Several years ago, I was working in the soul-numbing word processing department of a large corporation, a once-critical department that had been rendered irrelevant by modern-day computers. Microsoft Office meant that just about anyone in the company could do our jobs. My department head had to take a class to learn how to use a mouse, but she was a long-time employee very close to retirement, so she didn’t want anyone to notice how unnecessary our department was.
Every day, my fellow minion and I would wait for the occasional letter to proofread or a report to format, usually in vain. And while we were waiting, we weren’t allowed to read books or browse the internet, because someone could walk by and see that we were idle. We were only allowed to do text-based things on the computer. My department head didn’t care what, as long as no casual passerby could see that we weren’t hard at work.
Perhaps I should’ve used the time to solve the mysteries of the universe, as Einstein did working at the patent office. But instead, I turned to my life-long passion for gaming.
Even back in the late 90s, there weren’t many games available that were entertaining enough to get me through an eight-hour workday, didn’t have any graphics, and were able to pass through the company firewall. But I soon discovered a game that fit all of the necessary criteria. It was a Multi-User Dimension (MUD) — an online, text-based, multiplayer role-playing game —hosted by a university in Paderborn, Germany.
I’ve always loved video games, starting with Ms. Pac-Man and other arcade classics, and the simple games available on my first Vic 20. But no game would ever affect my life the way joining that MUD did.
As I logged in every day, I got to know not only the game itself, but other players. I started making friendships that went beyond the game. Soon, I was exchanging phone numbers, care packages, and long chats that were less about in-game tips and more about life, the universe, and everything IRL.
Over time, one specific person became dear to me. He was just out of a relationship and so was I. We spent a lot of time talking about what love meant to us, and how relationships should work. We were good friends — very good friends, maybe with the potential for more. But there was a serious problem: he lived 4,210 miles away, in a country where I couldn’t speak the language.
The MUD eventually had a get-together in person, and I flew across an ocean to be there. I met my good friend in person, and we fell in love.
Unlike many of my acquaintances, I’d never yearned to leave my home state of Maryland. I had no desire to move to a big city or the open country. I was happy where I was. But when you find someone whose opinions on games and love match so perfectly with your own, it’s silly to let that person go. 10 months later, I moved to Germany.
Moving to a new country is a strange and wondrous experience, but difficult as well — especially when your language skills are lacking. It felt isolating to struggle to communicate face-to-face, and humiliating to stumble through a sentence when you couldn’t remember all the words. But if there’s one thing that can make a transition like that easier, it’s gaming.
Games were my lifeline in those first months. I played card games in pubs, board games at parties, LAN games with a big group of enthusiastic gaming friends every Friday evening, and video games with my husband at home. Even when my sentences were gibberish, my friends had no trouble understanding a well-placed sniper shot in Counterstrike or a carefully-crafted strategy in Carcassonne.
I don’t know if I would’ve stuck it out in Germany without games as a universal language among my friends. But I’ve been here for 17 years now. My husband and I are happily married, and still play as many games together as ever.
Our 5-year-old son is starting to show his love for gaming, too. While his favorite game is still hide-and-seek and his screen time is responsibly limited, he can tell you what every Pokémon Go monster evolves into, and will happily take long walks in his quest to “catch ’em all.” He hasn’t started to read yet, but he’s learned to recognize useful words in the video games he plays, and he practices fine motor skills with board games for kids.
So often, the media only reports the negatives about gaming. Video games have been accused of being the root of addictions, relationship neglect, hyperactivity in children, and even horrors like the Columbine shootings. But in moderation, games can be tools for learning, relaxation, and making friends.
Gaming is the thread that binds my family and friends together. It provided me a way of communicating when the spoken word failed me. My love of games was powerful enough to forge connections across many miles and to bridge oceans.
They turned my most boring job into my biggest adventure, falling in love and moving abroad. And they’ve brought together a fabulous group of friends that have lasted for decades.
We’re not alone, either. Today, more and more people are finding connections and building relationships through gaming. Although video gaming is typically considered a male pastime, research has shown that nearly as many women are regular players, perhaps even more than men. A 2015 study done by the Pew Research Center found that more women than men own gaming consoles. With so many people of both genders playing, there’s plenty of opportunity for romance to spark.
Unlike people who meet through dating sites, people who game together know that they have interests in common right off the bat. And those players have the chance to get to know one another over time, deciding whether they’re a good match without the pressure and potential awkwardness of dating.
The pool of possible candidates for love is large, too. While a bustling dating site might only have a million or so active members, a single MMORPG like World of Warcraft had surpassed 10 million subscribers in 2014.
So, if you’re tired of looking for love in all the wrong places, maybe the answer might lie in the games you already play. For me and many others, a love for gaming was the key to true love.
Sandra Grauschopf is a professional freelancer with over a decade of experience in planning and creating engaging articles. She’s also an avid reader, mother, passionate gamer, and she has a killer arm with a Frisbee.