Happy Valentine’s Day! In the spirit of love, I’ve decided to trace the trajectory of Cupid’s arrow into videogame weddings. Some would call them creepy, weird, or my personal favorite, the “ultimate end-game content.” Others would ask, what is the point of online marriage? How about offline marriage? Finances aside, is there really that much of a difference?
Marriage is, more than anything else, a state of mind. A commitment. A platform to build your future upon. For a growing segment of the general population, videogames are more than just quick and shallow entertainment–they are separate but parallel lives in which only the most desirable elements of the real world poke through. Not the least of these elements are love and friendship.
It’s not uncommon for a religious couple to get married in church, or for an adventurous couple to tie the knot on vacation. Gamer couples, similarly, would endeavor to bring their shared passion into a wedding ceremony. Or maybe into a marriage proposal. Divinity: Original Sin developers Larian Studios recently helped a fan propose to his girlfriend in-game through customized dialogue. In December of last year, web developer John Fink asked the big question via a videogame of his own design. On Thursday, the free-to-play MMORPG Elsword brought in its own wedding system, complete with in-game effects, skills and themed items.
Whether or not an online wedding ceremony coincides with real-world events, there is an honor in bringing such a commitment out for the world to see. Believe it or not, many people are more emotionally vested in the virtual world than they are in the physical one. Let’s not get the wrong idea, though–proposals are a promise and weddings are a fulfillment. The latter can never be a wholly virtual experience if there is a real-world counterpart to be tended to. In that case, to prioritize pixels over people would be quite deranged.
To draw a parallel between the two kinds of marriage would be missing the point; a virtual wedding isn’t an attempt to hijack a real-life ritual as much as it is an experience that has evolved and taken on its own significance in an online world. In the same way that words and dialects bestow a cultural identity upon their speakers, a virtual wedding is a phenomenon that establishes a kind of digital identity for those within these communities.
When I first logged into World of Warcraft nearly ten years ago, I was confronted with a choice of server type. Most of my friends had opted for a “Normal,” or PvE-centric realm, and I intended to do the same. Just for a moment, though, I would dip my toes into the Argent Dawn, one of the game’s original role-playing servers.
After loading into the game, I did what any mischievous teenager would: I stripped off my avatar’s clothes and ran into the nearest town, looking to drum up some trouble. I had heard that role-players were especially sensitive to out-of-character intrusions, and I wanted to test the rumor for myself.
I immediately noticed a deviation from my past MMO experiences; player characters were acting like beings with physical weight and substance–walking instead of running, jumping only when the environment required it, speaking out loud instead of using chat rooms, and emoting with abandon. I felt like my presence was becoming noticed on a visceral level, as if I was out on the sidewalk of a busy street. The “locals” disapproved of my nudity, and they weren’t afraid to show it.
For my part, I danced on tables, yelled profanities, and deflected the paltry verbal blows of bystanders. After several minutes, I was approached by a tall, dark Night Elf by the name of Sharalia. She laughed and said, “Get down from there, Human. You’re making a mess!” Before I could unload a new round of insane banter, I noticed several of her kind packing into the pub and watching me.
“Have you any clothes, Human?”
The collective gaze of twenty players made me feel small. I stepped down from the table. Turning to face Sharalia, I felt compelled to speak in measured tones.
“Just starter gear. Do you always travel in a group like this?”
“No,” she said. “Today is a special occasion. One of ours is getting married.”
I recall those moments with clarity not because they were among my first in World of Warcraft, but because they served to tear down the walls around my understanding of role-playing culture. I had assumed, foolishly, that role-players were a snobbish and exclusive bunch, prone to elitist rants and overblown egos. What I encountered, at least in this scenario, was a group of people who absorbed my frivolity and found a way to fit it within the larger scheme of their experience.
After convincing me to make myself decent, Sharalia invited me to participate in the ceremony, which was to take place in Moonglade, a secluded meadow in Night Elf territory. I didn’t have the patience to walk in single file across an unknown distance, but I was nonetheless overtaken by a deep appreciation for the lengths these people had gone to bring joy to their virtual comrades. They had planned out the path they would take, the gifts they would bring, and the things they would say during the course of their celebration. The lucky couple may have been separated by a thousand miles or the space of a keyboard, but in that moment they were closer than a Dwarf and his axe.
Is it all just a big amusement, or is there something more profound to the whole thing? I’d like to know what you think. Have you ever witnessed an online wedding or videogame proposal? I’d like to know that too.
Share your thoughts, whether they’re jaded or rose-colored, in the comments section below.