In another instance, two players, RPing a marriage for story purposes, found themselves attracted to each other out-of-character (OOC). Unfortunately, as Mark López, a 20-year-old law student in Chicago discovered, a relationship borne of escapism isn't necessarily conducive to lasting intimacy. He recalls the all-consuming romance he developed OOC with one of his fellow players, Rachel, a 39-year-old bookstore owner and single mother.
"I lied about my age at first," he says, "trying to make myself sound older. We were RPing being a husband and wife, which I found kind of boring. But when I stopped lying, it developed. She was nice; kind of motherly, like someone who would take care of things. And she liked, probably, my humour and intelligence. Then again, maybe it was just that she likes young guys - her boyfriend before me had been 18."
The relationship, still devoid of any physical element, intensified to the point where Mark was planning to move out of his parents' home and in with Rachel in Maine. Interestingly, however, the romance ended over exactly what had facilitated it: RP. "She kept wanting to RP being pregnant," he sighs, "and I wasn't into that. And she started RPing a lot with someone I didn't like - as a character and as a person. Her biggest problem was just a total inability to handle conflict and she'd just fall apart at the first sign of someone being unhappy with something. And she had a total aversion to reality, I discovered - she was obsessed with this British show called Dr. Who. Honestly, if I had to watch one more Dr. Who rerun, I was seriously going to contemplate suicide. F*** you, David Tennant!"
The breakdown of their relationship convinced Mark not to renew his subscription. That said, he still harbours fond memories of his time in the game. "I think RP can be a good creative outlet for people," he decides. "For certain people, anyway. For others, it's definitely an escape from reality. I think the relationship and sexual aspect of RP dumbs the whole thing down a lot. When I got past that stuff and really started RPing proper stories, the quality of my RP and my enjoyment of the game went way up. Things were fun. But after a while, I just sort of started taking a look around. I'm a good-looking guy. I'm funny. I was the stud of the debate team. I have a beautiful Venezuelan girlfriend. That all just started seeming more important."
While Oakes has found herself similarly uninterested in RP more times than she can count over the ten years she's been doing it, she has no plans to quit any time soon. She's tried to move on to other MMOs, too, but keeps coming back to EverQuest II for its community and RP compatibility. "Star Wars Galaxies was actually even better for RPers," she notes, "but I didn't like the graphics much. I'm not planning to quit, but I do know now that taking breaks is necessary. It can be taxing on emotions, cathartic, but all things in moderation."
Popular opinion tends to depict RP as being the dominion of, at best, tragic nerds; at worst, obsessive, sociopathic nerds. Is it? Probably not. Not all the time, anyway. The amount of imagination invested into RP communities is considerable, and one does wonder whether the stories, dramas, and relationships that emerge there could somehow be used in the design of emergent narratives in traditional videogames. But if role-playing found legitimacy, to what scapegoat would regular MMO players direct their righteous hatred? Oh, yeah: gold farmers. Suck it down, you dirty botmongers.