World of Warcraft and Romantic Relationships

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World of Warcraft and Romantic Relationships
Harlow, Cymone A, Ms
Place of Publication:
[Gainesville, Fla.]
University of Florida
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1 online resource (127 p.)

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( M.A.)
Degree Grantor:
University of Florida
Degree Disciplines:
Sociology and Criminology & Law
Committee Chair:
Koropeckyj-Cox, Tanya
Committee Members:
Smith, Suzanna D
Graduation Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Addiction ( jstor )
Educational games ( jstor )
Entertainment ( jstor )
Financial investments ( jstor )
Massively multiplayer online role playing games ( jstor )
Motivation ( jstor )
Online games ( jstor )
Social interaction ( jstor )
Video games ( jstor )
Virtual worlds ( jstor )
Sociology and Criminology & Law -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
addiction -- control -- games -- internet -- interpersonal -- love -- navigating -- putnam -- reality -- relationships -- romantic -- technology -- virtual -- warcraft -- wow
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
born-digital ( sobekcm )
Sociology thesis, M.A.


The goal of this study is to understand how the popular on-line role-playing game, World of Warcraft, plays a role in romantic relationships among college-aged individuals (19-28) and how couples construct their relationships in the presence of virtual lives. As a game that boasts around 12 million subscribers, World of Warcraft, or WoW, is only one of many ways people are using the internet to create a virtual self. How does this virtual world interact with the construction of romantic relationships? This question is even more important when young adults, who are still shaping their personal identities and learning how to manage a romantic relationship, are involved. Through face-to-face and online interviews with eleven couples, this study seeks to understand the influence and perceptions of WoW, how couples negotiate the game in the context of their relationships, and how virtual lives play a role in the shaping of romantic relationships. The findings highlight the importance of the following concerns in navigating game-play within the context of relationships: perceptions of the game among both players and non-playing partners and the role of conflicting perceptions in potentially influencing relationship quality and problems; how concerns about time use, shared activities, socializing within the game, and potential addictive behaviors are negotiated; and examining WoW play within the larger context of relationship history, shared interests, and interactions. WoW provides players with the opportunity and platform for figuratively stepping beyond the real, physical world and interacting with millions of other people to engage in a virtual civic society. The game therefore provides an excellent focal point for examining how people negotiate between both their real and virtual relationships and, in turn, how society is changing in this technological era. ( en )
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In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
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Includes vita.
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Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
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This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2011.
Adviser: Koropeckyj-Cox, Tanya.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Cymone A Harlow.

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University of Florida
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Copyright Harlow, Cymone A, Ms. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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814304204 ( OCLC )
LD1780 2011 ( lcc )


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2 2011 Cymone Harlow


3 To my little fluff ball, Chewie You will always be missed Rest in peace 12/23/00 11/1/11


4 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First, I would like to thank the couples who willingly participated in this study. I am so appreciative of their stories that they freely shared and they truly helped me understand couples who have found a place for World of Warcraft (WoW) in their relationships. I hope I have fairly illustrated their stories within my thesis and truly showed what it means to be a WoW couple. My gratitude also goes to my key informants who helped me in my quest to find participants. I would also like to thank Dr. Tan ya Koropeckyj Cox in her role as my mentor and guide throughout this endeavor. She deserves recognition for helping me discover new and exciting perspectives within my own research, thus providing richer findings. I would also like to thank Dr. Suzanna Smi th for helping me refine my writing and for providing her expertise and insight while undertaking this topic I am also deeply thankful to Dr. Sophia Acord who helped me from beginning to end on this study, especially with understanding the qualitative res earch process and refining my work. I would also like to thank my parents, Sharon and Fred, who raised me to believe that education was the way to get a head, regardless of where you ca me from. Without them I would never have gotten as far in life as I have already. Although I have a long way to go, I will never forget where I came from. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my inspiration and motivation through out this endeavor: my awesome boyfriend Brandt. In times of frustration and doubt, he was always my one man cheering squad who ultimately got me through and reminded me what was waiting on the other side of this chapter in my life


5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.............................................................................. ...............................4 ABSTRACT.................................................................................... .................. ...............................7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................................................................. .............................. 9 2 LITERATUR E REVIEW ..................................................................... .............................13 M assively M ultiplayer O nline G ame s and Perc eptions of Social Gaming ..... ... .. ..... .... .. 1 3 Elements of Interpersonal Relationships...........................................................................1 6 Theoretical Frameworks and Expectations............. ........................................................... 19 3 METHOD S .............................................................................................................. ..........23 Research Design................................................................................... ..............................23 Sample, Sample Selection, and Recruitment....................................... .............................24 Data Collection.................................................................................... ..............................29 Data Analysis............. .......................................................................... ..............................31 Method Limitations and Insider/Outsider Research............................ ..............................34 4 PERCEPTIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS OF WORLD OF WARCRAFT ............ ...3 6 rld of W arcraft ...............3 8 Sharing a Common Thread................................................................. ......... ......................59 Virtual Lif e and Real Life: Intersections between t he Real World and In Game Life .. .71 5 ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS AND ONLINE GAMING............ .......................... ....83 Controlling Wo rld of W arcraft ........................................................... ..............................83 Physic ally vs. Mentally Present...... ..................................................................................8 8 Wo rld of W arcraft and Its Outcomes... .................. ............................ ..............................93


6 6 BRING IT ALL TOGETHER: DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSI ON.............................99 Summary and Conclusions.................................................................. ......................... .....99 Discussion................. .. ....................... ................................................ .............................109 APPENDIX A INTERVIEW GUIDES ......... ............................................................ .............................114 B GLOSSARY................ .... ...................... ..........................................................................11 7 REFERENCES.... ............... .............................................................................. .......................... .123 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH............................................................................ .............. .............12 7


7 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts WORLD OF WARCRAFT AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS By Cymone Harlow December 2011 Chair: Tanya Koropeckyj Cox Major: Sociology The goal of this study is to understand how the popular on line role playing game, World of Warcraft, plays a role in romantic relationships among college aged individuals (19 28) and how couples construct their relationships in the presence of virtual liv es. As a game that boasts around 12 million subscribers, World of Warcraft, or WoW, is only one of many ways people are using the internet to create a virtual self. How does this virtual world interact with the construction of romantic relationships? This question is even more important when young adults, who are still shaping their personal identities and learning how to manage a romantic relationship, are involved. Through face to face and online interviews with eleven couples, this study seeks to underst and the influence and perceptions of WoW, how couples negotiate the game in the context of their relationship s, and how virtual lives play a role in the shaping of romantic relationships. The findings highlight the importance of the following concerns in n avigating game play within the context of relationships: perceptions of the game among both players and non playing partners and the role of conflicting perceptions in potentially influencing relationship quality and problems; how concerns about time use, shared activities, socializing within the game, and potential addictive behaviors are negotiated; and examining WoW play within the larger context of relationship history, shared interests, and interactions. WoW


8 provides players with the opportunity and pl atform for figuratively stepping beyond the real, physical world and interacting with millions of other people to engage in a virtual civic society. The game therefore provides an excellent focal point for examining how people negotiate between both their real and virtual relationships and, in turn, how society is changing in this technological era


9 C HAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION In the groundbreaking book Bowling Alone Putnam (1995) posited that society is exhibiting a decrease in civic engagement due to declining social capital. Putnam described this networks, norms, and trust that enable participants to act together more effectively to pur p. 664). Social capital is essentially responsible for connections within and between social networks that keep society running smoothly. Using the example of the reduction in the number of bowling leagues in the US since the 1960s, Putnam (2000) illustrated how people in American society no longer came together to connect with each other and argued that civic engagement ha d deteriorated in recent history, adversel y affecting society as a whole Other research has found that inclusi on in social networks and the maintenance of close social ties are vital to individual well being (McPherson, Smith Lovin, & Brashears, 2006). If civic society has deteriorated, however, how do individuals preserve their psychological well being? Conceivab ly, technolog y had provided new ways to interact that w ere not recognized by Putnam who was writing in the early stages of the public diffusion of e mail and internet. In the 21 st century family members and friends have the ability to communicate with each other in a matter of seconds regardless of distance. G overnment meeting s are live streamed over the internet as well as broadcast live on television, giving the public up to the minute info rmation about policy decisions. B usiness associates conduct video and chat meetings with sister corporations in countries thousands of miles apart on Skype or other voice or visual internet protocols. I t seems that technology, particularly the internet has provided society with a new medium in which civic society might thrive. Yet if this supposition is true, how does the shift to


10 the basis of society? Researchers have previously studied the impacts of the internet on perceptions of the self, personal relationships, and social involvement with somewhat mixed results. For instance, Bargh and McKenna (2004) sought to explain how the internet affect ed ind ividual well being, social relationships, group membership and social identity, and workplace and community involvement. Contrary to the common stereotypes of online communities as groups of lonely, depressed individuals Bargh and McKenna found that the i nternet often facilitated communication between family and friends and ultimately presented an opportunity to create new social bonds with others who shared common interests. Similarly, in a 2002 study (Kraut et al.), researchers found that the internet su bstantially improved communication, social involvement, and well being among extroverted, but not introverted, individuals. In yet another study, researchers found that there was only a slight association between internet usage and social support or person ality (Swickert, Hittner, Harris, & Herring, 2002). With the plethora of activities the internet provides, it is important to study its effects with regards to the specific activity that the individual favors. This study represents a step toward rectifyi ng this issue by focusing on the popular massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft. The purpose of this study was to understand how World of Warcraft affected romantic relationships among college aged adults and how these c ouples constructed their relationships in the presence of a virtual life. Romantic relationships among young adults were at the center of this study, as romantic relationships early in life have been shown to help an individual develop a sense of pers onal identity (Erikson, 1968) and to become socialized with the act of forming close unions with others (Collins, 2003). In addition to


11 observing this process in the presence of World of Warcraft, this study also assess ed how the game directly affect ed interper sonal relationships. World of Warcraft is an MMORPG that allows a multitude of players to interact with each other and engage in various activities together. In constructing their online characters, players within this virtual world may choose between tw o opposing factions known as Alliance and Horde, and within each faction they may choose from among six unique races Players also choose from one of ten classes available to both factions which offer different fighting abilities. Because World of Warcra ft (WoW) is such a rich realm filled with its own lore, norms, and dialect, to carry out this study, the researcher created a character in March of 2010 in order to explore and become familiar with the game. The researcher attained a level 85 night elf hun ter, the highest level possible as of this writing. The amount played varied based on available free time but overall ranged from not playing at all for weeks at a time to playing 25 30 hours per week. During these sessions, the researcher engaged in dunge ons, raids, battlegrounds, questing, and general grinding (see Glossary in Appendix) Playing WoW enabled this researcher to understand the allure of the game and guide interview questions more effectively Examining the influence of WoW among couples in r omantic relationships can contribute to a better understanding of internet activity as heterogeneous and supports the importance of studying various forms of internet use in contemporary lives. WoW currently boasts almost 12 million subscribers around the world, and the massive influence of this virtual nation has created a new culture of social gamers ( Blizzard, 2011). Considering that players have the opportunity to figuratively leave this world and interact with millions of other real people and engage in a virtual civic society, the game provides an excellent opportunity to examine how people negotiat e between both their real and virtual relationships. Is this new medium of social


12 interaction having adverse effects on real life relationships due to the de facto distance caused by this different world or has the popular MMORPG become a supplement to soc ial engagement that can enrich relationships? How are couples navigating the real and virtual world and what methods have they developed to incorporate the virtual element? Chapter 2 introduces available literature concerning this study. The current liter ature that is avai lable does not discuss WoW and romantic relationships specifically but research concerning MMORPGs and romantic relationships has been reviewed separately. The theoretical frameworks and expectations used to approach this study are also i ncluded in chapter two. Chapter 3 discusses the methods utilized to complete the study. Specifically, this chapter describes the research design, sample and sampling selection, data collection, and data analysis. This chapter also discusses the researcher transparency. Chapters 4 and 5 represent the results of the study. The results were separated into two chapters because of a division that arose between the perceptions that couples had concerning WoW and the actions that couples took in order to navigate the virtual element that essentially became part of their relationship. Chapter 6 discusses the findings of the study, pointing out major themes that developed over the course of the interviews. This cha pter also closes with the implications of this research and discusses the limitations encountered during data collection.


13 C HAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW M assively M ultiplayer O nline G ame s and Perceptions of Social Gaming Despite its widespread popularity, However, Bainbridge (2010) points out the majority of massively multiplayer online role playing games ( MMORPG ) players are adults, disproportionately male, and come from different walks of life. Although fewer w omen are involved, accounting for between 15 25% of online players (Griffiths, Davies, & Chappell, 2003; Pineiro Escoriaza, 2009) their odds of playing increase substantially if they have a partner that plays. In fact, a recent study showed that 75.6% of females who played MMORPGs had a partner that played as well (Knox, Zusman, White, & Haskins, 2009). In addition, although these statistics pertain to all MMORPGs and not only World of Warcraft (referred to hereafter with the abbreviation WoW), studies ha ve shown not only the prevalence of women in online gaming but the potential influence gaming has on romantic partners. Online gaming should not be taken lightly and its prevalence among people worldwide underscores the importance of looking at the social impacts of WoW. Does WoW, (Williams, 2006, p. 15)? What would happen if people began logging onto this virtual world lies stopped watching television and start ed movie nights become raid nights or a day with the girls becomes a day of questing in the dungeons? A common stereotype o f WoW claims that players lose touch with reality, becoming


14 their spo uses to an addiction to WoW In one study, researchers found that 32.9% of female males had reported that they had told their partner they spent too much time playing video games players discuss how the popular MMORPG had caused them to flunk out of school or lose t heir jobs, scholarships, or significant other s This perception is supported by research that has found that the more time a person spent playing online games, the more they felt that the quality of their interpersonal relationships decreased (Lo, Wang, & Fang, 2005). However, scholars have attempted to distinguish whether problems for which WoW is blamed are caused by an addiction to the game itself or whether certain people have a predisposition towards developing addictive behavior (Peters & Malesky, 200 8). Peters and Malesky (2008) individuals spend playing WoW deal important to note that common negative beliefs about WoW are not clearly supported by empirical studies. Regardless, these perceptions could become a factor in how players negotiate their romantic relationships when their partner or other members of their social networks believe the negative stereotypes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some argue that WoW is simply another form of social contact and shou ld be welcomed as a shift in social medium. Knox, Zusman, White, and Haskins (2009) argue that while assessing whether video games cause aggression in people, the


15 where players interact with both computer generated characters and real people, peer interaction plays a large part in game play. Contrary to the negative ster eotypes of WoW and other five percent reported that gaming did not take them away from spending time with Haskins, 2009, p. 11). If negative outcomes are linked to certain types of play, particularly play that is addictive, n addicts were attracted to video games because of the satisfaction that game play gave them; addicts, however, tended to play in order to relieve a sense of dissatisfaction they had when not playing (Wan & Chiou, 2006). It is also important to question wh ether it is the MMORPG that causes addictive behavior or if some people simply have a predisposition to developing addictive behaviors towards WoW ; Peters and Malesky (2008) argue d this point stating that, based on a five significantly correlated 482). This would support the argument that addiction may depend on a Regardless of whether the individual has a predisposition towards developing an addiction to WoW or the game itself fosters an environment conducive to problematic usage, the impact that ga ming has on romantic relationships is becoming more apparent. An exchange perspective on interpersonal relationships provides some insight into the potential implications of game playing for relat ionships. Knox, Zusman, White, and Haskins (2009) speculate that any


16 oss This holds true with romantic relationships: an individual can become frustrated with their gaming partner when gaming ha bits begin to translate into a loss of interaction instead of a profit from e company (2009 ). Castronova (2005) posits that gaming can cause relationship stress and create a between the couple; however, this can be negotiated by one person entering cross over, this distance may even tually weaken the relationship Drawing fro m McLuhan and Fiore (1967) who were concerned with television at the time, the reason this distance develops between partners could be a result of the medium itself, in this case, MMORPGs; new media are dependence and every aspect o f our personal p. 2). As a new medium for both game play and social interaction, WoW represents a particularly intriguing development that may have profound implications for romantic relationships and other interpersonal interactions. Elements of Interpersonal Relationships When attempting to understand how Wo rld of W arcraft can affect the quality of a relationship, it is vital to examine the factors associated with a strong relationship. Many scholars research the stren gth of romantic relationships using interdependence theory. Rooted in social exchange theory, this approach explains that partners become increasingly dependent upon each other, especially in regards to emotional support, leading to high levels of satisfac tion in the relationship (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998). This theory identifies three main characteristics with regard to the quality of romantic relationships: level of satisfaction or rewarding outcomes,


17 the quality of alternative partners, and the leve l of investment in the relationship (Rusbult, Martz, refer not only to possible romantic partners but to any person outside of the relationship, including friends, family, or even o Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998). Although the literature has tended to focus on relational alternatives, this definition of alternatives could be defined more broadly to encompass certain activities such as job related work or gaming, which could take time away f the resources that are attached to a relationship resources that would decline in value or be lost if Berscheid, Snyder, and Omoto (1989) have found evidence that relationship clos eness is influenced by the frequency with which partners are together, the diversity of their activities, and the amount of perceived influence each person feels their partner has over their life. The diversity in activities plays an especially important p art in developing interdependence since it within differing situations (Simpson, 1987, p.684). Not only does the diversity of activities contribute to the closen ess of a relationship but the presence of routine patterns of interaction and shared goals are good indicators of a mentally intimate relationship (1987). loseness. Partners tend to experience higher levels of closeness when they undergo a this transformation has occurred, partners will become more accommodating wh en their significant other behaves poorly and, instead of retaliating, sacrifice activities they enjoy that are


18 relationship as superior to other relation commitment serves as a strong predictor, often functioning as an intermediary between the effects of satisfaction, alternatives, and investments, when a partner is faced with the decision of remaining in a re lationship or not (1998). Other personal aspects that can affect relationship closeness include differences in age, race, educational aspirations, and intelligence, which could add stress to the relationship (Simpson, 1987). Personal characteristics such a s a tendency to feel lonely or depressed can adversely affect perceptions of social support and, in turn, cause the individual to have a negative outlook on their relationship (Gurung, Sarason, & Sarason, 1997). There is also significance in how a person a pproaches a relationship, particularly whether depth, qualitative study of relationships highlights the differences between destiny theorists and relationship cul tivators. Whereas destiny theorists tend to believe in love at first sight, immediate satisfaction with the relationship, and being preordained to be with a specific person, cultivators tend to believe relationships require time and growth between both par tners. Although both from the resolution of risks, challenges, and difficulties, rather tha n p. 361 ). This aspect is important to keep in mind when assessing relationships and gaming as destiny theorist non playing partners may be more prone to claim t hat perceived excessive gaming i s a sign of a doomed relationship, whereas destiny theorist players may see a partner who complains about their pl aying habits as a signal to move on. Relationship cultivators, on the other hand, may try to work out gaming schedules or even join the gaming world.


19 Current literature has recently looked at WoW and its effects on individuals, but scholars have only begun to study how this game impacts real life relationships. Considering the significance of romantic relationships for human development and socialization, examining the interaction between gaming and relationships may help to illuminate how social interactio n is changing and how real life relationships are adjusting to the changes. Theoretical Frameworks and Expectations This study uses a social constructionist approach to explore how young adult Wo rld of W arcraft players and their partners negotiate virtual and real lives within their relationships. it takes into account that individuals actively c onstruct their everyday lives and what the world means to them (Holstein & Gubrium, 2008, p. 3). Furthermore, this framework asserts that individuals are continually ddon, 1995, p. 69). Through further interaction with others, meaning can be assigned to larger society (Lee & Greene, 1999). This conceptual framework is useful in explaining how people come to understand their romantic relationships as these interpersonal relationships are formed subjectively by their members. Related to constructivism, the current research also draws on insights and principles from symbolic interactionist theory. First coined by Blumer (1969), this theory rests on three root assumptions: things have for them; second that the meanings of things arise out of the process of social interaction; and third, that meanings are modified through an interpretive proces s which involves


20 self Whereas constructivism focuses on how the individual comes to understand the world around him or her, symbolic interactionism helps one understa this case, with a partner, construct and reinforce particular meanings in the world and in their relationship. In addition to the social constructivist and symbolic interactionism approaches, distributed cognition helps explain how players and their partners shape their identities in the presence of gaming and their relationship. Distributed cognition, originally coined by Edward to understanding interactions among people relationship and processes of interaction in the couple. Unlike other cognitive theories that seek to understand how individu als make sense of the world around them, distributed cognition believes that other individuals as well as technologies and materials in the environment contribute to how an individual creates meaning in the world around them (Acord, 2010; Hollan, Hutchins, & Kirsh, 2000). This conceptual framework potentially illustrates how the presence of WoW plays a role in helping the player and his or her partner shape their personal identities and understand the world. Most importantly, it is not assumed that other pe ople and technology act upon an individual but all elements are seen as working together in the process of shaping understanding and identity (Hollan, Hutchins, & Kirsh, 2000). Distributed cognition also extends past personal symbolic meanings and consider preexisting physical characteristics, the spatial relations in which they occur, the relations of power with which they are invested, their economic value, and, of course, the different symbolic meanings that may have been attributed to them by other ac WoW affects


21 romantic relationships, this conceptual framework helps put into perspective the interactions that are occurring between the player, the game, and his or her significant other. In t urn, these interactions help shape the way both parties understand their relationship and affects the way that they not only navigate between virtual life and real relationship s, but how they subjectively feel about the closeness and quality of their relat ionship. As previously stated, this study examined how playing WoW influences romantic relationships and how couples construct their relationships in the presence of this game. As Castronova (2005) stated, virtual worlds can cause a distance in real life relationships, romantic and otherwise, due to these peopl Therefore, the researcher began this study with the expectation that with couples in which both partners play, regardless of whether they play together or not, the cou ple will feel closer and describe fewer problems related to WoW compared to other couples in which only one partner is a W o W player. With respect to how they construct their relationship around their virtual lives, the researcher expected that WoW could be come an activity for the couple to partak e in together; even if an individual did not initially play, their playing partner could spark an interest within them and the game could become a shared activity If online gaming is comparable to living in differe nt worlds, then having both partners engaged in WoW should help to overcome this distance. On the other hand, would experience more problems related to the non because the player is unobservant of their partner, the non hobby, or both spend l ess quality time together. Because it may involve building the relationship


22 at odds with each other. Furthermore, the non ctivity are likely to be significant, particularly if the game is seen as an interference with potential time a waste of time, or a distraction from more important activities and concerns. The p layer could also believe that their partner refuses to accept their interests, hobbies, or personality in general and feel constrained because of their compromise when it comes to WoW and their relationship and it explores the perceptions of the game among both partners, which are important for understand ing the meanings and motivation s for their action s Chapter 3 outlines the research methods utilized to answer these research question s


23 CHAPTER 3 METHODS This chapter summarizes the methods used to guide this study and collect the necessary data. For the sake of organization, this chapter is separated into the following sections: (1) research design; (2) sample and sampling selection; (3) data collection; a nd (4) data analysis. Research Design As discussed in the literature review, this study utilized three frameworks to approach the question of how couples interpret and negotiate the influence of World of Warcraft ( WoW ) in their relationships: symbolic interactionism, social constructionism, and distributed cognition. Using these theories allows for a deeper appreciation for how couples come to understand their relationships in relation to the game by focusing on how research participants subjectively vi ew their world and negotiate their relationship with the game and with each other These theories also help to explain how couples accommodate virtual life in the presence of real life. Due to the relative novelty of research involving the negotiation of real and virtual lives qualitative research provided the best means of collecting information for this exploratory study (Heyink &Tymstra, 1993). Through qualitative research, in depth interviews were uniquely well suited for eliciting accounts of how respondents viewed their relationships and how social game playing influence d their relationships. This method also allowed for interviewees to communicate how they saw their relationship in further detail by permitting follow up questions that would help further elucidate and clarify the nature of these relationships.


24 This exploratory study also required a qualitative approach in order to explore the questions that sho uld be asked in further studies of social gaming and relationships. While qualitative research provides data high in validity, quantitative research later on could provide information higher in reliability and generalizability which would allow researchers to compare the population of this study to other populations and test causal questions regarding the potential positive and negative influences of gaming in relationships (Bryman, 1984). Sample, Sample Selection, and Recruitment The Sample Because this study attempts to understand how Wo rld of W arcraft players and their partners negotiated virtual life and romantic relationships, the unit of analysis was the couple. The importance of studying the couple rests on the fact that these people are forming the ir reality ings become objective both partners through interaction ( 1964, p. 10). If only one person from a couple is interviewed, have undergone changes in recent years, it is important to examine how both members of the couple perc eive and use new technologies which may enhance social interaction or pull couples apart. This study examined how couples managed their real lives in relation to their virtual ones and how they responded or adapted to these changes.


25 In order to gather ri ch and diverse stories, eleven heterosexual couples were recruited to participate in this study via fliers, WoW, and snowball sampling. Because of the exploratory nature of this study, including non heterosexual couples would have presented complicating dy namics that would be outside the scope of the study. In order to retain a similar social context among participants, only couples with at least one partner currently enrolled in a higher educational institution were considered. Because this study concern ed young adults, the ages of participants ranged from 19 to 28. Male participants were between 21 28 years old while females ranged from 19 24. The sample was mostly homogenous with regard to race ethnicity. Among the 22 participants, there were two Hispani c and one black interviewee, all of whom were women. The remaining 19 participants identified as white. The minimal racial diversity may reflect the demographic characteristics of WoW players. In a 2008 study on gamer profiles based on the 2004 MMO Everque st 2, a precursor to WoW 87.6% of US players identified as white, whereas black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and Native American accounted for less than 4% each (Williams, Yee, & Caplan, 2008). Thus, the racial ethnic homogeneity may reflect larger patterns among players in the general population. The socioeconomic status of the participants was assessed using self perceived social class status. Participants were asked to choose from the following four categories : working class, lower middle class, u pper middle class, and upper class. Because most participants were unsure about their social class due to their age and, in turn, dependency on their parents, they were nts still were made based on this information. With the exception of upper class, each social class was


26 represented in the sample with five participants identi fying as working class, eleven as lower middle class, and six as upper middle class. In addition, many participants also held jobs, with five working part time and eight working full time. The remaining nine did not have a job at the time of the interview. With regard to education, fifteen of the 22 participants were actively enrolled in a higher education institution and each couple had at least one partner enrolled at the time of the interview with the exception of one couple where both partners had recen tended college in the past and planned to enroll again, one was in the process of enrolling for the first time, and one ha d not pursued further schooling since completing his high school diploma. In addition to the 11 couples, two WoW players acting as key informants were also utilized in order to better understand gaming culture and to understand how to ask questions in a non offensive manner. As previously mentioned, WoW is a huge universe with r ich folklore, slang, and rules of etiquette, so it would have been difficult to talk with seasoned players without the help of informants who were willing to walk through the various nuances of the game world. The method used to recruit these informants wi ll be discussed later but generally these were people who exhibited an interest in this study and agreed to offer help and advice about the game throughout the research process.


27 Recruitment Research participants were recruited using fliers, snowball sam pling, and the game itself. Fliers were posted around the University of Florida main campus and the Santa Fe College main campus announcing the need for couples in which at least one partner played Wo rld of W arcraft and was interested in participating in a n interview. Those interested could respond to the flier via e mail. Once an e mail was received from an interested person, eligibility was determined based on whether they were in the correct age range, lived in Florida, and at least one partner played Wo W and was enrolled in higher education. They were also asked if their partner would be able to participate in an interview. If they were eligible and interested an interview time and place were scheduled. Other participants were recruited directly throug h the game. In these cases, the two key informants searched for players, mostly from within their group of friends who met the criteria mail address. This was not a wi dely popular method because finding eligible people living in Florida in a game played by millions of people worldwide was like finding a needle in a haystack. However, this figurative haystack did yield one couple that was willing to participate in an int erview. Snowball sampling was by far the most successful method. Participants were asked if they knew other couples that would be interested in being involved in an interview following their own participation. The participant was asked to contact the couple they had referred to mail addresses mail address to their friends


28 when informing them about the study. Once the referred couple contacted the researcher they were informed about the purpose of the study, how the interviews were conducted, and asked whether they would like to be involved. If the referred couple still showed an interest, then they began the i nterviewing process based on whether they were able to complete a face to face or online interview. One participant was involved in a local live action role playing (LARP) club and was able to refer multiple couples who fit the demographic needed for the s tudy since many LARPers also are interested in online role playing games like WoW. In addition to this individual, other couples were able to direct the researcher to friends that would be willing to help. About half of the couples were recruited using sno wball sampling. Participants in face to face interviews were asked to choose the interview setting to ensure their comfort. Most participants chose to meet at a local coffee shop but three participants chose to hold the interviews in the comfort of their own homes. In the end, the most important communication. Once a location for the interview was chosen, respondents were asked to read, sign, and date the informed co nsent form prior to beginning the interview. They were then given a copy of the informed consent form for their personal records and the interview process began. Two k ey informants were recruited from among study participants. P articipant s who seemed open to being involved and w ere very knowledgeable about WoW were asked if they were willing to maintain open communication throughout the study as a key informant and were asked to sign a consent form acknowledging their involvement. Most interviews were con ducted face to face but five interviews were conducted online using Skype, a free program that allows people to talk in real time over the internet. These


29 people were also from Florida but lived outside of the Gainesville area. Two couples, who were recomm ended by other participants, lived outside of Gainesville. However with one couple, one partner lived in the area while the other did not. Prior to these online interviews, interested people were given more information including the type of questions that would be asked, the online communication software that would be used to conduct the interviews, and how long the interview was expected to last. After agreeing to participate, the individual was asked to inform their partner about the study and ask if they would like to participate. When both partners agreed to the interview, they were both asked for their e mail address es in order to send a copy of the informed consent form to them and to ask what time and day would be best to conduct the interview. They w ere then informed in the e mail that their response agreeing to the interview and the time and day they were available for the interview served as their consent. However, as stated in the consent form, they were still free to withdraw this consent at any t ime. Once they replied to the e mail agreeing to participate and when they were available, the interviews were conducted using Skype. While social desirability bias was not a big concern in the interviews a few people did make comments exhibiting concern these instances these people were assured that their opinion was what was needed and that there was no way they could be wrong (Nancarrow & Brace, 2000). Questions were also worded to reflect ne Data Collection Using semi structured interviews, specific aspects of relationships and the gaming culture were addressed using an interview guide (see Appendix A ). By using this method, the most


30 central questions pertaining to this study were addressed while still giving the participant the freedom to comment on other facets they deemed important and appropriate. Such flexibility was vital to the study considering that there is very litt le information concerning social gaming and romantic relationships. This method allowed for a greater rapport with participants and higher comfort level, leading to more intimate and rich details on how couples negotiated virtual life in their romantic rel ationships. Interview sessions lasted between forty minutes and an hour and forty minutes, participant provided thorough answers to the questions that elicited pe rsonal stories. Because this study sought to understand how romantic couples construct ed meaning in their relationships, both partners were interviewed. Out of concern that answers to some questions could provoke adverse reactions from their partners or le ad the participant s to hold back truthful responses, partners were interviewed separately and assured that none of their answers would be shared with the other party. Interviews with each partner were generally conducted successively in order to reduce the chance of couples coordinating or exchanging responses, but there were two couples whose interviews were conducted a few days apart because of schedule conflicts; y mirrored other couples who were interviewed successively. Couples in which both partners played Wo rld of W arcraft or only one person played were recruited and interviewed. Two versions of the interview guide were used: one version for WoW players and a second, modified version for non playing partners (see Appendix A ). Among the eleven couples interviewed, five couples consisted of two WoW players while the remaining six couples included only one partner that played WoW. Among these six couples with onl y one


31 playing partner, five were made up of playing male/non playing female and one couple consisted of a playing female and non playing male. Two concerns at the start of the study pertained to whether young men might be more reluctant to participate and how to assure participants of the anonymity and confidentiality of the interviews. The unwillingness of male interviewees to discuss intimate details about their relationships has been described by other researchers (Griffiths, Davies, & Chappell, 2003; P ineiro Escoriaza, J.C., 2009; Nunkoosing, 2005). However, this problem was minimized by using personal stories during the interviews in order to put respondents at ease. Generally, female partners showed more of an initial interest in participating but mal e partners also contacted this researcher and did not pose much difficulty when scheduling interviews. In order to put participants at ease that their identities would not be compromised, anonymity and confidentiality were assured. Any instance where the p replaced with an alias during the transcription. T he recordings, which we re only accessible to the character from WoW was mentioned in the interview, this was also altered along with any other identifying aspects mentioned in the interview. Data Analysis In order to understand patterns in the data, the interviews were analyzed by qualitatively identifying themes that emerged using grounded theory and coding. Denzin and Lincoln (2003) completing each interview, the main themes that emerged during the interview were summarized


32 the interview or if a pattern was pres ent among other interviews and to create reminders of themes that emerged during the interviews (Burnard, 1991; Miles & Huberman, 1999). After p. 462). During this reading, notes were made on the emerging themes found in the interview. The final step of analysis was to read the transcriptions a final time and give all relevant content a heading using the program NVIVO 9 (Burnard, 1991). During these steps of identifying themes and assigning headings, six questions from Berkowitz (1997)were kept in mind: 1. What common themes emerge in responses about specific topics? How d o these patterns (or lack thereof) help to illuminate the broader central question(s) or hypotheses? 2. Are there deviations from these patterns? If so, are there any factors that might explain these deviations? 3. How are participants' environments or past experiences related to their behavior and attitudes? 4. What interesting stories emerge from the responses? How do they help illuminate the central question(s) or hypotheses? 5. Do any of these patterns suggest that additional data may be needed? Do any of t he central questions or hypotheses need to be revised? 6. Are the patterns that emerge similar to the findings of other studies on the same topic? If not, what might explain these discrepancies (Berkowitz, 1997)? After all themes in the interviews were given headings, similar headings were grouped together and collapsed into broader categories while repetitious categories were removed in order to produce a final list of themes found within the interviews (Burnard, 1991). Keeping analyzed and matching and divergent themes between partners were also categorized. Bogdan and Biklin (1998) point out many common themes that tend to emerge in qualitative interviews, and


33 while this lis t is not exhaustive and not all of these categories were present in the data, their list was a useful starting point in understanding what to look for within the data: 1. Setting/Context codes: provide background information on the setting, topic, or subjects 2. Defining the situation codes: categorize the world view of respondents and how they see themselves in relation to a setting or the topic. 3. Respondent perspective codes: capture how respondents define a particular aspect of a setting. 4. Respondents' ways of thinking about people and objects codes: capture how they categorize and view each other, outsiders, and objects. 5. Process codes: categorize sequences of events and changes over times. 6. Activity codes: identify recurring informal and formal types of behavior. 7. Event codes : directed at infrequent or unique happenings in the setting or lives of respondents in contrast to activity codes). 8. Strategy codes: relate to ways people accomplish things 9. Relationship and social structure codes: tell you about alliances, friendships, and adversaries as well as about more formally defined relations such as social roles. 10. Method codes: identify your research approaches, procedures, dilemmas, and breakthroughs ( Bogdan & Biklin, 1998). Usin g the list of categories emerging from the interviews, material in the transcripts was coded according to these categories; content from the same categories was grouped together in a single document again with the use of NVIVO 9 qualitative analysis softwa re. However, the original documents were retained in order to ensure that context was not lost (Burnard, 1991). After all relevant interview material was grouped into one of the categories the write up process finally began. Relevant categories are address ed in the following chapters and exemplified with parts of the various interviews to illustrate the themes.


34 Method Limitations and Insider/Outsider Research This chapter has focused on providing a clear picture to readers regarding the research design, sample and sampling selection, data collection, and data analysis to provide transparency. This concluding section addresses two additional concerns about the study: its limitations and the depth intervi ews from a small convenience sample, the current study can provide a rich account of the perceptions and processes involved among couples, but its results cannot be generalized to the larger population. The couples involved in this study were chosen out o f convenience, and they may differ from those who did not volunteer to participate and vary in unknown ways. There is also a question whether couples shared as much information as they could. Since the majority of interviews were face to face, individuals may have felt shy, unwilling, or offended when it came to sharing certain information and may have withheld some facts or opinions. Information could have also been suppressed if it was felt to be undesirable to the interviewer regardless of attempts to ma intain a neutral stance. These caveats and limitations are important for understanding and interpreting these data. position as both an insider and outsider in the study. According to Bartunek and Louis (1996), there are both outsiders and insiders when it comes to a setting under study. They defined insiders as those who viewed the economic security, soc ial affiliation, self another place ( 1996, p. 3). Outsiders enter the setting that is being studied to collect data and then return to their own setting with the findings to inform the general public. Although this researcher does intend to disseminate the research results, the gaming setting also holds special


35 meaning, placing the researcher in more of an insider position. The interest in studying Wo rld of W arcraft popular game. Never having come into contact with online gaming in previous relationships, the game soon became a ne w component of the relationship to understand. It differed from console gaming due to its massive multiplayer abilities which meant that events happened in real time unlike console gaming where games could be put on pause. This researcher wondered if other couples had encountered as unique an experience when shaping a romantic relationship in the presence of WoW. For instance, prior to becoming acquainted with the game through her partner, the researcher only had common stereotypes of WoW players to relate to, which were mostly negative. After seeing her partner play WoW often, she began to dislike the game because of the lack of attention to other matters her boyfriend seemed to have. Eventually after talking at length about the game with him and playing h erself, the game change d from being a insights, the researcher felt that she would be better prepared to understand both players and non players having occupied bo th of these positions in her own relationship. With this information, this researcher set out to answer how other couples perceived this virtual realm and how they chose to navigate it within the context of their relationship.


36 CHAPTER 4 PERCEPTIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS OF WORLD OF WARCRAFT In this chapter the results of the twenty two interviews are discussed, beginning with the sample characteristics. In the next section of this results chapter, there are three areas covered which will ultimately lay the foundation for answering the research question. The first area focuses on the perceptions of Wo rld of W arcraft from both playing and non playing partners. This includes the concerns individuals have about addictive playing habits, general opinions, and mo tivations for playing the game. The second section looks at the common activities that individuals share with their partners, whether those activities include WoW or are unrelated to the game. This section is important since some of these activities do see m to have a connection to how partners react to the game and what kind of role it plays in the relationship. The final part of this chapter discusses the connections (or disconnections) bet ween the virtual realm and real li f e. This includes information on whom players interact with in the game, whether they are real life friends or people known solely online, how they play the game, and whether their partners know who the y play with. This section is meant to be a bridge between the foundation that was built in the previous sections and the final results in Chapter 6 which is focused on the real world effect s of the virtual realm on romantic relationships. Sample Characteristics Among the eleven couples, the length of their relationships ranged from eleven mo nths t o nine years with an average of slightly over three years. Most couples had met through a mutual friend when they were between the ages of 15 and 21 with female partners being slightly younger. However, three of the male partners were slightly older than 21 when they met their significant others.


37 Six couples lived together at the time of the interview with two couples planning to move in together before the end of the year. Among the remaining three couples not living together, there were no immedi ate plans to move in together. Five couples were engaged at the time of the interview, while five couples were monogamously dating. One couple was not degree. Wit h the exception of one male, none of the participants had previously been married and none of the participants had children from their current or past relationships. As mentioned in C hapter 3 five couples consisted of two WoW players while the other six couples included a player and a non playing partner. P layers were defined by their self reported claims that they played WoW regardless of the amount of time spent playing. A subgroup of players consisted of ex players who did not have an active account at the time of the interview. However, they were still interviewed as players due to their general willingness to play again at some point and their continuing possession of a character in the game, even thoug h their account was not active. Among the sixteen players, there were five ex players. Non players were classified as participants who may have tried playing a short trial of WoW at some point but did not play the game for whatever reason. To further clar ify, non playing partners who had tried playing at some point were denoted as non playing/played trial, or NP/PT for short. For non playing partners who have never played on a t rial basis, these interviewees we re identified as non playing/never played, or NP/NP. Among non play ing partners in general, three we re classified as NP/PT and the remaining three we re NP/NP.


38 rld of W arcraft Before attempting to explain how Wo rld of W arcraft and romant ic relationships interact, this s ection explores the participant s perceptions concerning WoW from both player and non player viewpoints. A ttitudes about the game represent an important context for understanding the meanings and negotiations concerning WoW and how it may impact relationships These perceptions will later be tied into how the game affects relationships. This first section sets out specifically to explore the topics of addiction, playing motivation, and general opinions of WoW, and in the pro cess provides a clear picture of how the people interviewed understand the game. Most importantly, the foundation of the research question is established. Wo rld of W arcraft and the Concern of Addiction Players and their significant others are no strangers to the stigma associated with WoW Online gaming in general has been on the receiving end of negative press in recent years, with stories about parents neglecting their own children while gaming, and of exhaustion related deaths in players (Hartvig, 2010). T his perspective emphasizes the potential of online gaming has the p otential to become an obsession and lead to serious addiction. Although questions regarding addiction were not included in the interv iews, nearly every respondent commented on the subject without prompting. Among participants, addiction to WoW was defined as playing to the point where the game interfered with real world obligations, such as job or school commitments, and being unable to control the amount played. While not all players recognized themselves as currently or previously addicted, the concept remain ed a very real possibility to some. In the following quotes, players discussed incidents of excessive playing a mong people they k ne w:


39 sure you spend time with them outside It sounds silly. (John, 28, player) Literally every time I have been to efore he goes back to WoW. (Amelia, 24, ex player) toilet. All she did was WoW. She even had to stop because her boyfriend, or fiance at the time, broke up with her because of it. It was really bad, she got obsessed. (Sparrow, 21, player) In the above quotes, players addressed their concerns about addiction among people they we re close to. These examples demonstrate that because of the negative effects of WoW on peop le around them, addiction wa s an ongoing anxiety among those currently involved in WoW. These participants illustrated how personally knowing someone who had dealt with excessive playing and experiencing this from the outside helped them recognize not only the possibility of addiction but the irrationality of becoming so captivated by the game. Problems such as poor grades, deteriorating friendships, and a disregard for those around them became more than just an impersonal stereotype for these players becau se they had seen this occur within their own circle of friends. Interestingly enough, in the first quote John mentions one of the many excerpts advice is an instan ce where the game itself admonishes players not to neglect real world responsibilities. From this, it is clear to see that Blizzard, the parent company of WoW, also sees addiction as a potential risk and burden among some of its players. As illustrated by the above quotes, the game was not considered inherently addictive by nature but there was a risk that some players could become addicted. That is, in the event of an addiction to playing, participants


40 viewed the player as at fault and not the game. This b elief was held by all players and most non playing partners: something you physically need to survive you start to think you can become addicted to handle it better than which are most things. (Amy, 24, NP/PT) adrenalin, WoW, or [sleeping with] as many girls as pos sible, you know. You have to be firmly believe people should be able to control their addictions, whatever they may be. (Vanessa, 20, ex player) Here, participant s compare the game to other objects or activities that do not necessarily cause problems if taken in moderation. Although people could become dependent participants felt that these substances or activities should not be demonized since the person ultimatel y had control over their actions. In addition, participants felt that becoming addicted depended on the type of person involved or that some people could handle the game better, still maintaining that WoW was not a culprit in addiction and instead how disc iplined the person playing was. However, even if an individual was susceptible to a WoW addiction they were still expected to control their addictions. Although the majority of people felt that excessive playing was a weakness of the player and not a cha racteristic of WoW no bearing on whether they became addicted and the game was not completely exempt from blame: extremely well educated and involved in society and he, the dermatologist, ended up losing his house and his wife and his kids because he would skip surgery to go play it could be


41 type of who gets addicted...I (Tanya, 22, NP/NP) Although view was a minority and only held among NP/NP partners, there were some people who saw WoW as partially guilty in causing addiction among its players. As illustrated by Tanya, individuals who seem ed like they should be immune to gaming addictions fell int o excessive playing habits as well, making it seem like interactions with WoW could cause addictive behavior. Again, it should be noted that this belief was only held by NP/NP partners. This could be due to their unfamiliarity (or skepticism) with regard t o the game or their ability to notice symptoms of gaming addiction from a distance; regardless, the assumption that WoW interacts with the player will later tie in with how the game impacts the relationship. As previously discussed, most players knew some one who played WoW excessively and this allowed them to vicariously understand the danger of addiction. Since all players felt that it was their personal duty to control how much they played, the personal knowledge of someone who struggled with excessive p laying was an example of what not to do. However, two participants had dealt with their own addiction to the game in the past. In a previous relationship, John attempted to make WoW a shared experience as his fiance at the time also played. By playing to gether he hoped that they could bond in the virtual realm in addition to the real world, especially since they collectively played about 100 hours per week. However, a combination of her competitive nature and his attempt to use the game as an escape from his unhappy relationship resulted in obsessive playing that damaged the relationship instead of strengthening it: to make it better through a shared experience that just made it more miserable so the more I tried to escape the more it became a problem and then it started affecting other areas of my


42 life like my job and my relationship and things like that. The more I strove to get away from en my ex told me we were splitting up I walked in the room and was (John, 28, player) Since this event, J ohn has drastically cut back on WoW after realizing that his excessive playing led him to disregard problems in his life. In turn, this disregard led to his problems worsening resulting in further attempts at escapism through gaming. Essentially, WoW became both a cause and a symptom o f real life problems. In the second incidence of WoW addiction Zack discusse d a previous marriage. He married a woman he met through a live action role playing club (LARP) at the age of nineteen and aided in raising her children from a previous relations hip. Three years later he sought a divorce after becoming an excessive player because of the neglect he felt from his wife: I always found myself being the one that made dinner, cleaned up, took care of her kids [from her previous partner], helped them wit h their homework, and she would never do anymore. I just wanted to come home and ignore her because she was the source of that laying WoW a lot more. I would work overnight, come home, get some sleep, go to class, come home, get something to eat, plop right down in my chair, and just play WoW until I had to go to sleep so that I could go to work the next day. (Zack, 26, ex player ) Similar to John, Zack began playing excessively when he was confronted with a poor relationship situation. He felt neglected, underappreciated, and frustrated and saw WoW as a way to escape from his circumstances, playing WoW in turn led to more severe issues since existing problems were ignored. Once again the game was a symptom of real life problems while simultaneously becoming a cause of bigger problems. Zack eventually stopped playing WoW and tried other MMORPGs in moderation soon after beginning hi s current relationship with Monica


43 player). Although Zack began playing other games he took care to control how much time he spent playing so he would not repeat his mistakes. It is important to note that neither player who from unpleasant condi tions. They either reduced their playing time or moved on to similar games, illustrating that even in cases where addiction became a reality players still did not place blame on the game but rather the circumstances around game play. While both former sel f described addicts felt that they played excessively as a way to escape from problems, many participants did not feel that playing the game for this reason was inherently negative. If playing did not interfere with real world matters, using WoW as a way t o escape from a hectic work day, a busy school schedule, or even boredom was generally acceptable among both players and most non players, mainly NP/PT partne rs. One player described WoW as d not dealt with uncontrolled playing habits, believe d the game c ould serve as an escape from the obligations he ha d in the real world but also downplay ed how much bearing WoW shou know, a distract that players can use but that cannot exert any control over the player, placing responsibility solely on the player. In the two cases of addiction the participants did not believe WoW wa s an escape from the real world but that the addicted player wa s using WoW as an escape, giving the game a passive role in excessive playing habits.


44 So far this section has discussed the concerns and realities of addiction among players and non players and how these can impact the way that people view the game. Considering that most participants saw playing WoW as a habit that the player was responsible for, most respondents, except for NP/NP partners, saw addiction to the game as something t o be controlled by the player their playing habits and ignored the aspects of the game that could contribute to an addiction such as loneliness or excitement. Even though tw o players identified themselves as ex addicts remained the responsibility of the player, with addiction stories serving as cautionary tales to other players. In turn, the beliefs about addiction played a part in how the participants formed their opinions about WoW, whether these were positive, neutral, or negative. These general opinions of WoW are the next topic of concern since they aid in further laying the foundatio n for understanding how the game impacts relationships. General Opinions of Wo rld of W arcraft Throughout the course of the interviewing process, it became clear that the opinion of both players and non players of WoW set the stage for the role that the game played in the relationship. Opinions were positive, neutral, and negative but the playing status of the partner seemed to determine how a participant felt about the game. To begin, non opinions of WoW ranged from neutral to negative. Further separating the non playing participants, the results showed that those who never tried playin g the game, NP/NP partners had a consistently negative outlook concerning WoW. The following quotes demonstrate how N P/NP partners saw the game:


45 (Megan, 20, NP/NP) thing but I think it sort of sold its soul. I remember one Easter time I was watching people story or anything like that. (Tanya, 22, NP/NP) like creature with From the above excerpts, NP/NP partners illustrated their negative opinion s of WoW, expressing their dislike for the game or beliefs that the game wa silly This group also demonstrated the critical outlook they had of the game as well. In the second quote, this partner call ed into wider audience. The last quote takes this critical outlook even further indicating that this partner antagonized her significant other while he wa s playing by referring to a mythical creature as a In general, these partners mocked WoW and, in turn, devalued the virtual world that their significant others were a part of. Although there were only three partners interviewed who did not play WoW and never about how often he pl ayed: thought it was [stupid]. (Seth, 22, player)


46 break up but h e felt that his interest in WoW was something she never understood and never critical of the game believing that it was a waste of time and she diminished the va lue of the virtual nation that Seth believed the game provided to players. Similar to NP/NP partners, NP/PT partners had a difficult time in seeing WoW in a positive light. The difference between these two groups, however, was that NP/PT partners held a generally neutral outlook. One partner originally had a pessimistic view of the game as an object that detracted from her but after learning more about the game and realizing that her partner would prioritize her before WoW she deve loped a more neutral stance: I just kind of said something when he was sitting there and he turns around and looks at I had to realize that the game This partner had started with a critical approach when she felt that she had to compete for attention with the game but eventually shifted to an impartial position concerning the game. While her partner aided in this shift by assuring her that the game did not take priority over her, while playing the game for herself may have helped her to accept that WoW was nothing to worry about. The other NP/PT partners did not discuss any previous instances where they saw WoW as a negative and they all maintained a neutral outlook on the game. After trying WoW for a short time they fe games over WoW. Overall, these partners saw WoW as a game their partner enjoyed and nothing further. With regard to the impact this could have on a relationshi p the game itself held no value


47 for these partners; it was neither a positive nor negative influence on the player. Because of this, the way the player interacted with the game (e.g. how much time the player spent and how time and attention were negotiated with the non playing partner) was given more weight than the game itself by the partner. This interaction is what would ultimately shape how NP/PT partners understood their relationship in terms of the game unlike the more critical NP/NP partners who took both their partner and the game into account. Among the sixteen people interviewed who said they actively played at the time of the interview or did in the past, four players held a neutral opinion of WoW. Interestingly, three out of the four neutral play ers had experienced problems because of their playing habits, two of whom claimed they had been addicted at one point. John, who used to play excessively alongside his previous partner, believed WoW aggravated the problems but also believed WoW aided in en ding a hopeless relationship: Once we separated we both realized we were unhappy. Once we found other things, WoW took a backseat to them. In this case it was where both people were trying to escape and neither one realized it and once they did their lives changed. So it was a good thing. (John, 28, player) I n his previous relationshi p John had identified WoW as a problem. He recognized that he was playing more often and that problems in other parts of his life began to emerge However, it was not until af ter he and his previous partner separated that they both realized that the game may have led to other problems and that the excessive playing was first and foremost a symptom of their unsatisfactory relationship. Another neutral player, who had not logged on for over a year, player). However, she saw WoW as something that the player should contro l and harbored no resentment towards her fianc


48 who continued to actively play. Even though these people ha d played or currently play ed WoW they maintain ed a neutral stance. For some, this could be because of their history with playing excessively and pl acing more bearing on how a person play ed than the game itself, similar to NP/PT partners. In additio n, even though these players had experienced the virtual realm in depth, they place d much less value on their virtual life in comparison to the real world, as evidenced by either quitting or reducing the amount the y play ed. This prioritization could change how the game affect ed their relationship in contrast to players who place d more value in the virtual realm than neutral players. Although four players had an impartial outlook concerning WoW, the remaining twelve saw the game in a more positive light. This group of players did not include anyone who felt t hey became addicted at any time though three ex players were included, two of whom quit because of heavier class loads in school. The remaining ex player quit because his fiance stopped playing and he no longer had her as a WoW partner. One player discussed her enjoyment of WoW and her positive opinion of WoW but she, like many players expressed a reo ccurring concern of becoming too absorbed in the game: I've played for hours, like the whole day has been lost in time, but in normal conditions like it, I do like it overall. (Michelle, 21, ex player) Again, addiction is brought up as an undesired possibility but regardless, these ex players still maintained a positive opinion of the game. This quote also echoes a previous point that the game wa s perceived as something that the player must control, as evidenced through own inner dialogue advising herself to only play for a short amount so she could accomplish other tasks in the real world.


49 Concerning other positive opinions, one ex pl ayer felt that his fiance, also an ex player, player) once again demonstrating not only a positive opinion of the game but the need to control playing in the presence of real life. The general sentiment among players, with the exception of ex players, was that if they did not have a positive opinion and found the game problematic they would not play it. Relating this back to the common addiction concern among most players, these players essentially saw the burden of control as their responsibility, like neutral players, but regardless of this the virtual life of the game was a positive in their lives. WoW the general theme is that players who have never struggled with obsessive playing generally viewed the game in a positive light. Those who had this problem in the past, however, claim ed neutral ground. Those who never classified themselves as players were split evenly between having a neutral and negative opinion of WoW. However, those non players who had a neutral view of WoW had also attempted to play the game before ultimately deciding it was not some thing that interested them. Those with a negative perception however never played the game. This could possibly mean that playing even for a short time can give non players a better insight into WoW and why their partner has an interest in the game. A ne utral perception could mean that these partners given that they had tried playing, were more open to the virtual world of WoW. Regardless of the or reflect a g explored the purposes for playing, whether real or perceived, that further illuminated how players and non players understand the game and come to their personal conclus ions.


50 Real and Perceived Motivations f or Playing WoW played a part in understanding how the game affects a romantic relationship, the motivations for playing also reveal the meanings of the game in the context of relationships Looking at the reasons players enjoy WoW can shed light on how important their virtual life is in relation to their real life. The reasons that non playing individuals give for their partner play ing can also show how much impact they belie ve the virtual realm has on their partner. These motivations, both real and perceived, build upon the previous sections in laying a foundation for explaining how WoW plays a role within romantic relationships. To begin this section, the focus is on the rea sons playing partners enjoy WoW. Juxtaposed with this section is what non Among players, there were many different reasons given for playing WoW. Some people enjoyed the multitude o f activities that the game offers, others enjoyed it for the role playing element, and some played for the vivid folklore. Throughout the course of the interviews however, there were four main motivations behind playing WoW that stood out: pure entertainme nt, a sense of accomplishment, socializing with others, and a form of distraction. For players, the most common reason for playing, which almost every player listed, was the pure entertainment of the game. With this motivation, players saw th e game simply as a fun pastime. A lthough many players listed entertainment as a reason in conjunction with others, many players saw this as the primary reason for playing: me


51 For Sparrow, WoW presented other motivations aside from simple fun, such as an imaginative storyline, but being entertained was at the forefront. With some players, the entertainment aspect brainer ly, many others questioned the need for any other answer besides being entertained, believing that However, some players felt that aside from entertainment, the game offered other opportunities. The second most common motivation for playing WoW was the sense of accomplishment the game provided, with more t han a third of playing partners citing this reason. Players often discussed how they could see their progression through the game, and the pride they gained from achiev ements within the game was a big motivation for playing: oriented so you finish something and then there will be something else. (Roxanne, 19, player) read the quest as usual and apparently it was a group quest. It suggested three killed me. I came back prepared, ate this one thing that gave me stamina and 30 cri tical strike and then I had this battle elixir which gave me 60 or 85 attack power and I was like quest on my own, I was so pumped. (Sparrow, 21, player) Although playe rs did not accomplish anything in the material realm, meeting goals and passing benchmarks within the virtual world elicited a sense of success that was real to them. With the above comments, the players did not draw a line between real and virtual goals. This illustrates how, reg ardless of whether their goals we re being accomplished online or in the real world, the feeling derived from their achievement wa s real regardless of its origin. The second comment illustrates how many players consider ed these type s of feats as a source of pride. For insta nce, although the above player wa s only accomplishing something in her virtual life, she outwardly


52 show ed the excitement associated with achieving a goal within the game and strives to push the limits farther withi n WoW. As players often engage with real players defeating another player c ould provide an even greater boost in confidence: because I just killed him three times in a row. Once again, the above comment illustrates how players did not distinguish between real and without catego rizing his accomplishments within one of the two realms. Furthermore, since a player cannot regress when playing WoW the game can be a source of guaranteed achievement, in contrast to the real world whe re there is a chance of failure; a player could face setbacks or even death within the game but come back to continue playing. Because of this difference between the real and virtual, the motivation of accomplis hment can have a strong magnetic pull for players. T he third most common motivation for playing W oW was for the element of distraction. Among players, seeing the game as a distraction was generally considered a neutral motivation and was often explained as a distraction from boredom: It gives me something to do. Like if I'm, if I don't have any class work to do, left to do, and like my friends are busy at work, it's late at night I don't have to just bother Michelle. I can occupy my time doing something on WoW. (Cody, 21, player) An ex player, Vanessa noted that she missed the distraction that she had previously found in playing WoW:


53 It was mostly annoying during spare time and nights [when I quit playing WoW]. I've struggled with insomnia for years and WoW was just something to do at night I guess. So nights when I couldn't sleep and days I didn't have anything to do were kind of hard, but other than that, it was easy. (Vanessa, 20, ex player) The above quotes demonstrate that although these players saw WoW as a source of distraction, the game was not viewed as interfering in more important, real world matters. In addition, reveals her difficulty in that this former player had coping with the hole that the game left in her schedule when she stopped playing It is important to note that this incentive was coded separately from the en tertainment motivation because the narratives lacked the emphasis on diversion and fun was a defining aspect of the entertainment motivation in the With the distraction motivation players retained the outlook that playing helped t hem to get away from something in life whether that was boredom or something else: (Bruce, 28, player) The above statement provides another example of how some p layers used WoW as a form of distraction from other tasks that need ed to be completed. This player assured that the game ha d never gotten in the way of serious matters in his life but it is easy to see how playing as a way to procrastinate could cause problems if players allow ed their gaming habits to get out of hand. This was evidenced in the case of two players previously mentioned who endured relationship problems, one end ing in divorce and the other resulting in a wedding cancellation. These players saw WoW as a pastime that could distract them from unsatisfactory situations in the real world even though this neglect made matters worse.


54 The fourth most common motivation for pla ying WoW was to socialize, though only three players identified this reason: When I first started it was just leveling up, getting better gear, doing all these raids but nds Among players, both former and active, the people who cited socializing as a motivation were the few who had begun friendships through the game or other internet se ttings such as forums and other games. Although most players did not claim socializing as a motivation, this does not mean that they d id not use WoW to socialize. However, these players mostly socialized with people they had met in the real world and were hesitant to call people they had met within the he distinction among players who identif ied socializing as a purpose for playing and those who d id not shows how the level of trust in online friends differ ed among players. How players manag ed their virtual lives varied, with some prefer ring to keep real and virtual separate (those who prefer red to meet new people online) while others prefer red to merge the two (those who interact ed with the same people in real and virtual life). From the points of view of non playing partners, their perceived motivation s for playing WoW included many of the same reasons that were noted by players. However players and non players emphasized different motivations As previously discussed, playing partners m ost common reasons for playing, in descending order were entertainment, accomplishment, distraction, and socializing. The most common reason cited among non playing partners was socializing, which was the least common answer among players. Half of the non players believed that using the game to socialize with others was an important attraction to their partner and did not draw a distinction between socializing with real life friends and online friends. One


55 partner believed her boyfriend played WoW because It is interesting to note that am ong the non playing partners who indicated that socializing w as a motivation, none of their partners identified socializing as a reason for playing themselves. Another interesting fact was that only NP/NP partners cited socializing as a motivation to play WoW. This could indicate that what is considered socializing within the game is defined differently among players and non players, particularly NP/NP partners, and can indicate another difference between the real and virtual realms. It also suggests a pote ntial area of conflict or tension among couples with non playing partners who had never played the game. The second most common perceived motivation for non players was a source of distraction. One partner felt that for her partner player who helped her boyfriend realize he used WoW as an escape from discontent in his life, she playing partners, viewing WoW as a distraction tended to have neutral to mildly negative connotations and the game was ty pically described as something their partner would do out of boredom or to procrastinate on other matters such as motivations of why their partner play ed distraction wa s the mo st similar between both parties. B oth players and non players recognized how the game wa s capable of taking a player out of the real world and into a virtual realm. At the same time, holding similar beliefs about the game and


56 motivations for playin g may signal greater agreement and successful navigation of their relationship between playing and non playing partners. Entertainment was rarely noted as a perceived motivation for playing WoW by non playing partners cited by only two partners. Although nearly every playing partner said that he or she played for entertainment in addition to other reasons, non players seemed unable to see WoW as enjoyable. Only two non players, one identified as a NP/PT and the other as NP/NP, believed their partner playe d for entertainment purposes. The NP/PT partner was the only male non player listed the amusement factor among o ther reasons her boyfriend played WoW. This could indicate that non players have a difficult time seeing the game as a source of amusement, especially since they ha d chosen not to engage in WoW themselves. One point of contention between players and non players was the fourth motivation: a sense of accomplishment. While this reason was the second most popular among players not a single non player saw WoW as an activity that could evoke feelings of pride. N on players were generally not invested in the vir tual realm and seemed unable or unwilling to see how a game contained in an alternative realm could elicit emotional responses like the pride or disappointment experienced in the real world Importantly, this inability to recognize the potential for accom plishment through the game may have contributed to negative perceptions, conflict, and devaluing of the game experience. Thus, both players and non playing partners cited mostly similar motivation s for playing but differences in how these motivations wer e prioritized and described reveal important potential areas of conflict and negotiation among couples Players chose WoW mostly for the


57 entertainment factor followed by feelings of accomplishment, distraction, and socializing. However, non playing partner s were more likely to perceive play as motivat ed by s ocializing, followed by distraction and entertainment. As previously discussed non players and players may have regarded socializing on WoW differently. D rawing a line between real world and online friends, players seemed to define socializing as engaging with people they had met through the game and not real world friends with whom they physically interact ed and ha d established relationship s Thus, players seemed to maintain a split between the real and virtual realms in general where activities occurring wit hin the game or the real world we re relegated purely to their respective realms. Players regarded the people with whom they physically interact ed as pa rt of the physical realm, regardless of their time spent on WoW together. Non players, on the other hand, d id not make this same distinction ; all interactions related to the game were considered as socializing regardless of the specific people involved Th is could mean that most partners who d id not play WoW have not made the distinction between the real and virtual world that their counterparts have since they do not possess a virtual self. In other words, non playing partners were less likely to understan d the game or its intricacies, so time spent with others in the game was perceived as the same, regardless of whether the people involved were known in the virtual world or were friends in the physical world. In the same vein non players and players diff ered greatly whether they perceived and reported accomplishment as a motivation to play This was the only response that the majority of players gave that was never mentioned among non playing partners. This difference between players and non players may reflect the very different investment s that individual s place d in a virtual realm. Non players d id not have this investment so it was more difficult to relat e to a feeling of pride derived from pi xels and computerized fanfare Players who ha d invested the ir


58 time and emotions into the game understoo d how much commitment certain accomplishments require d and felt a very real sense of pride when they met their goals within the game. The extent to which they saw the game a s a form of entertainment was another area of difference between players and non players Again, this could be traced back to the real versus virtual world and a non Playing partners easily found the entertainment value in WoW, usu ally stating that this w as a glaringly obvious motivation, sometimes even comparing the amusement factor to other activities like playing basketball. Non playing partners again were less likely to acknowledge the value in the computerized realm where the o utcome within the game may have been seen as pointless or unimportant Both players and non players saw distraction as a major motivation for playing WoW. However, players who used WoW as a distraction saw this purpose in a positive/neutral light, while non players described this motivation as neutral but on the verge of negativity. The game was something players could engage in to keep their mind preoccupied and escape into an alternate reality when there were few other options. Non players, on the other hand saw playing WoW as a way to procrastinate when it came to school, work, or other real world matters. Essentially, players see WoW as a distraction from the real world and use it to relieve boredom while non players believe the game is a distraction to the real world, pulling players away from reality. In exploring both player and non player views of WoW, including the concern s about a ddiction, general opinions of the game, and motivations and pe rceived motivations for playing, these findings point t o how these perceptions could affect the relationship Symbolic interaction and social construction theory explain that these opinions of WoW are at the heart of how these


59 romantic relationships are constructed and understood and perceptions play a major r ole in how the relationship is affected. If a partner perceives WoW as a negative activity, the way the relationship is constructed and understood could be different from someone that has a positive or neutral opinion of the game. Distributed cognition als o dictates that the game itself interacts with the couple and how the relationship is constructed in the presence of this technology. Sharing a Common Thread With a deeper comprehension of the Wo rld of W arcraft the next step in this study explores how this game can (or cannot) be a common thread in a relationship. In particular, three areas are examined that illuminate the interactions surrounding WoW and other potential common interests. First, interests in video games, other massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), and miscellaneous fantasy activities are discussed. Although this section does not include WoW specifically interest s with regard to other fantasy driven activities w ere often brought up in the interviews and w e re a common theme with players and non players The second section covers the attempts that players have made at getting their partners into playing WoW and whether their effort s w ere successful or fruitless. The final section then discusses couples who play together and the ways that they play together. Video Games and Other Fantasy Activities A general theme that emerged throughout the interviews was the fact that many players and non players both enjoyed fantasy driven activities, especia lly console video games. When interviewing people who played WoW eleven out of sixteen indicated that they also played video games on consoles such as Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. These games differed from WoW in that they were not massively multiplayer ga me and did not occur in real time. Although m any


60 other video games do have option s to play with multiple players, these options are o n a much smaller scale and last for a short amount of time. The video games that respondents referred to were also usually played on a gaming console whereas WoW is solely played via computer. WoW and non MMO video games typically share d a virtual fantasy and/or a n a dventure element but other video games could be paused and, unless in a multiplayer environment, real players d id not depend on each other. When asking about the types of activities he engaged in with his friends, Bruce indicated that he usually prefer r ed Guitar Hero. But we get together then gam e. (Bruce, 28, player) Robert also list ed video games as a hobby of his, stressing the control he felt he exercised in playing WoW and other games : Gaming is a major hobby of mine But I'd say I'm in control. Gaming is something I do in my "downtime", not something I prioritize (Robert, 23, pl ayer) Many other players stated that their hobbies included playing other video games besides WoW and some even identified this as a common interest that they shared with their partner: We play video games and watch TV shows, and go drink f rom time to ti me. We just player) Jimmy and Amelia were not the only playing couples that enjoyed playing console games in addition to WoW; Cody and Michelle as well as Vanessa and Robert all claimed video games to be a common interest between them. M any players enjoyed video games and some non


61 playing partners, particularly those who had tried WoW at some point, also noted that they enjoyed console games: like Rock Band and Mortal Kombat (Steven, 22, NP/PT) Although Steven was not interest ed in WoW he and his girlfriend Katie were able to find common ground through various console games. For Monica, playing MMOs was not something that interested her but playing console games was an activity she frequently enjoyed and shared with her boyfriend: play anything on the computer. I like to play on the PS3, but play anything like MMOs I like games like Fallout but if that was changed into an MMO I (Monica, 25, NP/PT) Amy also was not interested in playing WoW with her fianc and, in general, did not like video games. However, she did enjoy playing an old P ok mon video game, which she shared with her partner: P ok mon P art of it was because I wanted to take it away from my brother when we were back in middle and elementary school so stuff (Amy, 24, NP/PT) It is important to note that aside from the majority of WoW players listing other video games as a hobby, most couples also enjoyed playing video games together even if there was a no n playing partner involved. This shows that even though a partner may not value WoW, they still share in a virtual, fantasy driven activity with their significant other which helps a non playing partner better understand the appeal of WoW.


62 The remaining three non players, who were also classified as NP/NP, were not interested in video games. However, Tanya talked about her past interest in video games: I used to a lot TV my fres just broke me of all those habits. (Tanya, 22, NP/NP) d played video games in the past, she did not see herself as a gamer and showed no interest in getting back into it at any point in the future, viewing it simply as a broken habit. Another interesting point is that the NP/NP partners were the only non playing individuals who did not play video games and were also the only non players who had a negative opinion of WoW. This disinterest in gaming as a whole among NP/NP partners could show that virtual life is not something that they have an interest in investing in. LARP, or live action role playing, was another common inte rest among the couples. However, this may reflect the study recruitment which drew multiple people from the same LARP group. This prevalence of LARPers was a result of snowball sampling and b egan with an interview with an active leader of a local LARP club who referred other members. With this in mind, there were three couples that actively engaged in LARP together, two of which consisted of an NP/PT partner and one NP/NP. With Amy and Jacob, they were even planning to attend a LARP event following the interviews: S fanatic of it but she plays an active part in it. And she has her own opinions and knows it basically stone cold dorks. A


63 After meeting four years ago at a LARP event, the activity wa s something that Tanya and John enjoy ed together for more personal reasons: LARPing has always been a pretty constant thing in our relationship and we do that a lot. I ometimes I think he LARP I (Tanya, 22,NP/NP) Interestingl y, Richard is the only person who participates in LARP whose partner has chosen to not take part; the reason his partner gave him was that the activity was not something she was interested in. Another detail to note with LARPing is that WoW was not a commo n thread between th e partners even if LARPing was. A mong the four couples in which at least one person LARPed, all four included a non playing partner. An important difference may be in the nature of LARP an activity that takes place in the real w orld and not in a virtual realm. LARP may therefore feel like a more valuable activity and more social to non playing partners because of its medium With the exception of Richard and Abby, all of the couples interviewed shared an interest in fantasy based activit ies, whether those were video games or LARP. As discussed previous ly with regard to perceptions of WoW, those people who enjoyed playing video games, regardless of whether they play ed WoW were also much more likely to express either positive or neutral op inion s of WoW. On the other hand, the three non playing partners that had a negative opinion of the game, all NP/NP partners, also did not play video games and Tanya was the only one of this group that LARPed, suggesting that a lack of interest in fantasy driven games more generally may have contribute d to a dislike of WoW


64 Bringing a Partner i nto Wo rld of W arcraft Another common theme among couples was the attempt among players to get their partners into playing Wo W In some cases, their attempts worked: and if you like it enough you can get the game and you can transfer your character to your account (Seth, 22, player) Bruce had taken a break from WoW, but his partner Sparrow got him back into the game when they started dating: S he played before we were together. T because I had taken a brea k and tried some different MMOs. S ince she was playing, she was new to it and she really liked it so I decided that I would just start back up on WoW aga in. So she really likes playing when she h as time obviously. I me to play and me and all my friends play on her server (Bruce, 28, player) Amelia reported that Jimmy was not only responsible for getting her into WoW but he also sparked her initial interest in video games when they started dating nine years ago: before. I was an internet person, I was a computer person. I play ed barely any video games. (Amelia, 2 4, ex player) These narratives demonstrate the importance of shared time and interests among couples. The previously non WoW to gain common ground with their partner and shar e this realm. By entering into the game, the way that a partner socially constructs their relationship will differ compared to non playing partners. With this shared activity, partners better understood the time spent in WoW and their motivation to play, w hich could lead to fewer problems with game play.


65 However, not all players were successful in getting their partner to play WoW. Some non players eventually gave it a try by playing a demo version of the game, but ultimately decided the game was not for them: (Katie, 24, player) Amy explained that her fianc asked if she wanted to try out the game but she mostly tried it on her own out of personal interest: He tried to get me interested in it v ery mildly and I picked it up out of my own curiosity because I ha ve a lot of other friends that play it too. I created a character and played it for a few levels but at the time our computer had a horrible lag. ot great at a lot of those games. (Amy, 24, NP/PT) Amy ju st could not get into the game, but she also noted her sense that learning the controls and developing the dexterity needed to play the game were too difficult and decided against further play Although these partners decided that WoW was not something that interested them, the attempt of playing gave them a small sampling of the world their partner enjoyed and contributed to how they viewed their relationship and the game with opinions of WoW being mostly neutral compared to those who ne ver played. However, not all non playing partners tried WoW. Instead, some reported having decid ed beforehand that the game was not something they were interested in: He was should play because WoW is its own kind of economy and that it would be on ly a learning


66 Despite the fact that most non playing partners simply felt that the game was not something they would be interested in trying, Abby did not see the point of video games in general: I think WoW is a little bit silly. I also think that SIMS game is silly, and my sister just things where I just (Abby, 22, NP/NP) Thus, decisions against taking up the game also reflected judgments and negative perceptions of the value of playing WoW. Although ma ny couples co nsisted of two WoW players, their levels of interest and investment in the game varied. S ome partners could not bring themselves to invest their time into the game. Some partners gave WoW a chance before eventually turning it down in favor of other activit ies, but others preferred to avoid the game al together, instead expressing that they regarded the game was uninteresting or ridiculous. Thus non playing partners who had played WoW on a trial basis tended to have either a positive or neutral opinion, wher eas t hose partners who had never played WoW expressed neutral to negative perception s. They were more likely to note that the game was not something they were interested in and they reported difficulty understanding why others could became so heavily engaged in this virtual realm. These observations suggest that navigating between real and virtual lives may be more difficult when a non playing partner has little experience with or interest in the virtual realm. Playing Together While some partners could not understand the appeal of WoW others not only played willingly but joined alongside their partner to take part in various activities like dungeons, quests, or raids:


67 We would both harvest we needed or that we can sell. We would definitely go on dungeons and the big things w h ere you had to get a gro up of people. I think those were the heroics. When we were playing Wintergrasp we were on that as soon as it was open, we were always there (Amelia, 24, ex player) This cooperation within the game between partners was a way to connect in both the real and virtual world s Amelia and her fianc, who lived together, would play side by side and often verbally coordinate their actions within the game, effectively merging their game and real lives. distance relationship at the time of the interview, playing WoW was seen as a positive activity: we get to actually do together nice to be able to actually do something together. (Bruce, 28, player) Since this couple was not able to connect in the physical world because of geographic distan ce they seemed to bridge the distance by sharing a virtual life. Al though they felt it was not the same as real life, playing WoW together made the physical distance less jarring They could shar e the game and engag e in a hands on activit y together rather than just talking on the phone or online. In this instance, the major influence of the game in constructing the relationship is evident. According the distributed cognition theory, the interaction between the individuals and technology ha s greatly contributed to the construction of meaning in their relationship and virtual life definitely had real implications, in this case, the maintenance of a romantic relationship However, having a common interest in WoW was not always positive. John and his previous girlfriend played WoW together and collectively logged over 100 hours per week, which eventually led to serious problems:


68 competitive person so it became me she had this obsession that she had to be better and it stopped me from playing the character to be in competition with her a nd it just pissed her off more. The more competitive she got the more spiteful I got and it just spiraled out of control. And then once we stopped paying attention to our relationship and we started paying more attention to [the game] other problems began [to ending the relationship] (John, 28, player) As previously mentioned, John and his ex fiance called off their engagement only a month before the wedding. Yet John saw his negative history with WoW as a blessing in disguise as it previously existing problems and allowed him to realize that this relationship would not work in the long run. However, with John and his previous fiance maintaining their virtual lives in favor of their real world relationship caused additional problems to arise. In some cases, especially when one partner did not have as much experience with WoW the other would help by giving advice or helping their character to attain a higher l evel faster. In years and started a new character in order to be on the same level and help her along in the game: H t now because he was a l and then he wanted to be on my level so we could play together and it was back whe n I was lower so he just started a new character (Sparrow, 21, player) Jimmy used his more experienced higher level character to help Amelia level faster by taking on difficult quests that would be out of her reach if she played alone: H e would take me on higher level quests ... qu p ower leveling. He would help me with those quests and level faster. on quests and finish quests and level (Amelia, 24, ex player)


69 e role of a backseat driver and helped Roxanne to learn ba sic functions before focusing on leveling and more difficult activities in WoW: Even when she does play no mean but sometimes he hardest I know in a situation with an opposing player, right explain it a s easy as possible. u t then when you get to a certain level you just really need to have an understanding of your clas s. Like when she gets into five know what other DPS classes are. She just know she still has a very basic understanding of the game (Seth, 22, player) By offering Roxanne help while playing, Seth hoped to foster a deeper interest in the game in when teaching her, he also values this virtual world and wants to s hare it with his girlfriend, whom he believes requires direction. Roxanne stated that she general ly appreciated his help since she has not had previous experience with MMOs and saw the game as something they shared a common interest in. according to social exchange theory, he can better understanding and level of respect for his hobby. Although many players were willing to help their partners advance and succeed in the game, the end result was not always a WoW dream team. Cody and Michelle had encountered problems because of their separate interests within the game: W e quested together like w e leveled a character together and did dungeons. I t ried tea ching her how to PVP, that didn't work well. And I had her raid with me for a little bit, she wasn't real ly interested in that either. We were in a guild together but it was a raiding guild 've been a member in there for aw hile, so I was like hey invite her and we'll do 10 man, and she'll be doing 10 mans with us man once or twice but wasn't real ly interested (Cody, 21, player)


70 Although Michelle did enjoy playing WoW when she was an active player, she did not share much interest in the types of activities within the game that Cody enjoyed. She explained that much of her disinterest in raiding came from problems within the guild: After a point I started not liking his and then he w ould have arguments with the officers a nd then she would back stab him and he was W hat the hell I thought you wer e my friend'. And so I stopped because [Cody and I] both go t sucked into the drama. T hey have nothing else in their lives, and so that would make me mad that he would still talk to these people, or play with them. (Michelle, 21, ex player) Regardless of th WoW was still considered a positive component in the ir player) WoW offered a pleasant, shared activity to engage in together when they stayed home for the day and Michelle reported an interest in possibly getting back into WoW when she ha d more free time. This couple, however, showed that a virtual life requires maintenance and could present difficulties to those involved; without both partner element that the construction of the relationship carries into the game and, according to distributed cognition theory, the interaction with WoW plays an important role in how the relationship is maintained. In sum, a mong couples in which both partners play ed WoW most couples chose to join forces and help each other with leveling characters, completing raids and dungeons, or just simply sharing advice. However playing together was not always positive for all couples N egative aspects o f playing WoW together incl uded competitiveness over who was the better player and other problems with


71 aspects of the game could spill over from the virtual world into the physical world and vice versa through the inte raction between partners and WoW Nonetheless the theme of sharing the game and using it as a common interest was generally considered to be a strength in the relationship. Many couples believed WoW gave them an activity to engage in together to help each other or even bridge distances in the real world. Virtual Life and Real Life: Intersections between t he Real World and In Game Life A number of couples discussed the connection bet ween real life and virtual life, expressing that the experience of vi rtual life in Wo rld of W arcraft could affect romantic relationship s more generally. The remainder of this chapter therefore explores these intersections between real and virtual worlds, particularly with regard to the social nature of the game. The first s ection below compares friends hips in real life with those that are maintained only through WoW. The next section explores preferences for play ing WoW solo or with a group of people as i n formation about the people that players choose to interact with in th e game can show how they may influence playing habits and, in turn, affect romantic relationships. T he final section examines how the knowledge that partners, specifically non playing partners, have about WoW and the people that their significant other interacts with are negotiated with in relationships in ways that may enhance relationship quality and connections between partners Real life Vs. In Game Friends World of Warcraft is largely advertised as a social game with many activities such as dungeons or raids that require more than one player. For those who need more players for a certain task, the dungeon finder can be used to coll ect random players together for a specific dungeon. However, many prefer to play with people with whom they are already familiar in the


72 physical world or through the game. The majority of players interviewed preferred to play with real life friends they kn ew outside of the game For example, Jacob described the importance of existing friendships in navigating the game world, avoiding people within the game that he did not know : know you I was probably very rude to you just by not saying anything. It would always be with people I knew in the real world and they would just say hey join our guild (Jacob, 26, player) Some people even refuse d to become friends with rand om people that they me t through the game, choosing t o only play with people they kne w personally: people, I tend to prefer soloing now. I think I've gotten a bit jaded after all this time, and committing to new social ties n ow that my gaming time is fairly sporadic isn't something I'm actively looking to do (Robert, 23, player) Because the majority of players preferred playing with people who were personally familiar to them the dedication that they expressed with regard to those people was also stronger: That peer pressure, because many of them I know in real life, about eight who regularly (Richard, 26, play er) This example shows that social connections may be fostered in positive ways through the game, but also that fellow players may represent a source of pressure with regard to the timing a nd duration of game playing. What is interesting about these player s who chose to only play with people they were familiar with is that this goes against the stereotype that people seek friends in virtual worlds because of an inability to socialize with people in the real world; the majority of players seemed to enjoy the break from the real world that the game offered but preferred to reinforce existing relationships with real life relationships.


73 In cases where a player interact ed with people that were only kno w n through the game, these relationships seemed temporary as players reported c hoos ing to switch servers and even factions whenever the opportunity to play with their real world friends arose: I have met people on WoW them anymore I actually switched servers when Cataclysm came out because my roommate wanted to switch and another one of my real life friends wanted to play with me and she was on the A lliance side and I used to play Horde. So my roommate switched to this server and started a character on the alliance side and then my other friend transferred to that server so I started a new character. So all my friends that I used to have that were just in game friends were on my old Horde character (Alex, 21, player) Richard, Cody, and John had also switched servers or fact ions solely to play WoW together. Although loyalty to a certain faction within the game is common, the willingness to switch in order to play with or follow real life friends suggests that existing, real life friendships appeared to trump the more temporar y and tenuous ties created entirely through virtual interaction with WoW. These players showed a preference for using the social opportunities created by the game to enhance and contribute to existing relationships rather than to interact and connect with players in the virtual world that they did not already know. Some players did not mind playing with random people, but no one identified this option as a preference. In some cases, however, the player would develop an alliance between people they met through the game, especially if they had few or no real life friends involved in the in real life, only player). While they played with strangers, Amelia and Jimmy felt no connection to these people and only saw them as a necessity for certain tasks within the game such as raids or quests that req uired a group.


74 For most players who played WoW with their existing network of real life friends, the general consensus concerning in game friends was to keep them at a distance: I keep online an did you see the game last week o you watch basketball everyday stru ggles like someone I work with or a friend that I hang out with everyday and is seeing that struggle in real life. (Seth, 22, player) Seth preferred to keep his personal life to himself when it came to online gaming friends and strongly opposed asking WoW friends for advice, believing they would not understand where he they met through the game, the conversations were strictly about WoW. For Zack, the difference b etween acquaintances and friends was clear and acquaintances within WoW never crossed the line into the friend realm: large expanse of people that I know. So I would have never called them friends, because let you crash on my couch. I would probably never go to meet any of the people on WoW at all. So I guess because I put my guildmates friends. Probably on the same level as not a friend from work but an acquaintance from work. So, if a bunch of people from work were going to go have a drink after work, I would go. If w e all lived in Gainesville, and they said let s grab a beer (Zack, 26, ex player) Bruce also felt that putting in game friends on the same level as real life friends was difficult not only because of distance but because of the considerably small amount of time he actually talked to them through WoW :


75 I felt a lot less connected. people. In real life these are peopl same two hours. Th hard to feel connected to the m too when you only know them online but for the most part, (Bruce, 28, player) In game friends, in general, were never considered close friends and were relegated to the status of casual friends or acquaintances. These findings underscore the relative anonymity of within game contacts; players remain guarded in their interactions with those whom they meet strictly on line, and their virtual in teractions we re clearly delimited and separate from their real life relationships. One player described learning from experience that keeping some distance between WoW friends and personal life was a wise choice: Before when I was playing with [my in game friends] a lot, like five raids a week, I spent more time with them than with people t hat I knew so they kind of became the people I would talk to about stuff I learned pretty quickly that was a mistake so I refrain from doing things like that now. They get involved in your personal life and when your other half is also involved in this same group of p eople it becomes a he said she said and they try to involve themselves in things they have no business involving themselves in. It gets messy. (John, 28, player) John explained that since his fiance at the time interacted with the same grou p of people, his in game friends seem ed to try to play them against each other by starting rumors or sharing information that was told to them in confidentiality. Although no other player had an experience where their in game friends became involved in their personal lives, players appeared to intentionally avoid such situations by never giving their WoW friends the opportunity to learn about their personal lives in depth. This could be because many player s feel that there is a disconnect between them and virtual friends and, thus, a lack of trust.


76 In general, most players preferred to play with real life friends with the occasional random person joining their rank s within the game. Some players even began new characters despite investing large amounts of time on other factions and servers in order to play with real life friends, rather than playing primarily with the random people with whom they had already begun p laying. Among those who reported befriending people within the game, players noted a tendency to keep a distance between their virtual life and their real life. There were very few times where players would refer to their in game friends as people they wou ld truly consider friends, usually because of geographical distance, a lack of physical contact with them, and the relatively small amount of time they spent with them in the game. Playing Solo vs. Playing in a Group Most players reported that they prefer red a particular playing style in WoW either playing alone or with a group of people. For many players, the choice between solo or group play typically depended on whether the people they were familiar with were available and willing to play together al ong similar lines which could be difficult at times: screw you get in a guild. If you want to experience a lot of the end game, you get in a guild, and get in that position and run with them, over and over again. (Seth, 22, player) Another factor related to playing style was whether they were questing since this wa s seen as a more tedious task and usually not as entertaining or action driven as other activities such as raiding or battlegrounds. Typically, while questing, most people preferred to play solo: of person that if someone hey, anyone want to do a heroic


77 just running around together questing, I can do kind of fast Some players preferred playing solo regardless of the particular activity they were engaged in at the moment, stating that if they could do everythi ng on their own, they would For example, Zack, an ex player, strongly preferred to play the game on his own : m not raiding, I hate playing with others. If I could solo my way to max level I would. Maybe an instance here or there, but I would rather solo myself all the way up. It always seems like when you end up with a pick up group or something like that, the XP who were just random gamers, like a 12 year old who aggros a whole instance. (Zack, 26, ex player) Although Amelia often played with her fianc and two other people she met through the game, him there, I would of a guild, she never felt connected enough to its members and played solo the vast majority of the time: vanced than I pass the time. (Roxanne, 19, player) Roxanne initially did not get involved in group activities because of the lower level rating of her character, but later she was not drawn to the allure of building relationships with online strangers. She preferred and maintained a more solitary style of game play. Some people, altho ugh they were the minority, preferred to play with a group instead of solo, believing that playing alone was less entertaining:


78 Well I made my own guild and it's just myself and five of my real life friends. So I do arena so you can't solo doing that So n ot necessar il y a large guild, because they don' t raid but I don't really like soloing, it's boring. (Cody, 21, player) Richard preferred to play alone while trying to increase the level of characters. In other instances though, he generally preferred the g roup content that the game offered and kept in the spirit of WoW being, first and foremost, a multiplayer game: Other than that, I usually solo, like whenever I level or so on over here and play It is a collaborative game. (Richard, 26, player) Interestingly, no one who was interviewed reported playing exclusively with multiple people. Even those who enjoyed the group content chose to play alone in many cases In general, players preferred to engage in quests or increase the level of newer characters on their own since these activities are considered to be individual tasks that are mundane in a group setting. For other available activities, like raids or arena matches, players are required to form groups in order to participate, and most pla yers prefer red to play with people they kne w rather than play and possibly socialize with random, new players within the game. As mentioned earlier, many players chose to play with their real life friends, suggesting a substantial overlap in between virtua l life and real life players connections but allowing for interaction through a different medium ( i.e. within the game as well as real life). This could have an effect on a o occupy both virtual and real worlds but have access to the same groups of people within both realms. Because of this, there could be a possible disconnect for the player concerning their virtual life and a non playing partner. However, a non playing part ner could possibly sidestep this problem by learning some aspects of WoW.


79 Knowledge of Wo rld of W arcraft and Wo rld of W arcraft Friends An d in with their real life wa s the level of their p playing partners had a basic understanding of WoW and they were aware of the various races and classes that a player could choose. This game related knowledge demonstrated that the non playing partners place d He likes things about it, like he really loves Worgens and warlocks and he likes when I grinding all the l evels Some non playing partners also expressed some interest in the general storyline of WoW, even if n, 22, NP/PT), describing the requirements and details of game play as a weakness in the game that d id not hold his attention. Similarly, Abby also found the storyline of the game interesting but that wa s where the curiosity ended: H me if I ask questions. he tel Apparently there are books out there too ; I told enough to be engaged, you know? (Abby, 22, NP/NP) While Abby had never tried the game for herself, Richard often told he r about what he was doing in the game and ha d sparked an interest in her for the storyline, which has also led to Abby showing some interest in his activities. Similarly, although Steven tried the game and was not impressed, he still enjoyed discussing WoW with Katie:


80 W hat little I knew I found it kind of interesting so it was something I could ask questions about an d she felt knowledgeable enough to discuss it with me. (Steven, 22, NP/PT) For Katie, a WoW player, and her partner Steven, a non player, discussions about WoW provided a way for Katie to bring her virtual life into her real world relationship and they gave the couple a common connection to the game even though Steven did not want to play. This share her enthusiasm with WoW, which eventually led to a common i nterest Some non playing partners had a basic understanding of WoW but not everyone could or desired to keep up with the mythos and minutia of such an expansive game. Nevertheless, most non players did have some knowledge of the people with whom their p artner played in the game: can have that close of a friendship with them. Some of them have families and are in their 30s and 40s. (Megan, 20, NP/NP) Although Megan knew the majority of Alex re people they interact ed with regularly in real life, Alex ha d other friends that he kn ew solely through the game. H owever, he often share d information with her about these online friends who we re geographically distant. Since most players interact ed with real life friends who then beca me mutual friends of the co uple, non playing partners wer e typically aware of the people with whom their signif icant other wa s playing. However, non playing partners generally report ed having much less knowledge of the their partners may have occasionally play ed :


81 H e also does pick ot of stuff with pick up group s With the pick up groups, people he has met online. They have marketplaces where you can say I need a (Abby, 22, NP/NP) Although Abby generally knew the people with whom her partner play ed WoW, she note d that Richard sh are d less about the random pick up groups with whom he play ed ; she suggests that her by sharing information about storylines, established friends, and other details about his activities within WoW. Tanya, another non playing partner, knew that the maj we re military buddies and other real life friends. She was also aware of the random people he play ed with, but she describe d thes I would say there are about them either suggest ed that she perceive d the random connections within the game as less real and less important to herself and her boyfriend considering that he does not share information about pick up groups Although this sentiment was only mentioned with Tanya, this comment illustrates how some people, especially non players, could see online people as less important because of the lack of a connection to their real life As shown in this section, many non playing partners, including those who had never tried to play Wo W an d deemed it unworthy of attention show ed an impressive know ledge of the game. They also kne w about the people that their partner interact ed with in the game, indicating that their partner share d with them these details of their virtual life. Non players, by recapping these details also showed that even though they may not have share d an interest in the MMO, it


82 wa knowledge about WoW and WoW friends shows that the vi rtual and real selves are not kept separate in most cases but are typically brought together, even if the non playing partner did not follow the playing partner into this other world. According to social exchange theory, t his investment by non playing part ners ( i.e. learning about WoW) could possibly strengthen a relationship because of their attempt to share in the game from a distance.


83 CHAPTER 5 RELATIONSHIPS AND ONLINE GAMING The current chapter focus es on the perceived effects of Wo rld of W arcraft on couple s real li v e s and relationships Three main themes emerged from the interviews. The first is a c ontrol over playing habits and playing time Second the concept of players b eing physically present versus mentally present is explored to understand the impact of WoW on the relationship as well as the methods that couples have developed to balance their virtual and real lives. The third section explores the various problems as w ell as positive outcomes that couples have associate d with playing to illuminate how relationships can be affected, both positively and negatively by WoW Controlling Wo rld of W arcraft Many players described having developed a method to control how much time they devoted to Wo rld of W arcraft Since all of the playing partners were in college, employed, or both in addition to being in a relationship, the amount of play time required caref ul moderation. In most cases, the way to balance the time demands was simply to cut back on the time spent playing: back and forth over. Like, I should be studying, you are in school, that should be your focus. (Roxanne, 19, player) Sparrow also realized that she had to cut back on playing WoW when the time demands of I stopped because I had organic chemistry and bio chemistry so I pla


84 W hile the demands of schoolwork we re cited as one reason that players cut back on WoW, being in a relationship also often le d to players reducing their playing time. For example, Cody noted that a new re lationship prompted him to cut back on the more time intensive activities in WoW in order to set aside more time for Michelle: W hen I first started dat ing her I did raid a lot and PVP ed a lot, like to an extravagant amount. Because I'd be full time raiding like three times a week, and PVPing. That's a lot of time. So, I couldn't do that anymore. So I mean I just play less. That's about it, I don't necessarily have any particular strategy other than to no t go on WoW just to sit there, you know what I mean, that's just stupid. (Cody, 21, player) Similarly, Megan had noticed that Alex also cut down on playing, especially with regard to time spent raiding: He raids p robably about once a week now. It used to be a lot more but his schedule just like mine is kind of up in the air on a week to week basis. He used to be able to do it at a certain time on a weekly basis but now since it changes so much he kind of has to work (Megan, 20, NP/NP) Alex in turn explained that he changed his playing habits when Megan first began spending time at his house so that he could devote more attention to his girlfriend: When she first started hanging out all the time at my place, I rarely played at all but then I gradually started playing. I used to play a lot more too when we first started dating. I used to raid several times a week. She would go out on Thursday nights and I would raid on Thursday night, like set it up that way. (Alex, 21, player) Although Alex h a d drastically cut back on raiding after switching servers he acknowledged that his relationship with Megan also accounted for his lack of motivation to get back into raiding as often.


85 Other couples also described a reduction in time spent playing WoW related to their relationshi ps. For Bruce and Sparrow, WoW wa s pushed aside whenever they visit ed each other because of the infrequency of visits and the importance of spending time together when given the chance: play when he visits because when he comes here he stays here and we only at home, watch movies a lot, go out the dinner, go out to the movies. (Sparrow, 21, player) When Jacob was away at college, he a visits and especially when they eventually moved into an apartment together, he quickly adjust ed his gaming habits in order to make sure he had plenty of time for her and the relationship: After we mov ed in with each other a few less and less amounts of time playing other the de (Jacob, 26, player) Typically, Jacob now kept his playing sessions down to about two hours in order to make time for Amy and to give her the opportunity to share the only computer in their apartment. However, when Amy le ft town, Jacob revert ed back to his old playing habits of playing six to eight hours per day to help pass the time until she return ed In these instances where players cut back on WoW, it was evident that real life was prioritized over virtual life, especi ally when it came to school or long distance relationships. Yet another common strategy for controlling playing habits was to play WoW while their partner was either asleep or out of the house. As previously mentioned, Jacob would play much more when Amy was not around, and Richard practiced the same method of playing more when Abby was out of the house due to her hectic schedule of atte nding graduate classes and teaching:


86 We got into a routine one semester when I would come over after class, and [the night he would come over] usually I think part of it is how our schedules work out. We do have W not really affecting our relationship eith er way. He most (Abby, 22, NP/NP) With Roxanne, when asked how much Seth played per week, she had no idea how much or how often he was on the game because of his strategy of playing when she left for work or school and wra pping up his session when she would return: he ok. So I sically all day until I get home from work or from school. (Roxanne, 19, player) Without their partners knowing exactly how much they were playing, many problems that could arise due to excessive playing were avoided, and couples had more time to spend tog ether without the game interrupting. H owever, partners noted that they would step in and voice their concerns when they believed their significant other was playing too much: She it. Our r elationship has had a positive e ffect on my time management skill s with WoW. I think there have though. (Richard, 26, player) Because Abby ha d explicitly com mented on the time Richard spent on WoW, he w as able to recognize that he may have been playing more than he should have been, prompting him to focus


87 on managing his playing time. Alex also described that his partner, Megan, ha d spoken up about his playing habits and h er wishes for him to cut back: ok you need to stop playin or anything e wants me to stop playing in certain instan ces or tells me to not play as much but she never tells me to completely stop playing. (Alex, 21, player) Typically, the partners who did not play WoW were more likely to speak up about their partner playing too much. Generally, however, most players felt tha t they were able to control their playing habits without their partners saying anything. Overall, many partners controlled their playing habits by cutting back on the time they normally played WoW, especially when they had more school work or when their p artner was around more often. P layers defined playing WoW as excessive when it began to interfere with school, work, or their relationships with their partner, friends, or family and not necessarily the amount of time played. However, by playing less, play ers were able to devote more time to other areas of their real life that had previously received less attention. In addition to cutting back, many players would wait until their significant other was out of the house or asleep before playing in order to sp end time with their partner or give the impression that they d id not play as often to avoid potential problems. Using this method would result in players playing WoW less bas ed on how often their partner was present. However, in some cases, this method may not have been a way to control playing habits but was rather a denial to their partner of how much they play ed. Even when the play occurred at times that did not interfere with the relationship, it could still be at an intensity that wa s disruptive to rea l life matters. In other instances players cut back on how much time they play ed WoW in response to the partner expressing concern with their


88 playing habits However, this was not a common method of controlling WoW and typically only non playing partners t ried to actively reduce the amount of time their partner played. Physically Vs. Mentally Present Many non playing partners described the perception of their significant other being around physically but not being mentally available. The concept of having a virtual life in addition to a real life is a relatively n ew notion that some partners had never encountered and they need ed time to adjust. In most cases, partners interpreted the circumstances as their partner not paying attention to them For example, Abby noted : When [the county] had its spring break, I started to get in hair and say why I was home, I had no homework because both of my classes were canceled that week. I had no lesson plans to write, I had what made it different. (Abby, 22, NP/NP) Abby felt that Richard was not paying attention to her even though they were in the same room. Megan w as able to capture what may have been going on in such cases of having a partner who was physically but not mentally present: For me I thought unwinding and doing your own thing usually involved being separated I do my own things with my girlfriends so I figured his release would be doing stuff with his guy friends and going out but instead hard time understandin g. (Megan, 2 0, NP/NP) Many non playing partners found it difficult to understand how their partner could unwind while in the same room whereas other people might typically leave their home to relax and take some time away from a hectic life. However, when it came to playing WoW the player wa s still


89 physically in the room but mentally they were unavailable. Tanya had first hand experience with a metaphorically absent partner: annoying when he plays because our desks are back to back to each other and ool work and ome conversation hey look at this or what about this? house and do things like that. (Tanya, 22, NP/NP) could no problem holding a conversation while simply browsing the internet and he c ould easily switch from basic internet activ ities to his real life surroundings and events. However, when it came to playing WoW John wa s almost in a completely different world and ha d a difficult time maintaining conversations with Tanya and switching from the game to real life. Following in the same vein of players being mentally absent, playing partners also report ed having to balance their time between the game and their relationship. Seth trie d to make it clear to Roxanne that he can divide his attention between her and playing Wo rld of W arcr aft : e hou rs. By all means can play this game one handed but I want to play this game a little bit and advan ce more into it than what I am. (Seth, 22, player) Seth came to the underst anding that the gam e is a pastime and although he wa s interested in progressing and becoming an exceptional player, he also knew that his relationship with Roxanne wa s something that cannot be pushed to the side. This realization made him strive to pay att ention to both the game and his girlfriend simultaneously. Alex ha d cut back from raiding


90 about three times a week, in part because of switching servers but also because of his relationship with Megan: I think it would definitely be hard to seriously raid and have a relationship. That would with her because you have to set aside so many hours part of the reason In this case, Alex stuck to activities that d id not require as much of an investment of time and attention like raiding and dungeons. He also acknowledge d that being in a relationship and in schoo l at the same time wa s not something he would be able to do while also heavily playing WoW. F ion between the game and her had often led her to purposely distract him. Because of the impact she believe d the game had on their intimate lives, she report ed using drastic measures in order to try to win over his attention: I guess I kind of went in ce and he still will t ok, five more minutes and th (Megan, 20, NP/NP) Although Megan saw this instance as somewhat comical after the fact, many partners are m their girlfriend or boyfriend while they are playing the game. Katie also acknowledge d the need for change in game play in order to split her attention between WoW and her relationship:


91 ound him or when playing WoW. So I have to pay attention to what he wants to do and if he wants to do ly get off WoW or do something not as attention grabbing lik e mining for gold or something. (Katie, 24, player) Since Katie and Steven did not live together and usually only aw each other on the weekends due to their job schedules, Katie wa s made more aware of the l imited amount of time they have. She convey ed the realization that in order to divide her time between the game and Steven she ha d to opt for more routine tasks in WoW that require significantly les s of her attention when Steven wa s visiting her. A commo n feeling among non players and players alike ha d been the wish for a pause button. Since WoW is a real time game with people around the world simultaneously playing and interacting with each other, it cannot be paused like console games, especially in act ivities like raids or dungeons. The lack of a pause button can lead players to put off real life matters since the game requires their full attention. This can also draw the player further into this virtual world because they do not have an opportunity to disengage from the virtual realm and reenter the real world: I dated people that have played Xbox games but I actually prefer those to WoW. Then at least you can play them more together I think than WoW. They eventually end. My exes never got into online g aming, we never had a problem button, k just give me five min utes and (Megan, 20, NP/NP) Like Megan, Robert also wished that WoW could somehow be paused. The lack of an option to pause the game has led him to cut back on his playing time and move on to other video games that can support his desire for less attention intensive gaming:


92 So I've basically been moving over to games where I can just hit escape and leave the computer without bailing on someone in game. It's not so much an issue of time as it is an issue of not being committed to anything or anyone. We don't make appointments with 20 40 other people to log in at the same time and complete various objectives when playing a single player game or even a multiplayer game like Battlefield where one round is like half an hour and no one really cares if you leave when it's over or even in the middle of the whole thing. I wouldn't sign up for a raid or whatever that I wouldn't be able to make. Of course, any reasonable guild, including ours, has a policy that real life emergencies takes precedence over anythi ng in game, but it would be bad form to sign up and then constantly either canceling, or requiring impromptu AFKs all the time. With a single player game I can just hit pause, leave, and when I get back an hour later nothing's happened and no one is affect ed. (Robert, 23, player) The inability to get up and go while playing WoW had led Robert and other players to increasingly put the game on the back burner in order to focus more on their real world. Although others had not resorted to playing WoW as sparin gly as Robert, many share d the sentiment that sometimes it wa s difficult to engage in both real life and virtual life simultaneously, leading to a mental absence at times. It is clear th at many non playing partners had a difficulty understanding how thei r significant other could occupy the same room yet not be available to them. In many cases they could feel like they are being ignored and, as pointed out by Megan, it took some time to understand that even though the person is physically there they may no t always be present in a more mindful fashion. Some partners eventually learned how to understand this difference but it took time especially for those who have never had experience with a person living in essentially two different worlds. Some players eve ntually learned how to divide their attention between the game and real life but usually this led to either changing the activities they engage d in during game play or shutting the game off entirely. Because WoW could cause a cleavage between the real and the virtual, i.e. difficulties between maintaining a WoW character and real life relationships, players and non players both suggested that the ability to pause the game would make life easier. Being able to interrupt or stop the game play while it was in progress would


93 allow players to switch between worlds and be more mentally present for their partners and other real life matters would require less deliberate effort and negotiation to accomm odate the demands of the game Wo rld of W arcraft and Its Outcomes Up until this point, this study has mostly focused on perceptions of Wo rld of W arcraft d the presence of a virtual life i n addition to their real one. However, both positive and negative outcomes were also important and we re a testament to the role that WoW play ed in relationships. Although players and non players place d some of the responsibility on WoW for these outcomes, almost everyone still felt own actions concerning the game were central to how their lives and relationships we re affected. As mentioned previously, both John and Zack had problems in the past due to excessive playing. Zack, who was married for three years, buried himself in the game in response to his frustration with his previous partner; his escapes into the game allowed existing problems in the relationship to progressively get worse. When he began dating Monica, she became aware of how he changed while playing the game: Once we started a formal relationship, I continued to play WoW. But she started when I was. She said when we went out of town for a week, she said I was almost a comple tely different person without access to a computer than I was with a computer and WoW. She had a p s ych degree as well, and she ended up helping me identify that I had used WoW as an escape from the problems of my personal life for so long, that it was a t rained behavior, that when I was playing WoW, there was nothing else in the world around me. That I was just zoned out. So she would say something to me, and I because I was playing WoW. (Zack, 26, ex player)


94 Zack eventually quit WoW though he played many other MMOs. He now realize d the negative impact of becoming too fixated on these types of games with regard to relationship s and other aspects of his life. By using WoW as an escape, he stayed in a problematic relationship and ignored problems rather than facing them or leaving the relationship earlier. His current partner, Monica, appeared committed to ensuring that Zack did not repeat this pattern in their relationship and helped him realize that addressing concerns in the real world instead of using WoW as an escape would benefit both of them John reported experiencing a variety of negative consequences, some of which were related to or exacerbated by playing WoW. He reported constantly feeling like his ex fiance was trying to turn WoW into a contest between them. Furthermore, he noted that he became so enraptured with the game as an escape that it eventually led to infidelity: s in a really bad relationship and so was I so we reached out to each other and started talking. Talking led to phone calls, phone calls led to an actual visit, things like that. It kind of got out of hand but we both shared the same misery so there was th at but once that [misery] ended so did that. It led to extramarital affairs on both sides. (John, 28, player) While many players saw playing WoW as a form of escape, John and Zack took this to an extreme, using WoW to escape from serious problems that need ed to be faced and addressed rather than ignored. Many players saw WoW as a way to relax and escape from the stress of work or school, but those who reported trying to escape from unhappy relationships experienced particularly negative outcomes. For Cody and Michelle, the guild drama experienced in the game ha d caused Michelle to be wearier of the people with whom Cody play ed According to Cody, Michelle ha d responded


95 by imposing conditions regarding the people with whom he was to play or more importantly those with whom he should not play: When I was still raiding there'd be stupid guild drama there were like one or two attention se e king girls in our guild and they would ca use drama, and Michelle hates guild dr ama. So she wouldn't like when I was in the guild and it was a ffecting me. There was one point where when I wanted to restart playing and they had just introduced the guild perk stuff and I was like 'oh I can just rejoin my old guild she di dn't really want that to ut at this point I was just trying to get us leveling faster a nd she's like 'hell no, you shouldn't have to deal with that' (Cody, 21, player) Because of the past issue with Cody and M distrustful of the people with whom Cody play ed and even demanded that his next guild be one that he formed in order to have more control over who joined With this distrust among the couple and WoW, other problems concerning the game could possibly arise, which would weaken the relationship. Megan not iced that when Alex was raiding more he would break off social arrangements with both her and real life friends in order to raid with people he had met online. To her, this rep resented a very real paradox: h ow could Alex delay activities with her, or eve n procrastinate on his schoolwork, all in favor of those he had met online?: S o on raiding I sometimes T so attached to having to do this raid so they can lev (Megan, 20, NP/NP) Like Alex, many players played WoW when they had school work due, and some took days off from work to play new content. While most players interviewed were able to control their playing overall, many would use WoW to procrastinate and avoid pressing matters in the real world.


96 Although a p could lead to some harmful outcomes, some aw the good in WoW and claim ed that the game ha d helped both the couple as a whole and individuals within the relationship. Robert, who ha d played all of his adult life, saw the game and the internet as tools that helped him become more aware of the world and the people around him: I started playing when I was 16, 17ish, so I've basically gone through the whole critical mental maturation process et cetera with WoW being a major f the rest of the internet I guess If anything, s effective in that it teaches you at a very young age that there will always be someone who knows more about any given subject than you do, and that an opinion, no matter how outlandish it seems to you, w ill always be held in earnest by someone. (Robert, 23, player) By engaging with people in the game who were different from himself and were better at the game than him, Robert came to develop a more worldly view that he may not have developed as easily wi thout the presence of the internet and an inherently social game. Some describe d the game as actually having taught players to have control over their lives by first gaining control over their playing habits: something I can say WoW is wholly l feel the urg At the second week you no longer care. (John, 28, player) how to control the amount of time he played as he co ntinued to play WoW sporadically. Others expressed similar sentiments about learning how to manage their time with WoW through previous mistakes or realizing before problems arose and this not only pertained to the time spent playing but also to events i n the real world. Especially since most of the players interviewed were actively enrolled in school at the time of the interview, many described the


97 realization that they could only afford to play for two hours instead of four on a certain night because of schoolwork as a common lesson that players learned from playing the game. Many players were able to see some positive outcomes in their lives related to WoW but non y, I think it was the first in a series of me learning to deal with his obsession s because he tends to get very into things and will sometimes forget about other things in his life until he moves on to the next obsession. (Amy, 24, NP/PT) While WoW probably did not transform her boyfriend Jacob into a person with an addictive personality, the game helped highlight one of his character traits. Amy realized she would have to learn to handle his obsessive behavior if she was going to stay with Jacob; she attributed this learning to the success of their relationship and they plan ned to marry at the end of the year. Other non playing partners alluded to how WoW helped them understand their si the game instead of them: really think it was that big of a deal when he played I just saw it as my motivation to get more school work done on time and g o out volunteer and maybe do some other things w ith friends (Tanya, 22, NP/NP) Many partners like Tanya saw the time when their partner was playing as an opportunity to engage in activities that they enjoyed on their own or focus on school work more than if they did In cases like this, partners learned that they did not have to spend all of their time with their partners and should use this extra time to pursue their own interests and shape their individual identity.


98 Overall, couples experienced both negative and positive outcomes due to the playing habits of players. Some players beca me too fixated on the game to a point where problems which should have be en addressed we re left unchecked and could lead to even bigger issues. Using WoW as an escape was common, but it wa s particularly problematic when players used WoW to avoid dealing with concerns in their relationship. Problems could also arise becaus e of the people that players had chosen to interact with. Instances w here other players we re taking advantage of or flirting with a romantically unavailable player could lead to distrust among partners and eventually a dislike for the game. In addition, many players fell into using WoW to procrastinate on their job and scho olwork unless they learned how to balance their playing habits. However, some couples were able to see the good in WoW. Some pla yers, especially those that had played since their teen years, saw the game as a way to discover the social world in an expans ive way and understand how they fit into the bigger picture. Other players saw the game as a way to learn control and balance, not only when pertaining to video games, but in the larger world overall. For non players, the game served as a microcosm of thei personality and helped them become more awa re of what type of person they we re in order to adapt accordingly. Finally, non playing partners saw the time that their significant other spent playing WoW as an opportunity to accomplish their own go als, whether that was getting ahead on schoolwork, taking up a hobby they were interested in, or getting involved with their school and community.


99 CHAPTER 6 BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER: DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION T his study explored how the meanings and perceptions of World of Warcraft are constructed and negotiated within the context of romantic relationships among college aged people and how these couples construct their relationships in the presence of a virtual life. This chapter exa mines how the project observations fit together to create a vivid picture of the young couples and their interactions with the virtual life within WoW. The first section summariz es t he key themes that arose from the interviews to provide a clear understand ing of how WoW has influenced relationships. The remainder of this chapter discusses the implications of this study for relationships and the general population as a whole and outlines important limitations of this study and questions for further research. Summary and Conclusions This study utilized a trio of theoretical frameworks in order to comprehend how couples understand and shape their relationship in the presence of a virtual element. These frameworks included symbolic interactionism, social constr uctionism, and distributed cognition, which when combined, help explain how couples come to und erstand the world around them, place in their lives, and their relationship. The way that these frameworks came into play can be seen in how individua ls in each couple came to view WoW and what this understanding contributed to the relationship. Through individuals interacting with each other and Wo rld of W arcraft in a complex fashion, these couples how virtual and real life int ersected and how they navigated the unique challenges and contributions that WoW represented in their relationships and real world lives

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100 Wo rld of W arcraft as a Symbol For m any couples the common stigmas of WoW, including the notions of addiction and escapism were central to their assessments of the game and how they navigated it within the context of their relationships. Both individual and shared perceptions and opinions of the game r epresented important reference points for interpreting game play, describing motivations, and negotiating the place of WoW within their lives and relationships. In particular, l earning how couples processed the addiction discourse within the context of the ir own experiences with WoW provided a key insight into how the game fit t to them. Most individuals reported com ing in contact with obsessive playing habits and because of the experience, c ame to the conclusion that W oW wa s a pastime that should be used in moderation. This call for self control was even stronger when a player was in a romantic relationship in addition to being employed or enrolled in school. Keeping distributed cognition theory and symbolic interaction ism in mind, these previous interactions with WoW contributed to the meanings of the game for the couples interviewed. More specifically, the game already had implications for many people involved in this study, especially players, and this factored into t he way that WoW interacted with the couple, thus changing the way that the relationship was constructed around the game and what the relationship meant to the couple. For those who currently play ed or had played in the past, there was generally a positive to neutral outlook of the game regardless of their experience with game addiction. This was because of their own familiarity with WoW, which provided the opportunity to understand that the game was something they had control over, for example, with regard to the amount of time spent playing. Some players reported hav ing problems in the past related to excessive playing, but even these people tended to see these problems as a fault of their own rather than as a

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101 problem inherent to the game. In other words, most individuals, whether they played WoW or not, saw the game as something a player had complete agency over rather than believing that the structure of the game was partially responsible for excessive playing. WoW came to symbolize a hobby that could provide a much needed distraction from the stress and frustration of everyday life, an entertaining activity that could lift the spirits and produce a sense of accomplishment, and a social venue where people regardl ess of distance could meet and work together towards common, albeit whimsical goals. World of Warcraft also represented an entity that was regarded as inculpable with regard to any perceived negative consequences of game playing. Because of t he lack of ex plicit coercion between players and the game players were more apt to blame obsessive playing habits on personal shortcomings rather than on aspects of structure that are designed to draw in regarded the g ame as an inanimate object, whereas players were considered to be rational beings who exercised agency and were capable of making the choice whether to play or not. This perception resonated with 2008 ) research, which examined the lin k s between addictive gaming and While individuals acknowledged the addictive potential of WoW, the game was generally likened to other natural activities like eating or intercourse. By doing this, WoW was regarded by players as a value neutral entity even in the worst circumstances, e.g. obsessive playing, for which the blame could only be placed on an individual lack of control. For non playing partners, WoW was mostly considered an activity that was neither inherently good nor bad. However, partners without any personal experience playing the game expressed opinions that tended to be more negative, seeing the game as a waste of time and designed to purposefully enrapture its players. Whereas players tended to blame the player for

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102 obsessive playing habits, non players who were more removed from the game believed that WoW itself shared some responsibility for being an addictive pastime; just as players had arrived at their conclusions based on personal experience so too di d non playing partners. These partners personality would undergo as a result of being involved in the game. Again, the results showed that these individuals created their own meaning for WoW based on their interactions with their playing partner and these interpretations became their social reality with regard to the game and relationship Although many of the non playing partners (regardless of whether they tried t he could lead to conflict in the relationship and their lives overall. Based on a study by Knox, Zusman, White, and Haskins (2009), this conflict could result fro m the perceived loss of interaction from their playing partner. While non playing partners typically reported feeling indifferent to their significant others playing WoW, they stayed alert to the potential for excessive playing and spoke up when the game b ecame potentially problematic. In essence, WoW came to symbolize an activity that could be entertaining to some individuals but required introspection and vigilance intervention in order to av oid the negative consequences of becoming overly engrossed with the game. Connections between Partners and Virtual Life In instances where both partners played WoW, it was easier to reach a shared understanding of the game because both partners occupied th e virtual world of WoW. Through the interactions among the couples and World of Warcraft, partners were able to develop shared experiences and form a unique context in which to shape their relationship; in other words, these

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103 shared experiences essentially contributed to the couple social constructi on of shared meanings and realities within the game and their relationship more generally This means that while non l world, playing partners could move between the virtual and tangible world s effortlessly Playing partners could players also favored interacting with friends from the real world who were able to share in both contexts of their lives, showing the importance of linking the virtual wit h the actual. Rather than replacing or undermining their real world relationships with virtual ones, players used the social platform offered by WoW to enrich and reinforce their existing real world relationships, including their romantic involvements. In most relationships, partners would play together when given the opportunity, but even in instances where WoW was not a shared activity couples were still able to connect with each other through their shared familiarity with the game. Non players were able to a real world point of view. However, this distance often made it difficult to empathiz e with the pleasure derived from defeating a n in game boss or the disappointment felt when losing a duel against another player Non playing partners tended to minimize or misunderstand these accomplishments perceiving them as offering nothing concrete ( i.e. in the real world). For non players, even the people that their partner interact ed with while playing WoW were not perceived as real social ties unless these other players were people they had met in real life. This is not to say that individuals who d id not play we re doing a disservice to their relationship by avoiding the game but there wa s an o bvious tension amon g couples when one person entered into an alternative realm that the other did not fully understand or appreciate This notion is

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104 supported by Simpson (1987) who emphasized the importance of couples sharing goals, which is believed to be a good indicator of a mentally intimate relationship. Some non playing partners had a better grasp on this alternate world because of an interest in other fantasy based hobbies. As a result, they seem ed to more readily handle the complexity of dating a Wo W player ( i.e. occupying both a real and alternative realm). While video games differ ed from WoW with regard to capabilities and LARP exist ed in a different medium, the people who participate d in these activities we re also accustomed to occupying an alternative world through role play Because of the differences between these other pastimes and WoW the alternate worlds in LARP and video games we re not regarded as encompassing, but they allow ed individuals, specifically those who did not play WoW, the chance to relate to their partners T hese analogous activities offer ed an understanding of the pleasures of playing and the fulfillment that could be gained by accomplishing a goal in an intangible world. However, LARPers who did not play WoW tend ed t o perceive WoW as utilizing an impersonal medium ( i.e. play ing over the internet) with less emotional investment, w hereas WoW players generally did not express this belief. Other partners that play ed console games perceive d the real time element in WoW ( i.e. underway) as a burden that require d a greater personal investment and potential disruption of other activities compared to traditional video games. Because of these differences, non pl ayers still had some difficulty w hen it came to drawing parallels between their experiences with fantasy driven activities and WoW. This dis juncture created challenges in the relationship since non playing partners felt ignored at times because of the atte ntion that the game demanded and players felt the need to cut back or play when their partner was not home to alleviate the problem.

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105 When only one member of a couple played WoW, the schism between real and virtual life was often bridged by having players s har e details about the game, their experiences, and the people they interacted with; such sharing seemed to help alleviate the tension brought on by occupying two different worlds, which was hard to comprehend for those unfamiliar with the game. Non player s also typically made a concerted effort to bridge this gap by being mindful of the activities and showing an interest in some elements of the game in a hands off approach. This was displayed in the interviews by non ying in depth information of what the game offered, with whom their partner play ed and what they communicate d playing partners could not socially construct identical realitie s through WoW as a shared activity, their perceived alternative was to gain knowledge of the game and its various elements. Nonetheless, non triumph that could be derived from WoW, a major theme and motivation described by players. Presumably, understanding that WoW could elicit feelings of accomplishment illustrates the distinction between an individual who prefer red the duality of existing in two worlds and another who f ou nd more fu lfillment in living solely in the real world In other words, couples in which both members play ed WoW seem ed to accept and share the ability to occupy two different realms ( i.e. the real and virtual) and recognize that accomplishments within the game we r e valid and worthy of celebration since they consider ed themselves citizen s of this virtual world. For a non player who ha d no vested interest in WoW, these accomplishments ha d no bearing in the real world (their only realm of existing), which ma d e these feats arbitrary or less meaningful or valuable in their eyes.

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106 Effects of World of Warcraft Due to the prevalent addiction discourses with r egard to MMOs, players often rep orted spending less time within their virtual world in an effort to keep their playing habits under control. This was mostly accomplished by reducing the length of their playing sessions, though some players resorted to taking hiatuses from the game at var ious times in their WoW playing history. Some players eventually returned to the game whereas others had quit indefinitely. The reason for this decrease in playing was usually because of their responsibilities to both school and their relationship even if both partners engaged in the game. The altered playing habits in response to being in a relationship w ere ereby a partner may sacrifice an activity they enjoy if it is not conducive to the relationship (R usbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998). Although players enjoyed nurturing a virtual life they also gave the physical world (and its commitments, responsibilities, etc.) precedence This prioritization the relationship. However, the game still altered the dynamics of the relationship ; according to distributed cognition, the presence of WoW changed the way that partners constructed and understood their relationship, making their experience somewhat uni que The concept of being physically present but not mentally available often resulted in misunderstanding s between partners, especially if one partner did not play WoW. Even with partners occupying the same physical space, players became myopic while engaged in their virtual realm and unknowingly ignored their corporeal surroundings, including their significant other. Partners who also played WoW w ere the best equipped t o negotiate mental absence with their playing partner Those who engaged in similar activities, like playing video games or role playing also showed an advantage (compared to those who did not play other games) in negotiating the challenges of an unavail able partner

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107 when trying to understand and navigate this unique facet of their relationship. This navigation typically led partners to pursue activities that they could either mentally or physically immerse themselves in, whether that was playing WoW as a shared activity or engaging in unrelated pastimes as an alternate outlet while their WoW playing partner was preoccupied This method of managing mental absence allowed non playing partners to develop or nurture their own interests. Finding alternative ac tivities could offer positive opportunities both for the individual and the relationship but it also had the potential to cause or manifest as a symptom of serious relationship problems due to a lack of communication. Most conflicts that arose from playi ng WoW generally derived from players using the game as a figurative crutch to help them cope with (or avoid) other problems or from difficulties among non players in communicat ing with their partner. These findings concurred with Lo, Wang, and Fang 5) study, which found that increased playing decreased the quality of interpersonal relationships. In large part, players who experienced hardships due to their playing habits appeared to be attempting to substitute their real world with a virtual one. Pro blematic playing was used as a way to procrastinate on school work, avoid conflict with partners, and escape from everyday life. Although some players who had never encountered problems due to WoW play ed for similar reasons, behaviors became problem atic wh en matters such as school work or the relationship were pushed aside in an effort to replace them with a virtual realm. With non players, keeping quiet about personal concerns regard ing the game or other problems in the relationship also led to or exacerbat ed problems. Allowing obsessive playing to continue unchecked had the potential to worsen existing problems and to create resentment in non playing partners towards WoW and their significant other. Partners who did speak up about playing habits were genera lly met with an attentive reaction, on the other hand, and this

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108 communication helped to prevent these apprehensions from escalating into full blown animosity between the partners. Though WoW has the potential for real and important negative implications for r elationships and other facet s of life, the game was utilized in positive ways. Players who had been involved in the game since their teenage years reported that WoW brought them into contact with people from various walks of life; distributed cognitio n theory suggests that WoW and interactions with people through the game may have expanded players meanings of the world around them and led to a different way of thinking about the world compared to individuals who ha d not taken part in a virtual life. Through these interactions, many players believed that their worldview was broadened, and they were simultaneously humbled by the realization that no matter how knowledgeable or accomplished they believed themselves to be there was always room for improvem ent. In addition to this exposure to a larger world many players also learned self control. Despite some of the negative outcomes discussed by some couples, most had not experienced difficulties with the game. Players moderated the time they spent on WoW and had learned how to manage their time between worlds. For some, failed relationships and earlier problems with WoW helped them to realize and learn from their mistakes in ways that led to greater maturity and more positive later relationships. In addit ion to controlling their playing habits, players also noted that the background that they had gained within the game helped them to maintain equilibrium in other sectors of their lives. For players that reported past difficulties with WoW, the lesson was t aken more to heart since they had already endured the repercussions of obsessive playing and were familiar with the consequences involved.

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109 Non players also gained some benefits from WoW. They commented that when their partners were preoccupied with the g ame, they were provided with the opportunity to pursue personal interests and hobbies or advance in their schoolwork or other tasks. Adjusting to one interests and a ctivities, thus allowing the couple to learn to maintain their individual identities and interests while also constructing an intimate relationship with a partner. In addition, partners t hrough their experiences with playing WoW By witnessing how a player moderated their playing and their investment in the game non playing partners could gain a clearer picture of the type of person that they were with and adapt their way of managing the relationship based on these observations. Discussion Literature addressing the effects of World of Warcraft and romantic relationships is practically nonexistent. This is typically due to the tendency for studies to lump online activities into a generic category instead of addressing specific activities and platforms like WoW and simi lar games. In this study, WoW was exclusively examined separately from other internet pastimes, beginning from the view that the internet is not homogenous and neither are its users. When studies focus on the internet in general instead of specific activities, the differences between the type s of peo ple who use the internet for information and those who use it for entertainment or socializing are lost. By focusing only on Wo W the concept of living in a virtual realm emerged and presented a unique element that has not been addressed in prior research. Throughout this study the complex interactions between couples and Wo W have been highlight ed and have shown how the popular MMO can alter the dynamic of relationships. Those

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110 who played WoW recognized the need to balance real and virtual life and made ef forts to include their significant other in both lives. Their partners would generally accept the invitation by entering into this alternate realm or they would attempt to understand from a distance. Regardless of how couples included the game in their re lationship, the necessity to understand how World of Warcraft played int o their relationship was necessary. Usually this led players to learn how to moderate playing habits by cutting down playing time, playing while their partners were unavailable, or eng aging in activities in the game that required less focus even if their partner played as well. Non playing partners were also mindful to make an effort to u nderstand the game when it came to dating someone interested in WoW; they also recognized the import ance of discussing and negotiating their concerns about the game with their partner. While this study has focused on romantic relationships among young adults there are also implications concerning the general population. Many people are investing more an d more of their time in virtual life outlets not only through MMOs like World of Warcraft and Second Life, but also in other public online activities like forums, social networking, blogging, and non MMO online games. Taking part in larger online communiti es, therefore, should not be written off as trivial but should be recognized as offering a potential shift in communication and interaction methods as well as offering a wider array of activities and hobbies. Even more importantly, researchers should take interest in how this shift intersects with more traditional methods of maintaining relationships with others and the difficulties that this could pose. Th roughout the interviewing process, there were many other interesting themes that arose but were outsid e the scope of this study. Some of these themes merit further research. For example, researchers could benefit from comparing and contrasting real world and WoW personalities in order to learn how people behave differently (or similar ly ) between the two

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111 realms. A study on addiction and stigma discourses could also help shed light on the current strain between the real and virtual worlds. The current study has provided intriguing insights into the relationships of WoW players, but an important limitation o f this research is its focused, convenience based sample. Future research might build on the insights gleaned from qualitative interviews to develop survey items that might be employed with a larger, random sample of young adults in relationships. Such an approach would allow for the development of reliable research tools to assess the effects of WoW and related activities on relationships across a more representative sample. Applying the concepts from this study in a more quantitative, survey based manner would also allow for In addition to the limitation of convenience sampling, cognitive dissonance could have affected the data. According to Festinger (1957) a person wi ll strive to have consistent perceptions, attitudes, and actions and if that individual believes there is an inconsistency within him or herself, an attempt to rationalize the inconsistency is made. However, these attempts are not always successful and can interviews, although everyone gave the impression of cand or there could have been instances where an inconsistency between what interviewees were saying and what was truly happening in the rela tionship existed, even if they were unaware of this dissonance. Problems in the relationship or specific concerns about WoW may have been minimized because of the emotional investments in these realms and reluctance to see or acknowledge tensions. Another element that should be further investigated is how relationships among W oW players compare with couples who do not take part in such an extensive virtual life. Since these

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112 types of couples were not interviewed and this was not a random sample in the first place, comparisons cannot be drawn from these results. However, determining the differences and similarities between the two groups could yield some very interesting data and give further insight on WoW players and their relationships. Conversely, by focu sing on couples in on going relationships, the current research has excluded those people who may have the most serious difficulties in navigating WoW and relationships. More work is needed to examine how Wow might interfere with or hinder the development of intimate relationships among young adult players who are not currently in a relationship. A longitudinal study would also be helpful. This study utilized a one interview but being able to follow up with previously interviewed couples c ould yield even more insight into how WoW affects relationships. Some partners could have parted ways and others could have progressed in their relationship (e.g., moving in together, marrying). Partners who played WoW could have also quit playing or non p laying partners could have begun playing. Regardless of any changes, conducting follow up interviews could provide more information on the effects of WoW on relationships. In addition to these suggestions, it would be interesting to narrow the demographic s even further. Interviewing only the couples where both partners play Wo W or only those where one person does not play could give more specific information on the relationship dynamics under these circumstances. In this study, there were some distinctions between couples where both partners played and those where only one person played, and solely focusing on either of these groups might present a clearer and more detailed picture of how these relationships interact with the game.

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113 In closing, the narrativ es from couples involved in Wo W provided a clearer picture of how romantic relationships in the material realm intermingle d with virtual life in the form of online gaming. This study also illustrated how these interactions between lives could change the dynamic of a relationship in the ways that partners took on the task of understanding this alternate life and negotiated its presence. Although Putnam saw civic society as a dying element of humanity, the answer to what has happened to this asp ect of society could be much more complex; the data presented ha ve shown that civic society could be undergoing a transformation through technological advances. With these results, hopefully researchers will be provided with better insight concerning thes e changes and, in turn, be better equipped to study the effects of virtual life on the real w orld. Ultimately, this study had set out to demonstrate that World of Warcraft and similar games are not just forms of entertainment; they represent a significant shift in how people live and interact with each other in the modern world lost bowling leagues may have moved to the world wide web

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114 APPENDIX A INTERVIEW GUIDES Interview Guide: Player 1. How long have you played World of Warcraft? How much do you play on a typical weekday? A typical weekend? Why do you play World of Warcraft? 2. Does your significant other play World of Warcraft? (If yes) how long has your partner played? How much does your partner play on a typical weekday? A typical weekend? Do you play together? Can you describe how you play together? 3. What other activities do you have besides school or work? Do you participate in these activities with other people and how much time do you spend doing these hobbies each week? 4. When pl aying World of Warcraft, do you play with other people within the game or do you prefer to play solo? If you do play with others, are they a set group of friends like a guild or random people? 5. (If they play with others) what kind of conversations do you ha ve? Are they only about strategy within the game or do you talk about other things with each other? What kind of le, less connected, or about the same? 6. What does your significant other think of WoW? 7. How long have you and your significant other been together? How did you meet? 8. Do you live together or separately? 9. How would you describe your relationship? Can you tel l me any stories that you feel illustrates your relationship? 10. What type of activities do you do together? Are there some activities you and your significant other always do together? For example, do you always have lunch together or have a date night ever y Friday? 11. family feel about the relationship? 12.

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115 13. Do you share a lot of mutual friends w ith your significant other, have a separate circle of friends, or a mixture of both? 14. Are there any particular ways that playing WoW has affected your relationship? Positively? Negatively? How did you and your significant other feel? How did you resolve th e issue (if negative)? Were there ever any situations where your partner share on this topic? 15. Have you ever broken up or lost a relationship because of WoW? Did you le arn anything from this experience? 16. How do you imagine your life would be like without this person? How much influence does your significant other have in your life on a day to day basis? 17. Is there any way you have changed yourself in order to improve your r elationship? Are relationship? 18. Where do you see your relationship going? Interview Guide: Non Player 1. Do you know how long your significant other has played World of Warcraft? How much does he/she play on a typical weekday? A typical weekend? Has he/she ever explained why he/she plays? 2. Has your significant other ever tried to get you interested in the game? Are there any stories about him/her trying to explain the game world or get you into playing? 3. Do you know who your significant other plays with on World of Warcraft? Are there any instances where he/she has talked to you about people on World of Warcraft? (If they know about their WoW friends) how would you compare these online f riends to his/her real life friends? 4. What do you personally think of World of Warcraft? Any stories on what brought you to this conclusion? 5. How long have you and your significant other been together? How did you meet? 6. Do you live together or separately?

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116 7. How would you describe your relationship? Can you tell me any stories that you feel illustrate your relationship? 8. What type of activities do you do together? Are there some activities you and your significant other always do together? For example, do you always have lunch together or have a date night every Friday? 9. family feel about the relationship? 10. elationship? 11. Do you share a lot of mutual friends with your significant other, have a separate circle of friends, or a mixture of both? 12. Are there any particular ways that World of Warcraft has affected your relationship? Positively? Negatively? How did y ou and your significant other feel? How did you resolve the issue (if negative)? Were there ever any situations where you disapproved of share on this topic? 13. Have yo u ever broken up or lost a relationship because of World of Warcraft in the past? (If yes), how did this affect the way you handle your current relationship? 14. How do you imagine your life would be like without this person? How much influence does your signi ficant other have in your life on a day to day basis? 15. Is there any way you have changed yourself in order to improve your relationship? Are habits and your relationship? 16. Where do you see your relationship going?

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117 APPENDIX B GLOSSARY AFK as an auto response when other players attempt to communicate with someone who is no longer at their k eyboard and cannot respond. Aggro : The amount of threat that a computer generated opponent retains on a given player. This crowd of opponents, raising their threat level, and causing them to attack. AOE game spells that affect multiple targets in a predetermined radius set by the game. Arenas: Arenas refer to instances in which small teams of players engage in combat against one another. Unlike battlegrounds, arenas feature no team based objective other than defeating the opposing team through combat. Arena teams can consist of two, three, or at most, five players. Azeroth : The name of the world in which the majority of World of Warcraft is set. Azeroth consists of three continents: The Eastern Kingdoms, Northrend, and Kalimdor. Another major area of WoW includes Outland, which is located outside of Azeroth. Battlegrounds : Areas in which large teams of players usually from opposing factions compete to either capture flags or areas within the battleground. Depending on the battleground, teams can consist of 10 40 players per faction. Classes acter will utilize. Class also determines what types of powers, abilities, skills, and/or spells a character will gain through play. There are 10 possible classes to choose from, which are available to both

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118 factions: paladins, warriors, hunters, druids, de ath knights, priests, mages, rogues, shamans, and warlocks. DPS/Tanks/Healers: These terms refer to the three primary roles of players who are pursuing any type of group players which specialize in offensive output. As DPS players are normally quite frail in terms of defensive capabilities, a Tank is used to defend them. A tank is any player which causes high threat to any number of opponents, and specializes in absorbing massi ve amounts of damage. Healers, as their name suggests, usually stand to the side of the action and mend the various forms of damage inflicted by enemies in order to prevent any single player from dying. Dungeons/Heroics : Dungeons is commonly interchanged refers to a dungeon that has been changed by the group/party leader to be more difficult. This means that enemies are harder to defeat and groups require better strategies to complete the dungeon. Heroics also offer b etter items that would not be available in a normal difficulty dungeon. Elites : These are game controlled creatures or humanoids that are more difficult than others to defeat in combat. They are denoted by a gold or silver dragon bordering their name plat e and, unless it is a low level elite character, a group is usually required to defeat it. Expansions : Since the game was released in 2004, there have been three expansions added on to the original WoW (often called Vanilla WoW): Burning Crusade (BC), Wr ath of the Lich King (WotLK), and Cataclysm (Cata). In BC, two new races were introduced (blood elves for the Horde and draeneis for the Alliance) and the planet Outland was added. WotLK introduced the continent of Northrend and the death knight class. Cat a added the worgen (Alliance) and goblin

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119 (Horde) races and while it did add some new areas on the map, this expansion mostly redesigned the existing map. Faction : There are many minor factions within WoW but within this study, this refers to the two polit ically opposing factions of the Horde and the Alliance. Players choose between these two factions and one of six races that each faction offers when creating a character. Due to the history of the Horde and Alliance, the two factions are considered enemies within the game. Gear : This term refers to the equipment that a player can outfit their character with in order to increase their prowess in any one of a number of roles and skills, especially combat. Each piece can be gained through various PVE and PVP activities such as quests or dungeons. Depending on the level and difficulty of the task, the worth and level of the gear will be greater. Grinding : Grinding is the term players often use to refer to doing a certai n action repetitively in order to raise their character level, reputation with certain factions, or expertise in certain skills (e.g. fishing, leatherworking, cooking, etc.). Grinding also implies that a player is attempting a difficult goal which requires many hours of playtime. Guild : A guild is a defined group of players who can come together for group activities in WoW. Guilds also serve as a social atmosphere where previous acquaintances can socialize or relative strangers can create stronger bonds thr ough playing together. Instance : Dungeons, castles, and other confined areas can have sub areas called instances. These are special areas in WoW where groups are able to interact with a dungeon without interference from other players or parties and can gai n certain items that are unavailable through other means.

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120 Leveling o refer to improving trade talents as well. MMORPG game WoW belongs too. MMO is used as well at times. PVE inst computer controlled occupants/content of the game. PVP game environments. Questing : Questing refers to a player who is actively completing quests. More specifica lly, a quest is a task that is given to a player by a computer generated character or item that usually requires the player to defeat a computer generated enemy, collect a certain item, or complete an action. Upon completion of a quest, the player can rece ive experience points, gold, and/or items depending on the quest. Races : WoW offers 12 races that players can choose from. The Horde includes trolls, orcs, goblins, blood elves, taurens, and the undead. The Alliance includes humans, night elves, gnomes, dw arves, the draenei, and worgens. Each race has a different starting point on the racial traits. There are other races within the game but these are the only play able choices. Raids (10 man, 25 man) specific instance with anywhere between five to 40 players depending on the instance that the raid party is entering.

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121 specific raid should be completed with. Depending on the difficulty of a raid, they can sometimes take many hours to complete, with three hour raiding sessions not being unheard of. Many guilds will schedule raids in orde r to have all players present at the same time, typically scheduling one to three raids per week. Server : Players can choose from multiple servers (also known as realms), which are usually divided by geographical location and are then further divided into four types of servers: PvE, PvP, RP, and RP PvP. A PvE server means that players will not be attacked by a player from the opposing faction unless they consensually choose this option; players mostly participate in dungeons or raids. A PvP realm means that in addition to computer generated enemies, other players from the opposing faction are free to attack each other; in addition to dungeons and raids, players usually participate in battlegrounds, arenas, and one on one duels. An RP, or role playing realm, dictates that players adhere to the mythos of the game. This means creating a name that fits within the WoW universe and staying in character, which would include using the correct dialect of the character based on its race. Since the RP realms did not hav e the option for PvP, the most recent realm, RP PvP, was created in 2005 that combined the role playing element with the ability to combat other players. Toon game character. Wintergrasp : This area wa s introduced in Wrath of the Lich King and is the first non battleground zone that is fully dedicated to PVP combat regardless of the type of server a player is on. Any player within the area when the battle begins can join in and either attack or defend t he castle, depending on which faction won the previous battle.

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122 XP in, non slayi ng opponents within the game.

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127 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH and Criminology & Law at the Univ from the University of Florida in 2009. Her concentration is in family and media and is especially interested in the impact of new media on families, children, young adults and romantic rela tionships