In the eyes of your average American citizen, there’s very little to distinguish a gamer from a foreigner. Foreigners, more often than not, are regarded as strange and inscrutable people with cryptic languages and disconcerting customs, and gamers can also be described as such. It’s easy to pigeonhole both foreigners and gamers into narrow stereotypes and close off the possibility of a real connection. After all, massively multiplayer online games wouldn’t be quite as massive if there weren’t players from all over the world playing them simultaneously. They’re the perfect melting pot for two players from across the globe to find one another, which is exactly what happened to me.

I’ve always had fun in tabletop gaming environments, and I’ve been behind the joystick of plenty of arcade games and home consoles. So when a friend and coworker told me about a game called EverQuest, I was immediately interested. We might have been the only two people in that little American town who had an interest in portraying fantastical heroes or villains, slaying eldritch creatures and earning the respect and rewards that come from such conquests. But thanks to EverQuest, we were united with people from all over the world in our common interest.

My ex-wife was less enthusiastic, claiming that interacting with a bunch of pixels is a poor substitute for real human contact. I spent a lot of time on EverQuest, and to this day, my ex-wife holds the game partially to blame for the dissolution of our marriage. After a nervous breakdown and several months of attempted recovery, I moved in with my parents and struggled to regain the confidence and forward momentum I’d lost.

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I didn’t just find teammates in EverQuest, though. Thanks in part to these truly international communities, I found a community and an identity that liberated me from the shackles of self-discouragement. It wasn’t all fantasy and roleplaying – I was interacting with real people with their own struggles, triumphs and tragedies. And when I met someone from another country in an unexpected turn of events, it was clear that she would change my life for the better. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call her “Ama.”

I met Ama when I changed servers in World of Warcraft. I was looking for a fresh start, a place where I could build a new character from the ground up in terms of both story and gameplay. It wasn’t long before I joined a roleplaying guild, and it was there that I first encountered Ama.

I live in the United States, and Ama lives in Canada. We often discussed the cultural differences between our two countries, and it became obvious to me that despite advantages like universal health care and support from the international community, Ama wasn’t happy. She was involved in a failing real-life relationship, but she didn’t know how to extricate herself from it. With some coaxing, I convinced her that she had to make a change to avoid her misery – she needed to stop dwelling on their history and start thinking about her future. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would be in it.

Ama definitely wanted me to be part of her future, however, and over a year has passed since we made our feelings plain to one another. Though our relationship began in World of Warcraft, nowadays she comes across the border to spend time with me in the real world, not just a virtual one. She plans on attending college in the U.S., and I’ve considered moving to Canada.

I’ve often heard that communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, and given the nature of MMOG communities, we’re communicating almost constantly. We’ve had our difficulties, differences of opinion and even dramatic deviations from other areas of our personal lives. But I am confident that no matter what sort of storm blows around us, we can protect this little bit of happiness we’ve found together.

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Composed of gamers from all over the world, MMOGs are communities that truly transcend borders. At their best, the lattice of support an MMO community provides can be a strong foundation for lifelong friendships. And even in less ideal cases, you at least have a guild of gamers good enough to topple whatever challenges the game developers dream up, indicating some modicum of intelligence and teamwork. If you’re open to the experience, it can greatly enhance your life. It’s impossible to say what sort of connection you’re going to make when you log in to an online game. So the next time you enter a lobby for a shooter or stare at the loading screen of an MMOG, keep an open mind. You never know who you’re about to meet, even if it’s in the course of a profanity-filled deathmatch.

Josh Loomis is a freelance contributor to The Escapist and an advocate of MMOG connections.

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