It all starts with a ritual called the Ceremony of Eternal Bonding, a special rite of passage for two individuals who wish to pledge to each other a lifetime of devotion in massively multiplayer online role-playing game Final Fantasy 14.
Players venture to the Sanctum of the 12, where they are permitted to host a matrimonial service accessible to any in-game friends they'd like to invite. From stunning flower arrangements to special ceremonial chocobos, these in-game marriages often result in quite the party. So much so, that players sometimes seek to replicate them in real life - eternal bonding and all.
Final Fantasy 14 player marriage isn't as uncommon as it may seem, and in fact it's gone on for years. But it's rare that two players who marry in the game go on to marry in real life. One player, named Andrea, intends to do just that. She met her real life fiancé in Final Fantasy 14, married him in the game, and now intends to get married in real life next year.
"He ended up helping me get some weekly clears and I remember picking on each other constantly about our performance and teaching each other," Andrea remembers. "It got to the point we were doing everything together." Eventually, they started making silly excuses to keep playing together long after everybody else logged off.
Six months later, Andrea told him she was going to be in town for E3 2017. They arranged a meetup ahead of time, and as they booked plans for LA, they decided to get married in Final Fantasy 14 - something all of their friends were already encouraging.
After a while, the in-game marriage - or Ceremony of Eternal Bonding - started to lead to some exploratory conversations. Andrea says it started to feel like they were officially dating. "It's weird to feel that close to someone without having met them yet, but there's a closeness that happens when you're talking to someone on Discord for hours every single night for months that doesn't happen with casual dating," she says. "We didn't have the option to grab coffee or meet for a quick lunch, so we did all of these activities together that require spending way more time with each other than quick dates."
Andrea recalls times when the pair would talk until two in the morning, half-asleep, waiting for a dungeon to reappear so they could complete it together. Even after being on a call for eight hours straight, they would sit somewhere in the city of Ishgard and take cute screenshots together, hanging out with one another as if it were real life.
Then came the in-game marriage. "The ceremony made me weirdly emotional, like a total doofus, because it felt like a way I could tell everyone this was a thing I was proud of and happy about," Andrea adds. "It was a way to share with friends that we considered ourselves to be dating at that point."
Andrea says it felt slightly awkward telling friends they were going to give it a shot after only having met in person once. "But it felt right," she explains. "When we finally met, it was like seeing someone I'd known for years. We instantly clicked. Our meeting at E3 2017 changed my entire life, and I'm so happy I got over my initial fear of jumping into this. I've moved on from feeling embarrassed or silly to thinking it's super cool."
Eventually, Andrea and her partner decided to one-up their in-game marriage. Andrea packed her things and booked a one-way flight from Mississippi to California. "It stunned my parents, but they love him now too and support it," she says. A year later, the couple got engaged at Disneyland. They plan to marry in 2021, and Andrea already has some ideas for incorporating Final Fantasy 14 into their real-life wedding, including inviting in-game friends, ordering His & Her cakes, and playing tracks from the game's soundtrack.
Andrea isn't alone in finding real love in the virtual fantasy of Final Fantasy 14. Another player, who goes by the Reddit handle legenddairybard, actually married someone she married in the game. "Over time, we just started hanging out and playing the game more and I eventually gave him my phone number," she explains.
"He was very kind, funny and supporting," she tells me. "He asked me if I wanted to do the Ceremony of Eternal Bonding. I told him sure, it looks fun. Plus the rewards are really helpful."
Legenddairybird remembers joking with friends who had never played the game about the whole situation. "I'm getting married Saturday, you should come," she told them. "Needless to say, no one showed up."
Six months later, legenddairybird flew cross-country to meet her in-game husband. "The first time meeting him, I had that feeling, and it grew even more when we got to hug each other for the first time," she recalls. "I remember him shaking really badly, I thought he was going to faint." They spent Christmas together that year, and met up again for Valentine's Day, at which point the topic of real-life marriage came up.
Legenddairybird recalls her family's excitement when she flew home and told them, although notes they initially had a different reaction when she suggested meeting up with him.
"At first, people looked at me like I was crazy," she says. "It's funny to look back at, but in hindsight I understand why they felt like that. I know there's a stigma when you meet people you've been talking to online, especially with people making up personas. We don't always quite know if people are who they say they are on the internet." But after legenddairybird's family and friends realised her Final Fantasy 14 love genuinely cared for her, they lightened up, and the pair got hitched - in real life this time - in October 2019.
"At first we thought, big wedding, both families, everyone there! We'll have a Final Fantasy wedding with Moogles and Chocobo decorations everywhere and we'll walk out to the Prelude!' legenddairybird says. Instead, they went with a different approach.
"We kept it a secret from everyone for months," she says. "The day was coming up and we had to sell a story so no-one suspected anything. We told his parents we were going to a music festival in the city and he needed the days off work." They got married in a private ceremony with only a reverend in attendance, and had a cake that was half-vanilla, half-chocolate. "Our topper was the A Realm Reborn meteor, with bard and white mage soul crystals," she says. "While it wasn't exactly a Final Fantasy-themed wedding, I made us small badges to put on during the ceremony, since I was a bard and he was a white mage."
"After the wedding, we told his parents we wanted to show them photos of the festival we went to," legenddairybird jokes. "It was a photo of us holding a sign that said Just Married with a paopu fruit [from Kingdom Hearts] behind it, and their initial reaction was, 'Wait, where's the festival you said you were going to?' "
After announcing their marriage, her husband's dad asked, "... like, in the game, right?" However, legenddairybird quickly confirmed it was the real deal. "His parents both cried and told us how happy they were," she says. "They were still initially upset because there wasn't really a music festival," she jokes.
This phenomenon is double-sided, however. Some couples have rekindled their real-life relationships in Final Fantasy 14 - or even replicated past video game marriages in the game. A Reddit user who goes by the handle "LollipopTechno" tells me when Final Fantasy 14 2.0 launched, she rebuilt her 2009 guild from Ragnarok Online with her real-life boyfriend in-game. Interestingly, that very guild was where they'd met. "I was browsing the market area of a city, window shopping, and I received a private message from someone, asking if I had a certain hat that was recently released in the game," she explains. "I did not. But I offered to help him comb through the market to find someone with it."
They found the hat, he thanked her, and they went their separate ways. However, they stayed in touch and eventually became friends. A few months later, LollipopTechno took a nine-hour trip up to California, where they spent their first few days together. "He refers to it as trial by fire," she says. "We got some really bad food poisoning for a few days, thanks to some pizza we picked up right after he got me from the train station, so we both looked our absolute worst on day one. We did our best trying to take care of each other, and after I had finally recovered, I was like, yeah... I like this guy." Two years later, they were living together.
Despite already having been married before - in Ragnarok Online - conversations about the Ceremony of Eternal Bonding in Final Fantasy 14 cropped up. "We redid the marriage just to get our actual anniversary dates on our rings, making them more special," LollipopTechno says. They plan to get married in real life someday, but are in no rush at the moment. Weddings are complicated, according to LollipopTechno, and they prefer to keep things simple.
When we think of married couples renewing their vows, we often think of holiday hotspots, such as at a castle, a hotel or even at a ranch. But couples are finding the exotic locales of Final Fantasy 14 just as sweet a destination. Redditor sUnit_Alpha tells me after his wife fostered her own interest in Final Fantasy 14, the couple replicated their real-life marriage in its virtual world.
"It was similar in that our real wedding was also small, just close family and friends," Alpha says. "In Final Fantasy 14 we didn't have anyone attend because we don't know anyone else who plays, so we kept it just her and me and focused on our love for each other. We always glamour our wedding rings onto our left hands with every single outfit to show our commitment."
It's lovely to see stories such as these, where people meet their partners-to-be in Final Fantasy 14, or reinforce an existing bond by spending time together in-game. And the developers of the game have taken notice. Naoki Yoshida, creative director of Final Fantasy 14, is well aware his game and other MMOs that came before it are capable of bringing people from all over the world together.
"Back when I was playing Ultima Online, I actually attended a wedding ceremony for two friends who had met in the game," Yoshida tells Eurogamer.
"In Japan alone I have received reports about over 80 couples who met in the game getting married and have sent out many messages of congratulations." In fact, Final Fantasy aficionados in Japan are now able to have officially licensed Ceremony of Eternal Bonding weddings. You even get a prop weapon for the reception.
"There is no real difference between people who hit it off when they meet through other hobbies such as surfing or snowboarding and then go on to get married, and those who meet and hit it off in online games," Yoshida continues. "However, I often do think that something unique about meeting in online games is that because you cannot see the other person's real face or appearance, you are not swayed by unnecessary information and can understand their inner values and intentions more directly, making it easier to make a mutual personal connection. Either way, I am always delighted when two people who have met in the world I created come together in this way."
It's an important detail to consider, especially in these troubling times. With most social gatherings deemed off-limits for the foreseeable future, virtual meetups are more important than ever. For some this amounts to an upsurge in wine parties on Zoom. For others, this means traversing boundless fantasy worlds together, exploring bottomless fonts of magic and mystery while overcoming divine adversaries against the will of destiny. And, if you're so inclined afterwards - or during! - it means getting married.
Speaking of Final Fantasy 14's Ceremony of Eternal Bonding, Yoshida says it's a way for people to come together and pledge their bonds to one another "regardless of race or gender".
"I am overjoyed to see it being used in this way and can only wish these two players every happiness in future!" he says. "I think it is great!"
"I don't think there is anything particularly special in there, but the Ceremony of Eternal Bonding moves away from real world value systems, religious and educational perspectives, and was created with the idea that I wanted the intentions of the two people involved in the ceremony to be more free and more down to them," Yoshida continues. "That it has been accepted by many different people from around the world makes me very happy as a game designer and I am very proud of it."
Andrea, too, is proud of the 'how we met' story of her relationship. "I spent the longest time awkwardly confessing to friends how I met him and even lied to some about our story," she says.
"If you're talking to someone online, of course be safe about it," she adds. "But for us, we realised that not physically meeting for six months wasn't the big deal we originally thought it was. We spent hours talking to each other every single night up until that point because Final Fantasy 14 was part of our daily ritual. You learn about someone's likes, dislikes, happy memories, trauma, childhood, career, everything, when you spend time together like that. We covered it all.
"It was such an incredible rollercoaster, and for a girl living in the middle of nowhere in Mississippi, it's not often I run into someone I'm compatible with. I'm so lucky I found him. The best thing that ever happened to me also just happened to be waiting for me in my favourite game. I hope other people can find the courage to take the plunge and don't be embarrassed about it."
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