That might sound like a bit of an obviously loaded question but there's more to it than that. Our guild has, over the last year, had thee different WoW-playing couples crash and burn out of the guild in a fashion which is rather more eventful, verging on spectacular, than anything like we normally see. Having seen three of them now, I think we have to look at this being a pattern and also being a WoW husband and wife team in this household, are there any lessons to be learned for me or is it just a case of WoW being a symptom of something being wrong in the first place, rather than the cause?
In each of the cases the central issue is basically that WoW-hubby has expressed a pretty negative attitude while raiding. The key symptom is moaning or bleating as we like to call it in EED and which has, like several other terms, been adopted with aplomb by the guild we spawned. WoW-hubby is generally down on everything. Complains about loot, complains about others and really doesn't appear to be having a very good time of it at all.
The most famous incident was a good year ago when one Swedish couple, both of whome were mages, had a spectacular falling out in a molten core raid. WoW-wife, in this scenario, did the unspeakable thing of bidding on an item that WoW-hubby wanted. He went proper mental and apparently just walked away from his PC and left the house for fear of actually resorting to violence on his wife. Driven by this guys insatiable selfish desire for loot, and combined with their failure to really socialise or genuinely desire the company of other guildies, they eventually took off another guild who at the time was raiding content at a higher level than us. We felt well and truly betrayed since they'd been with us for ages and it was a basic statement that the loot was more important than our friendship. This isn't something you normally see, certainly it's rare for our guild.
WoW couple number two, was all together more subtle. Again a pretty whiney negative WoW-hubby and rather like the first couple, this was known to be causing considerable friction within the household. In both cases WoW-wives were pretty unhappy at the asshat-like behavior of WoW-hubby and this seemed to place some sort of additional strain on the relationship. The second couple had WoW-wife take off from the guild largely because she didn't want to be in the same guild as her man. After that happened, WoW-hubby went sort of silent, didn't sign to any raids and then finally left without a word. Bizarrely they both ended up in the same low level guild together so we've nothing more to report on that. In this case WoW-wife appeared to enjoy social interaction in the game with others, while WoW-hubby absolutely did not.
And finally the most recent case. Yet again another case of a hugely negative WoW-hubby in raids. General complaining about everything, lack of socialisation, refusal to engage in jokes with others, quick to take offense and all that sort of stuff. Again, as in all three couples, WoW-wife got on with others and so when she announced that she wasn't having a good time in raids and was leaving the guild, we were a little shocked and disappointed as opposed to the first two couples that we were, quite frankly, fairly nonplussed about. Unfortunately it's a little difficult to peer into this relationship and know what's going on as to why they wanted to leave the guild, since WoW-wife sort of obfuscates the issue with another, seemingly trivial, grievance.
What we did know however was that all was not well in the home and they were not getting on very well. WoW-wife was also, as in the other two cases, pretty unhappy with the way WoW-hubby behaved in game. This, I think, is what we can take away from all three cases as the common theme. So the question we come out of this is, was WoW the cause or was it merely the symptom of other problems?
I don't know if my view is controversial but I kind of believe that men and women get on in a relationship long term, only so long as they have a decent amout of breathing space each. My relationship is very different from that I see with other couples. We pretty much never argue and even though we both work from home and are more or less in eachother's company all of the time, we get on fine. However I really do need to do my own stuff. However when I gave the wife a copy of WoW and upgraded her PC for Christmas, I didn't really think she'd pick it up and run with it. In fact now days, she plays more than I do!
However when usual couples are in close proximity for protracted periods, it seems to me they don't tend to get on that well. Men are naturally competitive and aggressive and I think what we've basically seen is simply three struggling relationships where the couples are in closer proximity, for several hours a night several times a week. If they're not getting on, we're going to see it. What I can't answer is, would they get on better if they weren't both playing WoW together?
Does this mean all WoW relationships are doomed to failure? Hell no, I'm not remotely falling out with my wife. She doesn't quite raid along side me, she's rather more casual and this being her first computer game ever, she's unlikely to be some uber end-game raider really. That also seems to be the case with a Norwegian couple in game too. Maybe in relationships where both are becoming addicted to WoW at the high end, it's some kind of transference. Focusing on WoW rather than deal with their relationship problems? I'm convinced there's an element of truth in that because in all three cases mentioned here, I've definitely got the sense that the latest tension isn't really about the things they complain about, eg loot, arguments etc, but really it's easier to get annoyed at the game than to turn to the person next to you and sort out your relationship.
Do I think WoW is good or bad for couples, is there some detrimental effect of having both play a game like WoW? On balance the evidence based on what we've seen would have to suggest there is but I don't feel that's the case in our house. I'm actually pretty happy to have something in common like this to talk about with my wife, if I didn't have this I think we'd not have that much to discuss really since we both like very different man/woman type stuff. I think it's down to the people.
In terms of personal development, I think the game has been brilliant for me and I've enjoyed it intensely. I've met countless new folks from around Europe, talk to them nightly on teamspeak. As one of the guild leaders I've had to basically u-turn my natural bad attitude concerning others and learn patience and diplomacy. I'm struggling to think of just about anything else in the world that could have done that for me.
So in the final analysis, I think WoW or indeed any other MMO type scenario, ends up being a basic reflection of your life outside of the game. People who are generally content in their own lives, tend to be generally content in game and people who are missing something, or unhappy with their lives or others around them, tend to reflect that in the game too. I don't think the game has the power to change your level of happiness over all, but I think it can hold a mirror up to yourself and actually allow you to make some changes if you have the strength to do so.