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Virtual Vows

In 2004, British bachelor Mark Brown was happily living in a small village on the south coast of England. The farthest he had ever traveled was just north of London. When he wasn’t working, he often played an online video game called City of Heroes. While playing one night, Brown met Jody Petroff. She was ...

In 2004, British bachelor Mark Brown was happily living in a small village on the south coast of England. The farthest he had ever traveled was just north of London. When he wasn’t working, he often played an online video game called City of Heroes. While playing one night, Brown met Jody Petroff. She was 3,500 miles away in Bowie, Maryland.

The two hit it off and began instant messaging each other to discuss game strategy. "I didn’t even know for sure that Jody was a girl," says Brown. "In online games, females play male characters all the time." Pretty soon, the two began chatting, and the talk turned personal. Three months later, Brown hopped on an airplane, for the first time in his life, to meet Jody in person.

Theirs is just one of thousands of international love affairs that have their roots in virtual reality. Increasingly, people from different continents are meeting in games such as EverQuest, Second Life, and Anarchy Online — known as Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs or MMOs, for short) — that allow countless people to play simultaneously over the Internet. Sony Online Entertainment knows of at least 20 couples who have wed after meeting in EverQuest and EverQuest 2.

Nick Yee, an expert on immersive virtual reality at Stanford University, found in a survey that 80 percent of females and 60 percent of males who play online games have engaged in flirtation, with 29 and 8 percent, respectively, saying they later dated someone they met in a game. "A lot of players self-select for compatibility," says Yee. "MMOs, with their elements of role-playing, are such a specific interest for people, even within the gaming world." In some popular games, players even stage elaborate weddings within the game, which are then later replicated in real life.

As for Mark and Jody, he proposed after six months of dating and moved to the United States. This summer, they were married. The design on their wedding cake? Two laptop computers, surrounded by “0”s and “1”s.

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