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Players want different experiences and therefore there are different virtual worlds with different attributes. That may seem alarmingly simplistic, however that point seems to get lost during some virtual world debates.

That point aside, I think having a virtual world where community input drives the direction of the world is a great idea. That type of world can include all types of social expression, not just sexual expression. At the same time however, virtual worlds that hold strictly to the developer's or intellectual property creator's ideals and allow people to exist in their world should also be tolerated as long as those ideals do not break the law.

I don't think virtual worlds should have to conform to all aspects of reality, and even though there should be some moral constraints (hopefully no bludgeoning of infants), developers and publishers should be able to stay true to original works that were developed well before recent societal changes or to there own ideals where those ideals don't break the law.

However, in a game that is not trying to conform to an existing world or where a particular social convention hasn't been established or even hinted at, then I don't think there should be a reason to exclude actions like same sex or interracial marriage.

I think developers should have creative control over there work within the framework of a particular society.

In summary - Gay marriage in MMOs - sure. Gay marriage in Middle Earth - not if the Tolkien Estate doesn't want it.

Ron Meiners

From Solok:

"Players want different experiences and therefore there are different virtual worlds with different attributes. That may seem alarmingly simplistic, however that point seems to get lost during some virtual world debates. "

Very good point and I totally agree... I think one of the really fascinating things about online culture is how much it exposes interaction with culture to choice. It gives us a lot more freedom to find, or even contribute to, or even create, a culture that suits our particular interest at any given time. And that can change too... I'm liking LOTR for a couple of reasons, and will probably post about that in the next while, but I also like to go back to WoW on occasion, or Uru... all of which have different social expectations and values.


The mistake here is for the developers to implement marriage as an actual mechanic. Regardless of what the Tolkien estate expects of the Middle Earth world setting, when you bring in other people as players, they're going to engage in the world according to their own interpretation, not Tolkien's. This is a sacrifice developers must acknowledge when publishing an online game. Eventually someone is going to take a nice carefully crafted world and subvert it, whether it is some player shouting obscenity in a capital city, or two players merely being a gay couple.

By making marriage a mechanic, that introduces some peculiar complexity that players will simply circumvent. Elves can't marry humans, even though that certainly happens in the cannon. Putting in these restrictions and making a legal structure simply serves to ostracize some members of the community.

So why make marriage a mechanic at all? I sadly haven't played LotRO, so I may be off key here, but the problem seems to be in that level of design.

Celia Pearce

I think Calvin's point is well-taken. Being particularly engaged in the study of emergent behaviors, as well as creating games that promote them, I think the outcome is that people will do whatever they want, whether the game "allows" it or not.

In terms of protecting the integrity of the world, well having Santa Hats in WoW certainly breaks the illusion, not to mention all the Blood Elves running around the Burning Crusade in their underwear.


"By making marriage a mechanic, that introduces some peculiar complexity that players will simply circumvent."

This is a very good point. One of the things that I've always found fascinating about Warcraft is that (especially on RP realms) players can customise their experience and virtual lives. I've been a part of religious rituals, heard about marriages and funerals, seen players opening their own shops and taverns. You don't need a game mechanic for it...the virtual world should allow the freedom for imagination.

Celia Pearce

Ravven is absolutely correct. One of the outcomes of my research has been that "emergence happens." It is invetibale and will happen regardless of whether or not the game promotes it. Mechanics are not necessary and people will actually subvert existing features to facilitate a desired experience.

Weddings of course have been a big part of MMOGs and virtual worlds since the text days, regardless of whether or not the game has a marriage mechanic. Lineage 1 (which frankly I think is highly underrated in the U.S.) had this funny feature that you could drop items ont the ground and they would stay there. One of the most common dropped items was candles, a common loot item and virtually valueless; thus their tended to be hundreds of them strewn about. When people would organize weddings or other rituals, they would use the dropped candles to make elaborate arrangements on the ground to delinate ritual space.

Lineage 1 also had a marriage mechanic that was actually very interesting. In order to get married, you had to buy a ring, which was very expensive. (I can't remember if both people had the ring.) Once you had given the ring to your spouse, you could teleport them to your side anytime you wanted. I thought that was kind of sweet and created a "value add" besides just the formal designation of "being married." At Indie MMOG, in the roundtable on sex, we talked about "mechanics of intimacy" and this was a very good example of that.

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