Who are you really in an online world?


I’ve never really thought a great deal about the people around me in an MMO.  I tend to take things at face value.  Present yourself as you want to be.  It’s a fantasy world.  Create your persona, and live it out in a pixilated Shangri La . With the advent of guild websites, facebook, twitter, email, cell phone texting and the seemingly endless ways we can all communicate with relative ease, I have begun to see my online friendships blossom into beautiful bonds I cherish.  When I filled out a reference sheet for my resume recently, I realized almost everyone in my life I have met online in one way or another.

Sociologists are having a field day studying the data.  Real life relationships are blending into the online world.  People date each other, befriend each other, and some find the online world is easier to navigate than the real one leading them to be stronger in their communication than they would be sitting across a restaurant table from a real life person.

What is it about an MMO that lends itself to this strong bonding?


As humans we are subject to the same mammalian characteristics as our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the gorillas and chimpanzees.  We are social animals.  Like our cousins, we “created complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups.” (Wikipedia)

When I read the above, I realized I could insert any MMO’s tag line in there.  Each MMO world is purposefully built to mimic the real one.  Developers take pains to create more and more “life-like” avatars, create a stable economy, systems for competitive and cooperative play, and so forth.

When I am playing with my friends in an online world, I can tell a lot about who they really are simply by being around them.  Some players are highly competitive, some are super helpful, some will set themselves up to be their guilds crafter for xyz, and others are quiet content to move around the periphery of the family/guild.  There is an endless scope of personalities peppering the online worlds.

After spending between 20-40 plus hours per week with my online guildies, I can tell you who will be willing to help me go through a tough dungeon, who is going to be a prick about the loot, who is going to enjoy the run, and who is going to get mad and rage quit when things don’t go their way.

It isn’t a surprise to me when I find myself drawn to certain people.  I met my husband in an online MMO while he was in another country serving in the military.  My best friend I met on a website for Navy spouses.  Several really important relationships in my life started with the DDOcast podcast 4 years ago.   I have a girlfriend through my DDO static group who adds joy to my life on a daily basis through emails and facebook games.

I live more socially because of my online life, than I do in my real world.  I am not terribly outgoing by nature.  If I had my way, I would only leave my house when it was on fire.  I don’t have dinner parties, or have friends over for gatherings.  I am not an entertainer.

But through my MMO’s, and the friendships created within them, I have an outlet for keeping up with life’s celebrations.  Births, deaths, birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, bad hair days and crap relationships.  It’s all played out in the guild chat daily.

How much do I share with people I meet in an online world is up to me!  Many outside my guild in several of my MMO’s don’t know I am actually female.  I generally don’t use voice chat unless I am comfortable with the players I am with.  While I play female avatars almost exclusively, you can’t always assume the person behind the female avatar is actually a female.

I am happily married.  I tend to talk about it a lot.  In fact it has been pointed out to me that in my MMO worlds, I am generally a super happy, friendly, outgoing person.  This could not be more counter to my actual personality.  I generally don’t answer my phone.  I am exceedingly private.  I don’t share my day to day dealings with anyone really, excepting my partner.

So which one is the real Rowanheal?

Both.  I am a complicated.  I am human.

I had a friend come to me a week or so ago in the wee hours of the morning to talk.  They had not realized how close a bond would be created when they started playing an MMO.  They felt they had misrepresented themselves and needed to let me know who they really were.  What they told me didn’t change how I thought of them.  They were still the outgoing, funny, generous person I knew them to be.  If anything it deepened my respect and awe at who they are.

That world blending I spoke about earlier has come home to roost.   Not always in a good way.

sticks and stones
sticks and stones

The same social stuttering we suffer in our real world has grown in our online ones.  The arguments over Race, Religion, and Sexual Orientation are discussed with little thought to who those words might be offensive or hurtful.

With the anonymity pervasive in online dealings, people can find themselves overwhelmed with a case of verbal diarrhea and vomit their beliefs all over those around them with little consequence to themselves.

I won’t say it doesn’t belong in an online world.  We are human.  Who we are is carried with us wherever we go.  We are immensely honest really.  If you are an ass, you are going to be an ass in an MMO.  *shrugs* It’s just the way we are built.  We have an inability to hide our core beliefs.  They rise to the surface like oil floating on water.

I am just going to ask if you would let some of it go while you play.

I like what the Buddhists have to say on the subject.  Be who you are authentically, but be careful not to let it hurt those around you.  We are here to learn how to be better than what we were born as.

And let’s face it, based on the studies done by the The Genographic Project, we are ALL related by blood despite our Race, Religion or Sexual Orientation.

So who are you really? Is who you are in an MMO how you want to be seen? Are you making strong relationships with the people you play with every week?

I am interested in hearing what you are experiencing.  So let me know!

Game on!!!