Sex in ancient caves, gods that turn the women they desire into frost-white cows—civilization has been making the most uncanny situations horny since the beginning, and in our digital age, we’ve extended that talent to sliding into DMs, Tinder, and video game romance. But while messaging and endless swiping come with the understanding that you and your crush are (hopefully) who you say you are, meeting someone in a video game is enigmatic. It involves the presence of more orcs.
There’s more uncertainty—what can you learn about a person through their character creator?—so gamers have been wondering if video game romance is even possible for decades. To find out for myself, I asked real couples who met in games how they did it and for their advice. Then I started up World of Warcraft.
But I needed to define my goal first. I technically have already had a World of Warcraft boyfriend for years. I met him in college and live with him now, and I wasn’t trying to replace him with a Void Elf that appears on Discord as poo_pee666.
I decided to try to stick to finding an in-game significant other or spouse, which people actively search for in games like Final Fantasy XIV and virtual world VRChat. It’s mostly a roleplay thing, or something to do for advantages (Elder Scrolls: Online grants a 10 percent experience boost to you and your in-game spouse if you’re both playing near each other with your rings on), but I hoped that maybe I could use my charm to get someone to hang out with me without roleplay or much of anything to offer in return. Isn’t that what love is for?
I spoke to some couples that shared an in-game meet cute and got to know 32-year-old KQ, who met her significant other in Fortnite over four years ago, and Jaco, who met his partner in WoW in 2009 and currently lives with her and “a bunch of cats.” Neither of them felt finding love in a video game is that strange.
KQ told me over email that she had many online friendships prior to meeting her partner and didn’t hesitate when it came to connecting with someone through Fortnite.
“My heart was open to letting someone in, even if we met through a game,” she said.
Likewise, before meeting his current partner, Jaco had another relationship that started in a game, and he had gotten warm to the idea. He recalls his first meeting the way another couple reminisces might when walking by the first restaurant they went to.
“I believe our first meeting was Magister’s Terrace,” he said of the dungeon where he interacted with his current partner for the first time, “and then [my raid group] needed a spot filled for the Netherspite encounter in Karazhan. From there, it was just the occasional encounter out in the wild and at events. This extended outside the game to the raid group’s forum and Skype (hey, it was 2009).”
The two quickly went from chatting to meeting up and living together, and while “I can’t in good conscience say that was a responsible way to do things,” Jaco said, “it worked out.”
Though all relationships are subject to the first date, the awkward talking stage, and moving too fast, video game romance comes with the uncomfortable roadblock of having no idea what the other person looks like, how old they are, or what their name is. If you manage to see past those things (although, ideally, not past the age thing) and decide to pursue someone in a game romantically, Jaco names another big difference between meeting in a game and in a traditional way.
“Meeting in game is different because the communication will mostly be text-based, unless you are using voice chat,” he said. “In the absence of in-person interactions, it’s all down to communication.”
And communication is key. Accepting this ties video game relationships back to relationships with typical beginnings.
At this point, I wasn’t really feeling like a relationship between adults that started in a game is so different—not inherently sleazier or scarier, like old online forums suggest—from a relationship between adults that started anywhere else. Most of what KQ and Jaco advised me on would be useful in any sort of relationship, really.
“No secrets or misrepresenting yourself. Having a facade will only go so far before it all comes crumbling down,” Jaco said. “When chatting, ask questions and express an interest in the other person.”
“Don’t push it. Have fun, get to know people. If something more comes of it, that’s great, but don’t go with unrealistic expectations,” he continued. “And if they are not interested, accept that and move on.”
“Work on yourself, gain self-awareness,” KQ offered. “Stop, think, breathe before you react.”
Their game-specific advice was helpful, too. Both recommended finding a tranquil game area to hang out in, using decor and food to plan a virtual picnic, KQ said, or simply a spot where you can talk without fear.
“Not every corner of the world is peppered with monsters,” Jaco said. “It’s always nice to find a ‘you’ kind of spot.”
Despite their experiences, both KQ and Jaco emphasized that video games aren’t dating apps, and shouldn’t intentionally be used as such. If something happens, it happens—and if it does, “Try to make a connection outside of the game,” KQ said, “such as in Discord. Let the conversations flow naturally from topics beyond the game.”
They’re right, and like Jaco told me, relationships form organically and cannot be forced into being,” but that wasn’t really going to work for this article. I’m sorry, KQ and Jaco.
So, my heart red with healthy, expert advice, I felt like it was time for me to find my very own, in-game World of Warcraft boyfriend.
“What’s the sexiest WoW character?” I texted my real boyfriend while he was on family vacation.
Night Elf, Blood Elf, or Draenei, he said. Void Elves, too, but he doesn’t have them unlocked. I popped the top to an Allagash White I had in my fridge and started working on my blond Blood Elf, who I named Timchalamet (no relation to actor Timothée Chalamet).
I was so taken by Timchalamet’s long ears and double helix piercings (I’ve been thinking about getting my own), that I completely forgot that, prior to this experiment, I had only played World of Warcraft for about an hour and had no idea what I was doing. I chose Death Knight as my class because its description: “Death Knights are a melee class with an emphasis on causing diseases and using dark magic,” felt the most aligned with how I see myself, and my experts advised me to be authentic.
It turns out that Death Knights, including those who are as WoW stupid as me, have to complete a quest before they get to explore, so bombshell Timchalamet woke up in the rather dank Ebon Hold. I saw the Lich King, telepathic ruler of the Scourge Army and likely a fan of bone broth, towering before me and quickly ran away in favor of finding someone who seemed a little more husband material. I accepted the Lich King’s quest without reading it and sped around the area thinking it would be quick. This speaks only to my delusion.
I had Timchalamet jump around the purple Heart of Acherus, which is teeming with NPCs whose names are lit in green, for a while until I noticed another player like me, their name appearing in blue. He looked strong, so I followed him around (Jaco’s advice that “‘persistence’ just amounts to harassment” echoed in my mind) for a bit. And then he said hello.
I was speechless, primarily because I didn’t know how to type. So he walked away.
“How do u use chat :3” I texted my boyfriend again, flustered.
He taught me (hit enter), and I tried using my new skill to my advantage.
“Can you help me,” I said, to no one in particular, my only potential love interest already gone. “Can anyone help me?”
No luck. I decided to scrap the Death Knight and its malevolent starting area and created another Blood Elf, this one named Pamanderson (no relation), to wander the Eversong Woods as a Hunter.
The Woods are touched by orange the way a mug is stained with tea, with creatures good and bad hovering around its tall grasses, and a blue sky overhead. I felt that it was a much more appropriate place to fall in love, and seeing more friendly blue names around me than the Heart of Acherus’ slabs of gray stone, optimism set in.
But unlike in the cold Heart of Acherus, everyone I trailed or tried approaching either zoomed away on a galloping mount, or sped off on foot to their next objective. I completed mine, too, shooting creeping Mana Wyrm mobs with arrows, killing leafy Feral Tenders with some keyboard smashes. But it wasn’t enough. Halfway into my Allagash white and nearly two hours into my love journey, I was starting to feel lonely.
“How to run?” I asked my boyfriend.
Hunters, apparently, aren’t as fast as some other classes. I wandered Sunstrider Isle in my sluggish jog, eventually picking up a Dragonhawk hatchling as my pet. I named it Peanut.
Finally, someone slowed down and noticed my cries (“Does anyone want to be my boyfriend,” I yelled at one point, desperate. “No,” someone else responded.). They stayed close, standing in front of me or trailing behind when I started to walk away. But they didn’t speak, at first.
“Hello,” “what’s up,” “are you mad at me?” I cycled through questions, waiting for them to say anything and end my searing solitude. They figured out how to type—not a problem, I’ve been there—and asked me how I was chatting locally instead of to the whole world. I told them, and I hoped it was my way into a deeper conversation. So this is what I said.
[Pamanderson]: do you know the website kotaku
[Pamanderson]: i am a writer there and im trying to find a wow boyfriend
[Pamanderson]: are you a girl
They ran away. Dejected and ashamed, I headed to the edge of Sunstrider Isle to gaze out at the water with Peanut. The sky was a misty orange-pink, a popsicle after it had already started to melt, and I had Pamanderson walk into the water. Born again. I finished my Allagash White.
“:(” my boyfriend texted me after I told him I was giving up my three-hour World of Warcraft adventure, and he got back from his vacation the next day. Like blushing, you can’t command love to appear, but I think it’s always somewhere, waiting for you to come home.