“I didn’t particularly like him at all,” she says from their bungalow in England. “But I think he persuaded me to join his guild, and that’s when I realized you were really passionate about the game. He really cared about his players.” He was interested in people’s personal lives.
Alberto didn’t just poach Michelle from his previous guild.
At the time they met in the game, Michelle had been married for 22 years and had a daughter. She often worked seven days a week. “I don’t think it occurred to me that I was that alone,” she said. “I just worked and played wow.”
Michelle was also often ill and the doctors did not know why. She ended up spending one to two weeks a month in the hospital. She couldn’t play World of Warcraft there, but Alberto chatted with her on the phone and on WhatsApp to keep her company.
“She realized at that point that nobody else cared for her, except me. And we started to move that type of friendship just in the game to something that was a bit more involved,” Alberto said.
Michelle ended her previous marriage amicably. After a year of dating at a distance, Alberto left Italian city life in Milan to move with her to a rural English town. Doctors had discovered that Michelle had multiple sclerosis; Alberto has sworn to be by his side no matter what. He proposed to her in the hospital.
Their wedding was adorned with World of Warcraft tributes, including in-game music and a red Horde symbol on the bride’s veil. Attendees included members of the game’s guild.
Michelle now has grandchildren who call Alberto “Granddad Wochi”, after his World of Warcraft character. And, along with Alberto’s brother and sister-in-law, the couple opened a shop called Geeks Headquarters in Chesterfield, England, generating a community for people who love tabletop games.
“I always wanted, before I met my wife, to have a partner that I could share these things with, because I never thought that anyone else could understand this type of world, except someone who love it,” Alberto said.
Anthony Bean, who uses the tools of role-playing and geek culture to help clients in therapy, has seen some game-driven relationships work just as well. He is also known to break up marriages and form new ones. A character asking “How was your day?” in a virtual dating space can be compelling, says Anthony, especially if no one in real life asks.
“This avatar experience really allows us to connect with other people because we are
will naturally gravitate towards people with our taste, our adventure, our desire to move forward and understand the world around us. To explore. Experience. Everything along those lines,” says Anthony.
However, some relationships dissolve quickly when starry-eyed players realize their partners are different in real life. They may have the same kind of one-sided, “parasocial” relationships with avatars as they do with a news anchor or artist – watching them on a screen, but not fully knowing them as actual human individuals.
That’s why Anthony advises anyone who wants to progress an in-game relationship to first meet just for a day, in a public space, in a city that isn’t where either of the people lives. A cruise, for example, would be a terrible first date, he says.