She took my breath away. Her amazing blue eyes, at least twice the size of anyone else's, sucked me in. Her sumptuous curves were impossible to miss, barely concealed by the skin-tight cat suit she wore. I couldn't help but marvel at her cubic expressionless face as I whispered sweet nothings into her pointy ears and combed back her impossibly spiked hair. I LOL'd at her jokes, she ROFL'd at mine. Undoubtedly this was love. If only she wasn't a World of Warcraft creation.
Love stinks! Take it from me, a lonely bachelor. Typically all the passion and excitement is exhausted in the first couple of months, the lofty and admirable plans of both parties never come to fruition and the most exciting new thing is that new cinema release that you don't really want to see anyway. Is it any surprise then that more and more gamers are finding love in the virtual world? I don't mean dating sites like match.com where the rules are the same only the format is different. I mean an entirely new kind of relationship where loyalty is more about standing side-by-side against an army of enemies than about not looking when someone attractive walks past you in the street. The type of dating where a typical evening is spent raiding dungeons rather than deciding whether to watch the Apprentice or How I Met Your Mother.
Most gamers don't have any objection to people finding love in online games, but is it smart? How much is love for the person and how much is love for the game? Is it the game you look forward to seeing or your partner? Games are designed to entice us, to draw us in and make it feel that the virtual world matters. The virtual meeting pace is already filled with enough excitement and wonder to keep us joyfully coming back for more, could it be possible what people are mistaking for love is actually excellent game design? Are people are falling for the game rather than the person? Dr Clay Routledge argues that games can have varying affects on people's personalities. In his article he refers to research that suggest test subjects became friendlier and more helpful after playing certain games. Could it be that performing actions in a game affects our perceptions of real life situations?
One couple that I'm sure would argue the contrary is Jim and Erica Plowman. They met in a Gears of War death match and repeatedly murdering each other seemed to be what sparked that love story. Surely the grim and gruesome world of Gears didn't have any influence on their feelings for each other. However consider the thrill of falling for somebody in real life, the excitement, the highs and lows, the predatory instinct, the overwhelming desire to prove yourself and showcase your skills again and again. All these things are emulated in Gears of War and its not difficult to see how in the human brain, millions of years older than the gaming medium, could mistake the enjoyment of playing a game for the feelings of falling in love.
I can see some definite advantages to developing a relationship through Gears of War. In real life how often do you get a heated and passionate exchange of weapons where sparks fly as readily as bullets? Where man and woman meet on an eternal battlefield and find something within each other that shines through the bleakness. Where every time your partner annoys you can blow their brains out or chop their head off safe in the knowledge that no matter how many times you kill them they will return completely unharmed in just a few seconds.
Astonishingly some gamers have even built relationships in games where the focus is less about killing each other and more about killing mythological creatures. Paul Turner and Vicky Teathe met online playing Final Fantasy XI and struck up an unlikely relationship as Andurus and Branwen, a human warrior and a tiny elf like mage. Asked about how the relationship developed Vicky described how Paul being willing to sacrifice his avatar to save hers had attracted her and had created an incredible bond between them.
I think I speak for the majority of men when I say that we know saving a girls life is a pretty effective way to make her fall for us but despite braving the nightclub dance floor more times than I care to remember I am yet to encounter any hungry monsters attacking a beautiful damsel and haven't had the chance demonstrate my selfless heroism. Unlike reality a game world allows the player to express parts of their personality that they might never express otherwise. It's possibly the only situation where anybody can be whoever want to, they can look how they want, speak how they want and behave how they want. It's the type of freedom only achieved in real life through significant investment in plastic surgery and mind-bending narcotics. I can't help but wonder if Paul would have been as heroic if he didn't know resurrection was just moments away from any fatal encounter.
But let's not get carried away in imagining a future where meeting the love of your life while playing your favourite game is the norm. Let's consider the potential victims of this new type of relationship. Both Paul Turner and Vicky Teathe left existing relationships after meeting in game and a quick google search will reveal numerous stories of relationships ruined by people pursuing extramarital activities through their game consoles. The attraction for people looking to stray is obvious, a virtually anonymous meeting place, largely cut off from day-to-day life but easily accessible at any time. If we are to embrace this cultural shift in meeting new people we need to be careful it doesn't develop into a seedy, sinister and deceitful community. After all in online gaming anyone can be whoever they want to be and that level of anonymity can lead to some very undesirable consequences.