual boyfriend, she saw the in-game flirtation as harmless. Then Mr. Zenonian did something else she found attractive: He learned how to speak a special language unique to her type of character — an elf. “As a chick, that impressed me all to heck,” Ms. Bard says.

Mr. Zenonian was struck by Ms. Bard’s intelligence. “The game is very complex,” the 29-year-old says, but “I didn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining things to her.”

Soon, they were playing daily and sending each other instant messages. They exchanged photographs and, about four months after meeting in the game, they talked on the phone for six hours. Before long, Ms. Bard says, she got an ultimatum from her boyfriend: Stop playing with Mr. Zenonian or it’s over.

Ms. Bard chose Mr. Zenonian, who had by then been transferred to a naval base in Guam. She was living with her parents and working at a grocery store. So she flew to Guam, about 8,000 miles from home, and has been living with Mr. Zenonian since September. “I didn’t question it because it felt right,” Ms. Bard says.

David Knife, 32, fell in love with his wife, Tracy, 30, while playing Anarchy Online, a science-fiction game. Mr. Knife says he was impressed by her leadership skills. Ms. Knife, who in the game led a guild of about 50 players, “was very motherly to many of the players,” he says. “It’s the way she controls everyone by still being very nice.” 

He also liked her use of emoticons, the symbols in text messages that denote kisses or hugs, among other things. “She was very forward in the game, especially with me,” he says.

In August 2004, about six months after they met in the game, her character proposed to Mr. Knife’s. That prompted Mr. Knife to inquire about a possible relationship outside the game, even though he is an Australian, who was living in Melbourne, Australia, and she lived in Red Lion, Pa., where she was raising a daughter after a divorce.

They started talking regularly using an online voice-chat service and said “I love you” before they met in person. “We have very similar personalities,” says Ms. Knife. “We’re both kind of computer geeks.” In February last year, Mr. Knife flew to Pennsylvania for a two-week vacation and proposed on Valentine’s Day.

“I have to remember two wedding days and two engagement days,” says Mr. Knife. The couple were married in January and live in Red Lion.

Terri Perkins, a spokeswoman for Funcom NV, the Norwegian publisher of Anarchy Online, says the company knows of more than 20 couples who married after meeting in the game, which was launched in June 2001. Because so many players like to stage in-game weddings, she says, the company has assigned about a dozen volunteer players to help arrange the weddings, which can include fireworks displays at the ceremony. She adds that Funcom’s director for the game, Morten Byom, met his wife while playing a text-based precursor to today’s multiplayer games, called GrimneMUD, in the 1990s.

Many couples continue to play the same games that brought them together long after they have moved in together.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Petroff play NCsoft Corp.’s City of Heroes on separate computers in their house in Bowie, Md. They say they have an uncanny knack for attacking the same villain — at just the right moment. “Our play styles go so well together,” Ms. Petroff says. “There’s just no stopping us.”