It wasn’t long after I joined Raven’s Crown, my current guild, that I received a wedding invitation in my moogle mailbox. The invitation came with a gift minion and announced with heraldry the time, the date, and the place where the nuptials would be held. As the evening of the ceremony drew closer, my guildmates and I readied ourselves by purchasing fancy gowns, suits, and accessories on the market boards. We thoughtfully adorned ourselves, tucking away our axes, polearms, and staves, and we met outside of the Raven’s Nest, our guild home, to travel to the holy Sanctum of the Twelve. Voyaging aboard our Chocobo mounts through the thickly wooded Eastern Shroud of Gridania, we joked amiably about the bride and the groom, our guildmates Paul and Caileta. As the story goes, in the weeks leading up to the wedding, Caileta, a female Hyur or human, drunkenly proposed to Paul, a male Elezen or Elf, after a long night of raiding. Caileta had already purchased the items necessary to begin the “Ceremony of Eternal Bonding,” and Paul had little choice but to agree. It was, without saying, a most auspicious occasion.
While Paul and Caileta donned their wedding attire in separate dressing rooms, the guests danced together on the steps of the Sanctum. We speculated on the loving future of the bride and the groom, peppering playful sarcasm into our remarks, and we complimented each other’s appearance and dance moves using a series of flattering in-game emotes: /clap, /grin, /cheer, /blush, /hug. Shortly thereafter, we were escorted into the wedding instance. The Sanctum transformed into a lavishly decorated wedding chapel.
Pink roses embellished the aisles, petals drifted softly in the air against a stunning backdrop of stained-glass windows. Two attendants ushered us to our seats, where we stood in awe as the bride and the groom entered amidst a band of festive moogles, announcing the arrival of the couple with horns, harps, and bells.
Those of us who frequent MMORPGs understand the capacity for such games to align players into dynamic, social networks where interpersonal relationships are not only valued but vital to success in game. We expect, when playing an MMORPG, to join player-organized guilds in order to accomplish both personal and large-scale tasks that might otherwise be impossible to achieve alone. Naturally, through our gameplay, we form close bonds. Our spirited socialization and good-natured camaraderie become, themselves, highly motivating factors for both playing and staying in game. But what happens when friendships forged in the “magic circle” become something more? For what reasons might two players elect to bind themselves in virtual matrimony?
Like many MMORPGs available for play: Age of Wushu, Elder Scrolls Online, Rift, and even Final Fantasy XI Online, the series’ first MMORPG, FFXIV: A Realm Reborn offers an entirely optional, in-game marriage system called “The Ceremony of Eternal Bonding” that provides players with an outlet for exploring and performing romantic love. Interestingly, unlike its predecessor Final Fantasy XI Online, released in 2002, FFXIV: A Realm Reborn allows same-sex avatars to participate in “The Ceremony of Eternal Bonding”—an allowance that was not in small part due to the urging of the gaming community, who advocated for same-sex marriages in the official forums. As it stands, any two players can marry each other for any variety of reasons, the most popular being to secure special in-game items that cannot be obtained outside of the marriage quest: engraved ceremony rings, a dual-seated mount, and of course, the wedding attire. Yet pairings are not typically made without pre-existing player connections, friendships, and mutual admiration.
In the case of Paul and Caileta, both heterosexual males in their mid-twenties, the decision to marry was a playful way of acknowledging their mutual “bromance.” When I asked Paul about Caileta’s proposal he said, “Caileta kept mentioning the wedding, which I thought was a joke. I assumed he was just being funny. He kept saying, ‘Paul and I are going to get married, and I’ll be the prettiest bitch on the server.’ Then we’d laugh.” Similarly, when I asked Caileta about his proposal to Paul he said,
I wish I could say there was an elaborate proposal, but I’m known to be a collector of mounts and I wanted the wedding chocobo mount rather badly. I purchased the Platinum Wedding package and then told Paul, while intoxicated, I was marrying him. I didn’t give him the option to choose (he didn’t object though). Leading up to this, we had talked about it jokingly and since we’d been friends for over a year and because we went through a lot of stuff together (leaving our old guild, joining the new guild, doing group content almost daily) it seemed a good fit.
By design, preparations for the wedding ceremony require the invested pair to complete the “Ties that Bind,” a quest crafted to test the devotion of the two lovers, and measure their loyalty to The Twelve—the existing deities of the game. Partied together, the two must equip themselves with “promise wristlets” and embark on a pilgrimage to honor the Twelve by praying at each of their shrines posted around the world. Once this task is completed, the wristlets “sparkle with a newfound radiance” and they are surrendered to the wedding curator until the day of the ceremony when they are transformed into “Eternity Rings” and exchanged following the couple’s vows. Notably, however, while the game provides an extravagant framework for hosting such ceremonies, the ceremony itself would not be successful without the contributions of the players within it. During the course of the scripted ceremony, the NPC directing the events pauses and invites the couple to speak their own vows. In the joining of their vows, for example, Paul and Caileta exchanged the following:
Paul: Alright, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I searched for the right words to say but…I only have a few in mind. I don’t believe in love; but I believe in you–and us. You will always be my Catholic school girl and I your altar boy. :3
Caileta: Paul-kun, I knew from the moment I met you that Asian Zing was my favorite flavor at Buffalo Wild Wings and that I wanted to ERP with you for the rest of my life. :3 I’ll be your waifu.
Their use of shared and private inside jokes evoked good-natured laughter among our tight-knit group of guildmates, while at the same time demonstrating their unique bond. Caileta later explained, “Everybody knows who we are as players and not just as characters so we made it as humorous for all as we could. We had fun and we still talk about being married in game to this day, so it has had a lasting effect on our friendship and in our discussions with the guild.”
Of course, it is not uncommon for unions to form around two players who foster genuine romantic relationships for one another. Paul and Caileta’s wedding followed on the heels of another guild wedding between Pyste and Kitaa, a heterosexual couple who live together in Chicago in real life, and who met and began dating in Final Fantasy XI Online. A third wedding between friends occurred as well within our guild when Vim, a heterosexual male, married Koji, a gay male—again, their association was one of mutual friendship rather than romantic love, yet their online ceremony celebrated the union of their two male avatars.
And it seems there is no shortage of Warriors and Mages looking for love. On the Lodestone—the official online forums for FFXIV—player Elusana Celah created the “Marriage Partner Hook-Up Megathread,” in Dec. 2014, designed to serve as a “matchmaking service” for players interested in meeting and eventually marrying other players in-game. As of August 2016, there are upward of 5,500 responses on the thread, many of which have resulted in wedded bliss. “Redditors” also explore the validity of these unions in the popular sub forum /r/ffxiv, exploring questions like, “Why did you get married?”, “Have you ever fallen in love in an MMO?”, “Can you find love in this game?”, and “How seriously do you really take it?”
Expectedly riddled with skeptics, these threads also contain naysayers who warn about the consequences of rushing into marriage (of any kind) for frivolous reasons. For example, player Teslo, posting on the official forums, argues:
Isn’t it a little premature to go jumping into marriage before, I dunno…making sure you don’t hate the other person or something? I’m looking for someone as much as the next lonely nerd but I certainly wouldn’t want to dive into a marriage, even a fake in-game marriage, with some chick that I’ve only met for like, six minutes. Or even worse it ends up being a dude…*shudder*
Such sentiments ring true in parallel posts that later question the game’s capacity to grant a divorce to gamers in unhappy marriages. In his official forum post titled, “Divorce…” Player Saigwa reveals:
Got married, tried to get a divorce to get this ring thrown away and so the spouse can stop creeping on me. Ring is thrown away on my part, but they can still creep on me because they have their ring…how is that supposed to work when someone else is legitimately being harassed? If you give the ability to divorce without the consent of both parties, the other party who does not partake in the divorce can still reap the benefits of said marriage.
Saigwa’s question is in many ways valid. “The Ceremony of Eternal Bonding” grants the married couple matching Eternity Rings that allow the pair to teleport to one another instantly, and game design allows players to divorce themselves from their bond by simply talking to an NPC (so much for “eternity!”)
Yet apparently, in Saigwa’s case, this mechanism was not enough to divorce him from his stalking ex-wife, whose ring was retained even after the divorce, granting her access to her virtual “husband” at any time. Of course Saigwa’s plea was treated with nothing less than sarcastic humor on the official forums. Interestingly, respondents were keen to tell him that he should have taken his “eternal” bond more seriously, as noted by the select set of posters below:
Dgsoil: Public Service Announcement: Don’t Marry Strangers!
Ruri: ^ This lol, If you’re just marrying for the items what did you expect?
Noblewar: Maybe it’ll open some eyes so people think twice before getting married IRL.
FuraXai: LOL. Just like IRL amiright?
Which, of course, prompts the question, how much like “real life” can a virtual marriage be? Where does the game’s “code” end and where does the real relationship begin? Clearly, while the game itself provides a truly provocative vehicle for viewing and expressing performances of romantic love, it is entirely up to the players to “game” the script. Beyond the bells and bouquets, the fireworks and the champagne, it is the players’ decisions that motivate how relationships are crafted and cultivated within the game. Whether the decision to marry is motivated by mere economic rewards, or if the rewards are reaped more purely from the heart, it is the players that prove–in the transience and opulence of this virtual chapel–that making love is as easy as modding it.
Images hosted on Imgur: http://imgur.com/a/LXIAC