To many, the idea of binding two virtual characters together in the sacred bonds of matrimony is the odd behavior of a select few who can’t separate their personal lives from their characters’ lives in whatever world they’re playing. Why would you get married in-game if there’s no benefit for either party? What are the benefits and perils of such an action? Why is it considered “weird” to do so?
Most games don’t offer official character marriage services, but they do usually have rings, clothing and other items in-game so you can put together your own, if you so desire. Why go through all the trouble? The way I see it, there’s really only a few reasons to have an unofficial marriage between two characters in an MMO.
Role-Playing: Role-Playing isn’t about “thees” or “thous” or god-modding to make yourself the most powerful dragon-slayer of all time. To true role-players it’s about building a character (or characters), creating a believable story and progressing that narrative throughout their time in the game world. In fact, most RPers that I know don’t really RP in situations that would make them all-powerful demon killers. This is mostly due to the fact that those dragons, demons or ogres always respawn and it’s difficult to include that game mechanic into role-playing.
Needless to say, the pursuit of character development, branching narrative or character drama is what may drive certain players to marry their characters off in-game. During my last year or so of playing World of Warcraft, I played on an RP server, and it was probably some of the most fun I’ve ever experienced in that game. The guild I was in was run by a girlfriend and boyfriend combo. Both their main characters were married to each other in-game, and they had wedding ceremonies on each occasion – one of which I was able to attend. It’s almost uncanny to think about the thought, time and, well, love that went into setting up these ceremonies, planning for them, writing some semblance of a “script” to be followed in-game, writing vows, bringing fireworks and refreshments for the characters – you name it, it was there. Attendees brought gifts, rings were exchanged and a general good time ensued at the party afterward.
While in pursuit of expanding the characters, perhaps the individuals involved did become closer in the real world, as well, especially since they were already a couple. It was also a good group-building exercise for the guild as a whole – at least for those that were invited (yes, they sent out in-character invitations in-game, also!).
Non-RP couple: For the non-Rpers, getting hitched in-game might be an attractive prospect just to let the fantasy world know that you’re attached at the hip outside of the game, as well. Not to single female players out, but I’ve seen more than one occasion where they’ve been harassed in-game, and perhaps having it publicly known that they have a real-life significant other would prevent that unfortunate byproduct of MMO anonymity.
For the hell of it: Since there aren’t many MMOs, if any, that give lasting benefits if one player marries another, many might just do it for the hell of it or to say they’ve done it. It’s highly likely they have at least some attachment to the person they marry in-game, instead of dragging some random person in off the street. I would imagine if WoW had an in-game wedding ceremony system like Final Fantasy XI, for example, there would even be achievements for going through the entire process.
In the last two cases there, I feel that it would really only be done if there was a wedding service in-game or if there was some benefit that the two characters involved would receive for getting married. I highly doubt random people who don’t role-play would complain about a game without such services or items. RPers would gladly go through the lengths to even put together a wedding ceremony themselves just to flesh out the story of their character even more. I do wonder at times why WoW – a game that caters extensively to RPers – does not include an in-game wedding system. Yet, on the other hand, a game that doesn’t have dedicated RP servers like Final Fantasy XI, provides extensive wedding services.
It’s interesting how some games have wedding services, others have items that are likely there to be used for player-created weddings and, after all that, there are no divorce services or marriage counselors in these games. You would have to assume that the troubles that may plague real-world marriages will arise when two anonymous people in-game get married. Perhaps this isn’t an issue with real-life couples choosing to role-play married characters in an MMO setting, but it’s possible that issues we face in the real world would come out through our characters in these virtual ones. That’s definitely something to take note of if you’re considering such an act, although the lack of the above-mentioned services in MMOs might speak to their optimism, at least in this small regard.
Is there some intrinsic need to get married in an MMO? I’m not sure. Like in the real world, people are drawn together through common bonds and goals and, perhaps, this does lead to wanting to imitate some form of the marriage bond within the safe and often anonymous confines of a virtual world. In general, though, I think the idea of being wed in an MMO is more based on a need to mirror some aspects of our character off our real selves, especially through role-play. Also, perhaps the environment provided in-game would give married couples – or just couples considering it – in real life a wedding that they couldn’t have in any other way.
If role-playing is an extension of ourselves – a way to translate our thoughts, feelings and actions into the virtual world in which we enjoy playing – then what in-game marriage boils down to is likely the desire to form a common bond with someone special, a basic human need that has been around since the beginning of time.