Meet the Gamers Crushing the Loner Stereotype and Finding Love Online

Li Harper / Supplied

Imagine this. Your marriage celebrant is a cat-like creature. In a cathedral, with glistening water running around it, you and your partner descend from the ceiling on a sliding chandelier. Your loved ones are in the audience as fantasy characters. Explosions go off with fireworks and glitter. You both complete a quest to forge a ring for your partner.  At the end of the ceremony, you fly away on a bird into the sunset.

This whimsical wedding happened last year for Li and David, both in their 30s, in Final Fantasy XIV Online, in addition to their real life wedding. They met three years ago while playing Final Fantasy. Li was in Melbourne, David in Brisbane, and they now live together in Sydney.

Li and David’s in-game characters / supplied

Li, who has played video games for 19 years, says, “Playing games, we feel a big sense of accomplishment defeating an enemy together and it strengthens your bond.”

Todd Greene, CEO of PubNub, the world’s leading real-time communication platform says, “Gamers have received a negative reputation for being isolated and lonely, but the advancement in chat functionality is changing the game, literally.” A PubNub survey found that 67 percent of gamers have formed some type of relationship via gaming, which includes a casual friendship or dating. Eight percent found marriage or partnership via gaming chat.

The latest research by Interactive Games and Entertainment Association reveals a quarter of Australian adults said they or other household members played video games during the pandemic.

Even pre-pandemic, Georgia, 42, from Sydney, played games to de-stress from work. Like Li, Georgia didn’t intend on meeting love while playing but met her husband James, 40, from Adelaide, seven years ago while playing Destiny.

While Li and Georgia are positive examples of online relationships, there are some things to be cautious of. Psychologist Peter Hayton at The Banyans Healthcare Group says, “While there are many benefits to developing relationships online in gaming communities, what many psychologists report is at times people are not who they propose to be, that it is easier to hide real motives and personality concerns. However, it is often people in the gaming community who are aware of these issues and adept in avoiding undue consequences.”

Georgia and James / supplied

Georgia says, “The more time you spend with people in a group setting [the easier it is to] work out who’s genuine.”

“I’ve been playing since I was 14, mostly solo. I didn’t get into group games until seven years ago, when my friend asked me to join her. I usually don’t want to talk to people I don’t know, but to get the most out of certain games like Destiny you need to be able to play with others. In asking for help in-game, people have formed friendships. During a complex mission, it can show how someone reacts under pressure, how they communicate or if they are a team player.”

Li echoes the positives of meeting people while gaming, against other avenues such as dating apps.

“Working together in a crunch situation to go through a dungeon or beat a boss, you really get to see someone’s personality before you see what they look like and better than if you went on a date at a restaurant. While doing something you love, you have less inhibitions, can be yourself and just relax.”

When you’ve built up that friendship, then go on dates, a lot of breaking of the ice has already been done.”

It seems video games can serve as a platform for people to come out of their shell and be more social. As psychotherapist Karen Phillips explains, “People like to lose themselves in a fantasy world. It doesn’t matter if they’re watching TV or reading a book. The difference is when you play a game online you are interacting with others which can be positive. Games are good for alter egos. Although we know it takes two to three years of in-person contact before the façade is gone and the real person is discovered.”

Speaking about her relationship with James, Georgia explains, “We were online friends for about two years, and I had no idea what James looked like. I did feel uncertain about how the online world would translate into the real world, if there was no chemistry when we met.”

Georgia and James’ in-game characters / supplied

To overcome this uncertainty, Philips says: “Ensure once they feel a connection and trust with their online person, be honest and authentic about themselves, their desires, interests and future ambitions.”

James offers similar advice to other gamers: “You’ve got to be happy to play yourself and not hide behind your character. If you’re looking for someone, you need to be open and honest.”

After four years of living together, James and Georgia got married last February. “When we finally met, we were surprised at how we just clicked, like we skipped all the awkward first dates.”

So how can a relationship form while playing games, and what can that look like?

“In the game, I always rescue David. To me, David showed good character, willing to accept and ask for help with good grace, not trying to be better than anybody else,” Li says. “We didn’t need to exchange phone numbers as we chatted over Discord, which is like Skype. It runs in the background in-game.”

Georgia says, “You start chatting about stuff apart from the game, like what’s happening around you. You start doing other stuff. There are social spaces in the game and that’s where James and I would hang around and just chat in ‘the tower’ after our group had finished playing. It started as a friendship and I realised it was progressing as we spent more time together after the game finished, chatting online.”

Brady, 31, and Michelle, 34, have experienced the beauty and challenges of a relationship built and maintained through gaming for over 15 years. Brady says, “Make sure the person is who they say they are, get to know them first.” After first meeting at a local video game arcade in their teens, they then serendipitously met online playing World of Warcraft. After this, they got to know each other both in and out of game. “Back then the voice chat function wasn’t good quality. You were better off using the home phone to talk.” They still find time to play games together around their two children, aged 12 and 2.

Like Li, Georgia and James, Brady says, “We’ve met a lot of friends through games, there’s a huge community. We occasionally meet up in person. They are the most genuine people we’ve ever met.”

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