Priceless hed and dek in the A-hed story in today’s Wall Street Journal: “To Find a Mate, Raid a Dungeon or Speak Like an Elf. Flirting in online games can lead to offline love; Lord Krideldek’s ploy.” The article is about mates who find each other while playing MMOGs (which I guess has now replaced the more cumbersome MMORPG as the accepted nomenclature for massively mutliplayer online games). The writer cites an academic expert who claims that these games allow players to experience scenarios together that reveal character, scenarios the expert thinks are disappearing from real life. The gaming experience becomes a weird kind of date, where you pick up cues about a potential partner based on how they respond to ambushes in dungeons or how articulate their in-game chat is. Right now this seems incredibly geeky, and the article seems to be having a little sport with these people, but they are probably on the vanguard of something that will surely become common practice. Online dating services suggest that this is already happening—it seems as these function by initiating online courtships that can then lead to real-life encounters. Perhaps eventually the IMing and emailing will be supplemented with MMOG-like dating scenarios (purged of dragons and such) that enable more dynamic interaction within the unpredictable contexts created by other people looking on, interacting. Or perhaps this will just consist of surfing the Net together in real time and chronicling the various repsonses to what the other finds and chooses to share.
Just as the Internet has removed geographical inefficiencies in the market for books or clothing or various collectible bits of esoterica, so it should streamline the marriage market and allow people to broaden their pool of possibilities and end up with a far more compatible mate. Though I’m sure some daters don’t mind having nothing in common with those they date—they can cut to the sexual chase that much quicker—the rest of the world will have the safe zone of cyberspace to test out degrees of compatibility with tools that may be more refined than shared meals and movies. The Net offers a much richer and particular set of “experiences” to share with someone else that are potentially much more revealing than anything you might say at dinner in a restaurant. Online you can back up your interests, the nuggets of your conversation, with concrete examples—the tissue of links that now compose our public personalities (just look at the average well-planned MySpace profile.) All my hobbies have their online analogues (you’re reading one right now); if you met me in person, you could talk to me all night and not find out half as much about me as you’d discover from following the links from my bookmark list on del.icio.us. I don’t think I’m all that unusual in that regard; should this worry me? Could it be that eventually we’ll all have more to offer to people online than in real life, and then all love will necessarily have to flourish in the screen-world of text, type and hyperlinks?