Sharing your leisure time with a friend and/or loved one is a great way to strengthen your relationship. This is not a controversial statement. But if that leisure time includes video games, we are getting into much debated territory -- though things are improving. Newer studies are finding that social games do in fact make people more social, rather than the basement dwelling stereotypes that exist. In my opinion, MMOs are a great way to spend quality time together with friends, family and significant others -- particularly when some are in different physical locations.
Couples can have in-game dates where they spend only the money that they are already spending on their account fees and with the kids sleeping nearby. Separated friends can spend time together even if they are in different countries. And, in my favorite story (though I am biased), brothers who have never met can get to know each other though they are hundreds of miles apart.
Problems arise, however, when you play more than your MMO-mates. You out-level them, experience new things without them and they feel neglected. But you have more time than they do and you want to spend it playing! If it's just one other person you are neglecting, the solution is simple:
Make a duo with that person and only play your part of the duo with your duo-mate.
A lot of couples reading this are calling out to Captain Obvious at this point. But some people (as I glare meaningfully over to where my other half is raiding Zul'Aman) have a hard time respecting the duo. There are many reasons to play MMOs and a lot of people, I will call them Power Gamers for the sake of this discussion, who are focused on getting to the endgame as quickly as possible and are not so much into the journey. (Often, these same people are the first to burn out, but that is another topic.) Power Gamers have a hard time respecting the duo.
Also, it could be that you got your friend/loved one into the game only to find out that he or she is a Timesucker, Parasite, Drama Queen or Funsucker and you really don't want to spend as much in-game time with this person as you originally thought. If he or she is someone you want to keep a good relationship with, however, a limited playtime duo is still a good idea -- but not on your main server.
Here are some tips for successful duos:
Remember the point: You are playing a duo with this person to strengthen your relationship, not level your character. The two of you may actually end up leveling quickly, but that's not your main goal or else you may find yourself cheating on the duo. For example, if your guild is short on tanks and you want to level up a warrior, do not make this warrior part of the duo.
Plan ahead: What game, server, faction, starting area, etc. do you both want to play in? A good rule of thumb is, if you want to play with this person a lot then make the duo on your main server. If you would prefer to keep this relationship separate from your in-game friends, make the duo on a separate server. For example, you may not want your kid brother to know about all that partying you're doing (or saying that you're doing) in college.
Make fun duo names: Pictured above this article are Jack and Jane Blaze. My husband I had a blast playing those characters as well as Jack and Jane Fallout (until WoW came along). Pictured to the right are my good friends Spazz and Hazz Maticus, a duo from the glory days of SWG. Even if you are playing a game, like WoW, that doesn't allow surnames, you can still create characters like Hokey and Pokey or Peenk and Bloo. If your character names belong together, you are more likely to only play those characters together.
Coordinate your costumes: It isn't possible in some games, but CoX is great for this type of thing. Coordinating costumes makes for built-in roleplaying as well as a bit of visual excitement. When I was taking the Jack and Jane Blaze screenshot, another player actually came over to take a screenshot as well. Back in the day, when we used to show up to get in on Task Forces, people would say "Look! It's the Blazes!" I know it may seem cosmetic, but dressing as a duo can really increase your together-time fun level which can only be a good thing.
Begin together: Often noobie zones are better when soloed, but it's still best to start your duo together. Again, the point is sharing time together, not trying to beat your personal best time in getting to level 10.
Communication is key: In and out of game, communication is always important. If your duo-mate is new to the game or games in general, make sure he or she knows how to separate combat text from chat. Use voice chat if possible. Don't just run off and do your own thing -- make sure you both are actually playing together rather than just in the same location and at the same time. Also, make sure your duo-mate is clear that you will be playing without him or her on other characters. Explain (and you can be vague here) that you have guild obligations or leveling goals for your main or whatever. You don't want your duo-mate to have unrealistic expectations on your playtime.
Schedule duo dates: Don't leave this up to chance or whim. If you are duoing with your significant other, make multiple duo dates with him or her during the week. If you are duoing with an absent friend, weekly or monthly duo dates may be more appropriate. Make sure these dates are realistic and do your best to keep them. This isn't an "it's just a game" scenario. This is an appointment with someone you care about and you should respect that as if you were meeting for dinner in a fully booked restaurant.
It's hard work balancing your work/school, other responsibilities, friends/family and your relaxation time. Combining your MMO playtime with your friends and family time is just smart, if they are amenable. Duos are a great way to make sure that together time is also quality time.
Do you have any good duo stories? What are the best duo names you've seen?
Robin Torres juggles multiple characters across multiple MMOs, two cats, one preschooler, one loot-addicted husband and a yarn dependency. After years of attempting to balance MMOs with real life, Robin lightheartedly shares the wisdom gleaned from her experiences. If you would like to ask Robin's advice or if you have a story you wish to share, please email Robin.Torres AT weblogsinc DOT com for a possible future column.