It's a nice day for an 'EverQuest' wedding

For some couples, virtual worlds are proving the ideal venue to find romance--and even marry. Images: Real love in virtual worlds

Some people might think it odd to find a soul mate in a place where hunting orcs, battling villains or zipping around in hover cars are the day's primary activities. In-world wedding

Chris Edwards is not one of them. He met his wife Alayne in the virtual world "Second Life," a game in which players design and build almost any reality they can conceive.

"We'd both been in chat rooms before, but (there was so much) extra depth in ' Second Life ,'" said Edwards. "It lets you explore other people's creativity, and that was something that really attracted us to each other. She was experimenting with building plants and flowers and trees, and that was really neat, because I hadn't built anything organic."

Edwards is one of a surprising number of people who have found their long-term Valentines in online games and metaverses like " EverQuest ," "City of Heroes" or "Second Life."

Such virtual worlds are 3D digital environments where large numbers of people interact, regardless of where they are geographically. Some of these worlds focus on players reaching specific goals, such as completing quests or slaying monsters, while others leave players to do whatever their imaginations lead them to. Ultimately, though, the games revolve around socialization, allowing people to meet and learn about each other in the context of creative play.

To be sure, not every virtual-world romantic interlude ends up at the altar. In some cases, not surprisingly, players have used the environments to stalk would-be paramours, and tales of nasty breakups are common. But because the games give players so much

"My personal hunch is that a lot of romantics play elves, and they tend to marry other elves."
--Alan Crosby, global director of community relations, Sony Online Entertainment
latitude to become acquainted with others' imaginations and sense of play, they can be a natural place for gauging what it might be like to spend significant time with someone in the real world.

For Edwards, a 36-year-old game designer in Harrogate, England, and his wife, Alayne Wartell, "Second Life" provided a forum where the two, then living across the Atlantic Ocean from each other, could discover a wide range of mutual interests.

They met in the game, Edwards said, because they owned adjacent land, and they began to trek to each other's properties to see what the other was working on.

One of the things Edwards built in his house, he explained, was a floating brain in a jar--along with tinted windows and a swimming pool that appeared in the floor. "Alayne just came over (sometimes) on the pretense of saying hello to my...brain in the jar," Edward said. "We always say we fell in love over my brains."

Soon, the couple began to court. They borrowed some friends' private resort--a digital property in "Second Life"--and spent a virtual romantic evening together.

Romance amid the sunken galleons
"We took a date wandering around their lovely gardens and had nice walks through the wooded areas," he said. "There were sunken galleons, and they'd even set out virtual food for us: a candlelit dinner on the veranda."

Edwards visited Wartell at her home in Philadelphia, and before long, the two decided to marry. Wartell, now 41, agreed to move to England.

But virtual worlds are also a place for couples to explore and expand existing relationships.

The story of Jeff Ruggieri, of Cranston, R.I., and his fiance is a story a marketing executive would have to love.

About a year after they began playing NCSoft's " City of Heroes ," an online game in which players take on the roles of superheroes fighting villainy, Ruggieri and his girlfriend found themselves prowling around in the game one day.

They were sitting next to each other in real life, and at one point, she asked him not to look at her screen. "Finally, she says, 'OK, you can look now,' and I look at the computer...and she had her character kneel down and she just proposed to me," Ruggieri recalled. "Of course I said yes to her in-game and turned to her and said yes in real life."

 

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