Whether it’s behind the computer or DM screen, role-playing and relationships are a balancing act and a half. At the very least.
It’s with a somewhat heavy heart that I let my World of Warcraft subscription expire this week, this time likely for good.
Originally playing only a few months after its release in 2004, I’ve been playing consistently with only a few breaks ever since. It’s always been a social activity for me, considering that I’ve played a character with every last one of my boyfriends, but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I started role-playing in-game and invested myself in a role-playing guild. As anyone who has RP’ed in a guild can tell you, your guildies become nigh-on family, and as you get closer to each other, prove to be just as dysfunctional as family in real life.
As I was reading over the Drama Mamas column on WoW Insider, it shocked me that I had been involved in, or bore witness to, no less than half the predicaments described there. Maybe you can blame rhetorical theory for why we fall for our role-playing partners, while Murphy’s Law essentially dooms couples who play together in the same guild in spite of the dangers, but the resulting drama of either (or both) can soon overwhelm the fun of collaborative storytelling.
And that’s where I ended up after almost two years. The out-of-character web of relationships was too entangling, and things got too personal. I had to step back. After all, these were just people I’d met on the internet.
So I wanted to take a break and return to the real-world, thinking that I’d at least be safe from it there.
Between the the breakup of two of my players and the resulting crushes that have been flying in its wake, and my own decision to begin dating another one of my players, I’m up to my eyeballs in gunpowder that’s just waiting for a spark.
But somehow, things haven’t blown up just yet. Even in the former situation, which has already unfolded for the most part, we’ve ultimately kept our cool as a group.
What worked at the table, when my online experience failed so abysmally?
I think it’s half that we can see each other face-to-face and can work out our problems with each other directly, and half that in-character romance has been absent from the campaign. Of course I’d say that my players are emotionally invested in their characters, but the wall between two hasn’t yet been breached. At the table we’re Althea, Lucien, Eryndan, Ekhdrine, Kannan, Sa’id, and Zael. Our underlying egos stay out of it.
Why is that easier to accomplish in real life?
Maybe it’s because at the table our social conditioning and inhibitions stay with us, whereas the pseudo-society on a server is missing key components of human interaction. We simultaneously flourish and devolve in these imaginary settings; we can overcome most fears and insecurities that plague our real life, but without these restrictions we step over lines that are there for a reason. It’s all too easy to idealize or degrade someone who’s just a word or voice on the other side, or to change who we are to who we want to be, not who we should be. It’s id without the super-ego. Relationships without respect.
Put another way, on the Internet we become Assholes. But that’s nothing new.
If I ever do return to Azeroth, it will be as a character, and not a player, like some of the other guildies who shielded themselves from the drama by rarely, if ever, taking off the mask.
It’s a rare person who has the maturity to to be Jon in vent and Findarin in game, but perhaps the most mature thing is to keep the personal out of the game in the first place.