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I stuck mainly to the consoles with my MMOs. Phantasy Star Online (PSO) for the Dreamcast? Does that even count as an MMO? Oh well, I suppose it can since it carried
all the attributes that made me want to keep playing more MMOs at the time. I must have logged about 1000 hours into that game. One of my only real life friends and I
got involved in the game almost as soon as release, and we couldn't get enough of it. If I remember right, they're called 'Player Cards.' You exchange cards if you wanted to be friends. Basically a friendlist deal. I guess for me it all started from there. I was only 15 or 16 then and I never felt like I connected with people. But for some reason, playing PSO allowed me to feel that connection. A good chunk of the world's population would have disagree with me, but then, the way I was, nothing felt more real. Online friends felt like real life friends. Slowly, over time, I lost the distinction between to the two. I'm not trying to paint a thematic picture here at all though. There's nothing wrong with online friends, but it's always important to note their limitations. I can't remember the majority of the people I encountered but I do remember two in particular that held a place dear to my heart in PSO: Jeya and Poptart.
Poptart I never communicated with outside of the game before, but it never stopped us from having some very interesting and relaxing conversations. Jeya, a couple of years older than me, we went as far talking on the phone a few times for several hours. Now, as far as I was concerned at this time, I had never heard of Ventrillo, TeamSpeak, and there was definitely no Skype lurking about. Talking on the phone with a girl was huge to me. Then there was the fact that she had almost all the same interests I did. I told myself that it was just like having a pen pal except a little more interactive, but deep inside I knew it was something deeper, something more meaningful to me. I ended up seeing two different pictures of her sent to my friend Chris in the mail, but even before that I felt an attraction to her. It was closer to the "I really want to get together and know you more" attraction though. And with all the cards on the table, I'm pretty sure Jeya was at least a little interested in me for awhile. Nothing came out of it other than an unforgotten online friendship, especially as my interest in PSO dwindled, but I never knew of another girl that was interested in me; it was a first time deal for me.
Why was I so captivated though by a girl talking to me on a videogame or on the phone who I never even met? Maybe psychology could boil it down to me having mother abandonment issues. I do know I have always had insecurity issues. I know that I tend to choose people to talk to that I know won't openly judge me. I never had a fear of crowds or audiences or doing the standing up in front of the class thing. However, I always had a problem with connecting to females beyond the basic social interaction. It was a foreign substance that I dared not tread. Beyond saying 'hi' and following it with a joke at the status quo, what else do you say to a female. And I don't even mean the females I'm attracted to, it was any female. I had a serious problem and the only way I knew to deal with it was keep it to myself. But at the end of the day I wanted love. Real love. So I suppose I was still reaching out in my own way.
I found on PSO though that connecting with people was easier for me. Was it because I didn't have to show my face online? Quite possibly. I think today it was because here's something very deliberate and assured when using typed words to communicate to other people. There's no stuttering. There's a simple directness to get what you want across that is undeniably simpler for me. What I want to say barely ever seemed skewed. It was as close to perfect for a form of expression that I was ever going
to get. I was a happier person for it - I could feel it. PSO didn't offer enough to hold my attention any longer though and I chose to leave the game. And with hardly
any other Dreamcast MMOs out there, I decided to close the door on the online friendships I made through PSO.
I didn't touch another game like that until Final Fantasy XI Online (FFXI) came around. I started on the Playstation 2, played a little on the PC, and eventually moved to the Xbox 360. It had everything I would have ever dreamed of: massive zones, interesting monsters, beautiful graphics (I know, they're ugly now. Give me a break.),
a storyline, and just the kind of game that practically begged you to make friends. And all I can say is that I went hardcore. I spent more time on that game then I did probably living in the real world - to the point that it was an affliction. It was almost three years straight of dictating how I lived my life. I made friends and acquaintances. I had impossible adventures that allowed me to escape my at-the-time mundane life. There was nothing more important to me then logging in and just staying on.
I wasn't addicted to the grind believe it or not. I only obtained a single level 75 job. I was addicted to the relationships I forged in the game. It was tough to tell someone that I talked to multiple hours a day, "I need to get sleep" or "I need to spend time with this family member." The truth was the in-game people were more involved with my life because I allowed it that way. I manipulated my life to revolve around the game and I was stuck against admitting it. I'd ignore phone calls - even knocks on the door. It all felt too bothersome.
At some point in all this mess, I met someone through FFXI. Teeree was a female player that started off as an honest in-game friendship and blossomed from there. In-game we did everything together. Partying, questing, you name it - we pretty much did it. Around this same time was the first time I started voice chat through TeamSpeak. TeamSpeak was like a whole other animal for communication and just added to my addiction. It made the social interaction all the more convincing it was real. At this time, I could not separate real life relationships with those I had on TeamSpeak. TeamSpeak introduced me to Teeree's voice for the first time, and I could just not believe how ...female... her voice sounded. There was no doubt that her voice was enticing to me. Not long after thinking that, she sends me a personal message through the game that she thought my voice was sexy. And oh boy, from there my heart melted into the concept.
We talked on the phone not long after that and had an online relationship follow suit. Obviously there was no touching, no kissing or anything of the such. It was more like promises and talk of sweet nothings. It was plans for the future. Dreams we both had and wanted. She lived halfway across the country but it didn't matter. I thought I was in love; I knew what I wanted. I was going to move to her city and start a new life there - with her. Looking back, I don't really know why I was so taken with her except since maybe she was the first one that showed upfront romantic interest in me. I've been on a couple of dates before, did a few high school dances and prom, but I've never taken a step further with a female and as soon as that connection with Teeree came by me, I felt it was too great to pass up. It was something new and comforting. It was something that I had wished for without even really knowing how much I wanted it. The thing about this online relationship was that other than FFXI we shared absolutely no interests. To some, that would be obvious foreshadow. You know how they always say the first girlfriend is the toughest to get over? I don't agree with it, but I definitely get it.
Then one day I'm noticing I'm getting a completely different vibe from Teeree through TeamSpeak. Her choices no longer concerned me in matters. Her diction was to that of a friend and no longer to that of a loved one - as it had been before. Teeree wanted me to keep our relationship a secret online and I respected that because I thought she was embarrassed by it since one of her real life friends played FFXI as well. I believe she made the choice to have a relationship with that particular friend at some point during our online relationship without telling either of us. And at some point, she made her decision to transform our relationship into a friendship. Or maybe her feelings were never what I thought they were? I believe I hit the nail on the head in my assessment, but I could be wrong. Either way, the day when I noticed the changes, I called her out on it. There was pretty much a full blown rant from both sides that day over TeamSpeak that ended with private MSN texted messages. To anyone looking from the outside, looking in, they could never probably understand the feelings I had then unless you've been in a similar situation.
Sad or not, this was the first "romantic" relationship I had formed. I have never been able to express myself easy face to face in the way I intended. It's so much easier just to type what you think then express it, right? This was the first time I had wholly let go and opened myself up to someone, anyone, at all. I was in love.
I can't for the life of me remember her exact words, but I remember the message that she left me with before I was so upset I powered my computer down ending our communication forever.
"We haven't even met. I don't even know you."
I was right about almost everything in our rants, but where it counted; she wasn't wrong. And I hated her for it, but mostly I hated myself - for a long time.
Hours. Days. Months. Almost a year. All that time. All of it meant nothing. I was torn apart. I had spent more time talking with her in that year than I did sleeping.
I was in a dark place after that. One that I don't care to talk too much about. Even though I still played FFXI quite avidly for about a year afterwards, it was becoming an unbreakable habit, I quit my job through lack of going. What little real life relationships I did have took a deep plummet. My best friend Chris probably won't admit this to me now, but he resented me around this time because I completely shut him out. His resentment was justified though. He wasn't having the best of times in his life and while his reaction to his problems was to reach out to those around him, my reaction was turning away. My dad lost respect for me. And my brother, I treated much the same way I did my best friend even though he was getting engaged and on his way to having a kid. The only social interaction I had outside FFXI during this period was my random outburst of forum trolling as Clydehedin on the Allakhazam boards. Anything that could be make me laugh. And... I ate. I must have gained about a hundred pounds. I was disgusted with myself on so many levels.
But all I could think about was that somehow the best thing in my life was over. It took time, but I did manage to move on. I picked up the pieces of what was left of me and slowly attempted to reconnect. After I got involved with real life again, I began to look at the bigger picture. Her message was still seared into my head. "I don't even know you." How could she tell me she didn't know me, when all I did was tell her about me? I told her my thoughts as I spoke them. I never lied to her once.
It never occurred to me that our relationship had a weak spot other than distance. The sad truth was that she only knew what I told her, and from that, she had to believe my words - with blind faith. For all she knew, I was lying about everything from day one. The relationship she had found in the real world was something tangible, something she could see and feel with her own eyes. Even though I knew in my heart that my love could never be exceeded by another man's, it didn't matter because she couldn't touch it.
I began questioning any form of bonds made over the internet. I gained a huge untrusting attitude about life except for a list of maybe three or four people I knew in real life. Anyone I met had an agenda. Anyone that approached me wanted something. Most never got that vibe from me from what I could tell, but on the inside I was an ugly person. I hadn't touch an MMO for about maybe a year. At my new job, I met a decent enough guy named Tim and we became somewhat friendly acquaintances. I threw a Halo LAN party at my house and invited him. While there, he brought up that he played World of Warcraft (WoW). I find out shortly around the same time that my cousins were playing the game too. They're on completely different servers, of course.
So then I moved onto WoW. It was something new, something practical.
I came into the game with complete intention of never again forming a strong relationship online. I wanted to only maintain the real life relationships I already had, and maybe make a solid friendship with Tim. I had learned my lesson the hard and ridiculous way. Game life is game life and real life is real life. I created two characters: Danshin, a Rogue on the server my cousins played on and Hairytoenail, a Priest on Tim's server.
Blood is thicker than water, so I started with Danshin, but my cousins never seemed to be on when I was, and I wasn't that excited by playing Rogue like I thought I would be. Not to mention, everytime at work, Tim antagonized me a little about not playing on his server enough. So I started leveling my priest a little more often.
WoW can be a pretty hardcore game, don't get me wrong, but it's not the demanding game that FFXI was during this time period. WoW let you solo all the way up to the level cap with no problem really. This was fine for me. I didn't want any attachments or any reason to be dependent on others. I just wanted to get to the level cap so Tim and I could do more things in the game together.
So I'm doing the quest thing and I get this random whisper asking me to do a dungeon with the group. I accept reluctantly. As I joined the group, my name "Hairytoenail" gets pointed out by a mage named Karesta as extremely disgusting. But we keep on getting through the dungeon. It was at this time I realized just how much fun I had making sure everyone's health is up to par with my healing magic. It was exciting to me. Refreshing from my tanking days as a ninja, warrior, or paladin in FFXI. The dungeon was a success, and everyone went home happy.
The next day, the mage, Karesta, from the earlier dungeon group sends me a whisper asking to duo quest. In the earlier levels, I was kind of having a hard time questing as a holy priest so I once again, reluctantly accepted. Her being a mage and me being a priest was like a match made in pure heaven. It also helped since we were on a PVP server. Almost any challengers that came by or impeded our way was not a problem unless they outrageously outleveled us.
From the get go, Karesta and I used headsets, using the built-in voice channel on the WoW servers. It turned out the mage ... was female. And there's no other way to put it. She had the most beautiful voice in the world. It wasn't too strong or too light. It was like a soft fluffiness that cradled my ears into a lifting coolness.
It was the perfect female voice.
AND I SECRETLY HATED HER FOR IT.
You see, I didn't want to make an online friend. In my mind, I just wanted to use her so that I could level to Tim's level and I could do raids with him. It was obvious though that she was looking for an online friend to share the quest grind together. Either way, I followed suit.
Our characters started in level 20s or around about and from there, our partnership just sort of took off.
Questing in WoW can be, let's face it, a pretty dulling experience sometimes, so all we had to do other than forming basic strategies together, was talk. We talked about everything. Literally. Everything. I can't stress that enough. She had just gotten out of a relationship, which sounded closed to my online relationship, years ago. I talked about my past and was honest about "most" everything. We exchanged myspace.com accounts - remember that old social site? Neither one of us decided to outlevel the other. Day in, day out, we kept at it together. I was having more fun leveling with her than I did with anyone else I knew.
After about a week, I told her I was taking off about two days from the game to just take a little break and maybe play on my cousin's server some. I was having so much fun with her that I completely forgot about leveling on my cousin's server. They were starting to ask me why I was only on Tim's server. Surprisingly, she didn't say much in response except that she wouldn't level - that she would wait for me.
It didn't even occurred to me that she would want to even consider waiting. She seemed like a pretty hardcore player, she was on every day, and she was almost as bad as I used to be with FFXI. I had to ask, "Why?"
And then she responded, "Because I have fun talking to you."
I took my break, much like I said I would. My cousin's server was as bland as I could remember, and I found myself thinking how much fun I had with Karesta. Her voice was so enthralling. Her words were so open. I had never felt this from someone else before. She was just so honest with her emotions and her life that it seemed unreal. She had to be fake in some way. The only person I knew that was this honest, this upfront, about themselves ever was ... me. And I was still honest - for the most part, but nearly as open anymore.
Of course, I went back after my little break and Karesta did exactly what she said she would. And I realized Karesta was more excited to see me than I was her. I wanted to be the open-ended potential great friend that I believed she expected of me, but I held onto my vice. I was friendly, but on the inside, I wasn't a friend. I didn't trust her. People like her are not real I told myself. I had promised myself that I would never be vulnerable again. I had also promised myself that I would never give into the idea that online friendships are just as important as real life friendships. In my head, I had to keep repeating the words throughout our time, "This will never be real. This is just a game, and the players are just part of that experience."
But things are never that simple when you care.
It started with the little things. Letting me have an item when it would benefit either one of us. Helping me find resources for my Herbalsim craft. She was leaving groups and/or completely avoiding guild events in order to do things with me. Karesta had another character already at level cap that she never bothered with even though she enjoyed that class more. I never asked her for these things, but I find in the moments that Karesta and I are spending, she's doing more for me than she is for herself. And it seemed strangely - completely natural to her. I rarely, if ever, gave back even a tenth of what she gave me. But Karesta kept going. I was hesitant to ask why. Why did she want to do these things for me? What could possibly be the agenda? I'm not absolutely naive. I know there are nice people out there in the big dark world, especially in the gaming community, but this just felt different. I once was one of those people on FFXI that always helped when I could myself, but this - it WAS different.
Initially, I didn't care about the game that much essentially other than using it as a tool for real life social interaction, but it was becoming a tool for other stuff. Like spending time with her. It was happening before I even realized it was happening. As the weeks rolled on into months, I couldn't force myself to believe that Karesta was just a player anymore. Tim kind of skipped out on me in the long run too, even after I hit level cap, but that didn't matter to me either. Just like neither did playing on my cousin's server. Only she did. She was more to me than just an online friend, but I still held off admitting it even to myself. I needed that buffer. I needed to feel secure. Karesta carried on talking over the voice channel through the weeks consistently like I was her best friend. And slowly, before I knew it, I was literally logging into WoW to just see her. The tool for social interaction was becoming a tool to see Karesta.
Then one day, Karesta asked, "Are we friends?"
And it was here that there was really no turning back. I knew what she was really wanting to know. Karesta wanted to know whether I saw her as a real friend or just a person that I meet up online. She was getting to know me as well over these weeks. I found myself being more open than ever before. Even though I wasn't in a romantic relationship with Karesta like I was with Teeree, this online friendship was looser, more real. We had interests that we actually shared other than just World of Warcraft, and I mean lots of interests. We couldn't shut up about them.
Unless, I was going to stay in denial, it was time for me to take a step forward, I said, "Yes, we are."
Then she immediately puts up her phone number to my surprise. So I give her mine.
We talk on for the weeks that follow, and I know what's coming for me. I'm caring about her. And I don't want to. Long ago, I stopped hating her for the beautiful voice that cradles my ears. She didn't deserve it. She was spending as much time with me as I was with her. We spent roughly six to nine hours every day communicating with each other for months. There was also no denying it. Karesta must have felt "something" for me. Right? It wasn't just about friendship for her anymore. Was it?
But did it even matter though? Nothing could ever come from it. We literally lived on opposite ends of the country. Thousands of miles apart, and me being a student with a mediocre job had very limited money. So it wasn't even really a question that should be asked.
The phone wasn't doing it for us anymore, we decided. We both wanted to see each other, and the most logical way to do it was webcam. In our first webcam, I got to see a moving, breathing, talking, Karesta, and it was unreal. I really didn't want to come off as bragging, but there's no really other way to put. Karesta is attractive. And I'm not saying the 'oh she's attractive because I'm attracted to her' kind of thing. She is definitively gorgeous. She's beautiful not as in the down-the-aisle model type but more along as the girl-next-door that you would like at least one chance with. This was first time I have ever had a real connection with a woman.... that I was definitely attracted to.
And then it suddenly became real. Face-to-face. There were no more possibilities to be conspicuous. Everything felt like it was out in the open, and undeniably, all of our conversations were taken to a whole new level. We still played WoW, but it was more an after-the-fact kind of deal. We typically put in two hours of webcam every-single-day. This is on top of at least two hours of World of Warcraft and anytime we got a chance to talk on the phone. She was becoming an extension of who I was. I found that much in the way I chose to revolve my life around FFXI, I was now revolving it around Karesta. I had never done that with Teeree, not even close.
Then one day, we're doing another dungeon together, and Karesta is unusually nervous.
Karesta stutters in the beginning, but is definitely adamant, "I have something to tell you." As soon as she says it, her character runs straight into a wall. I can't help but laugh at how funny it looked. And even though she giggles at her own mishap, she did nervously, so I stopped laughing to give her room to breathe.
And then she said it, "I'm so in love you that it's ridiculous."
And it felt so good to hear it because I felt the same way.
But I didn't say I loved her back. That barrier I placed on myself. It was still there. After all the positive Karesta has brought into my life, I still elected to turn my back on my own feelings and hers. Because I was scared.
What if later she does the same thing to me that Teeree did? Even though I believed wholeheartedly she wouldn't, I didn't want to be in that dark place again. If there was even a chance I could turn into that ugly person I was again, I had to put a stop before it could happen.
So I lied. I told her I didn't feel the same way, that I was just looking to be really good friends. And I regretted it completely.
Then two days later.
I changed my mind, poured everything out to her, and once again I got into an online romantic relationship.
Only this time it felt different at its core. The relationship didn't feel fragile. I had my doubts about things, specifically the future, but at its essence, all the right elements were there. We truly did learn to love each other through texted words, through our voices, through facial expressions on a monitor. It was real. It wasn't fabricated, it wasn't reaching, it was something abstract that took on a life of it's own. We reveled in it.
Almost a year had passed, we had been 'together' nearly 5 or 6 months and time was not moving fast enough. The future was beginning to catch up to us because we couldn't wait anymore, especially Karesta.
But I didn't have the money to make that happen and neither did she. And I decided to pick up a second job, and things began to change.
I made promise to her, "May 9th." We were finally going to meet. I was going to make it happen. But that wasn't enough for her either. She told me she couldn't take me coming up for a week and then losing me again for possibly years.
So we had a decision to make. Do we break off our relationship? Do we take a firm step forward into a world of definite risk? Karesta made a promise to me, "I will leave everything I know behind to be with you - if you come get me."
Was it stupid? Was it naive? Dangerous? I don't know. Crazy? Obviously.
Either way, it was the best decision in my entire life. With the money from the second job, I got an apartment for us. I bought a roundtrip plane ticket with a guest pass on the way back. I got a hotel where she lived for an entire week. And then from the state of Louisiana, I flew to Oregon.
Seeing someone in real life after seeing someone on webcam for so long that you love... it's unfathomable. I will swear to this day that she radiated the sun's glow when I first saw her. It was like she was here in this world so I could find a way to be happy. And if that is the case, then it worked. We spent the most magical week possible while I was there, and even though, she had a huge fear of planes, Karesta stepped onto the plane with me. And then came home with me.
Over four years we've been happily together now.
Today, although retired from WoW, Hairytoenail and Karesta have twins and are definitely planning on having some more. I plan on telling our twins that our love was so great one baby wasn't enough to contain our love. (Just go with it).
I guess that's why I miss playing MMOs really. Because I have nostalgia for the social journey I had to go through to finding true love. It's road I would only take again if I could skip the bad parts and embrace the good.
But it doesn't matter anymore I suppose. I don't have the time anymore. I got twins and a person I love. Hope you guys have fun in your game worlds!