It’s my 15th wedding anniversary this Wednesday, October 5th. And there are many other things I want to write about my amazing partner in the sublime and ridiculous adventure we’ve undertaken together. But before I get to that, it’s worth laying down a little groundwork.
Fortunately, I’ve already done this — rather eloquently, in fact, if I do say so myself. This essay was first published in the August 2010 issue of RPGirl zine, but I thought I’d repost it here as well, for all those who haven’t enjoyed that esteemed publication. This is the astronomically unlikely, stranger-than-fiction story of how Cam and I ended up together. Enjoy!
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I met my husband online in 1993. Back then, Internet marriages were still the stuff of The Jerry Springer Show; they were viewed by the general public with about as much trust as prison pen pal marriages. But they were startin to happen more often, and while “We met online” resulted in universal gasps and exclamations of disbelief and lurid curiosity, the real secret behind our marriage wasn’t where we met — it was how. You see, my husband and I met through an online RPG.
Before RPG meant “Rocket Propelled Grenade” to the majority of Americans, it was better known to gamers by a different set — an altogether more contaminated set — of initials: D&D. And if couples formed on the Internet were viewed with the expectation of imminent failure, well, couples formed through the unholy bonds of D&D were viewed as if they’d joined the Heaven’s Gate death-pact cult.
Only gamers really understood that D&D wasn’t the only RPG out there, but even gamers didn’t quite believe that women were in the gaming community to stay. Gamer guys expected women to date at least one of the party, in and out of character; if they weren’t willing, then they could play a guy or bring food. To gamer girls, online RPGs, which were still entirely text-based, represented a chance to play without wondering where a guy’s eyes were during each scene — wondering where his hands were would come later, but could at least be ignored, except for the typos. Though many women still felt they needed to play male characters online to be taken seriously (while many men chose to play female characters, willing to be taken in any way they could), good scene-writing was respected online, and women (not shockingly) wrote women’s parts with remarkable insight. Gamer girls were starving for respect, and provided they could write passably well, they found that respect in the nascent online gaming world.
Most of the women in online RPGs came across the games as part of their experience in the computer world — many of them were already programmers or employed in the Internet industry as technicians or support personnel. As such, I was the odd bird — I was persuaded by my then-boyfriend to create a character on AmberMUSH because I’d enjoyed the novels by Roger Zelazny, on which the game was based. I had absolutely no computer skills beyond a 100 wpm typing speed and good word-processing abililties, established by my busy schedule as a French and journalism double major. Neither of us had a computer of our own, so if I wanted to spend time with him after he began playing, it would have to be at one of the computer labs on campus; and if I wanted not to be bored, then I’d better have a character of my own.
Within a year, I’d established myself both in character — a six-foot warrior woman with a pet lion, shamelessly ripped off from a Mercedes Lackey character I admired — and in the online gaming community, which shared a parallel out-of-character site called TooMUSH, with only the few they deemed decent and “real” enough to call friends. Among the TooMUSH family, I was the newbie. There I met geniuses who coded the first online RPGs based on their love of RL (“real life”) gaming; many are now highly respected faculty, independent consultants, supervisors, and engineers. There I also met gaming devotees who introduced me to systems and worlds that fundamentally changed my idea of play. There I met virtuosos who dazzled me with their writing ability in scenes I’ll never forget; several are now New York Times Bestselling authors [NB: The NYT just recently published an article on AmberMUSH as the successful incubator for so many successful writers, including dearest friends and my own Darling Husband; it’s well worth the read.]
Me, I was just happy to have been entrusted with one of AmberMUSH’s “features,” the characters from the books which were handed out only by application to the board of “wizards” who were combination coders/referees/justices of the peace. I had applied for and won control of one Julia Barnes, a character in the second quartet of books in Zelazny’s series, a UC Berkeley computer engineering designer and up-and-coming sorceress. To her, computer coding was the effort to impose her will over an environment through the skillful application of elegant and efficient orders; sorcery was the same thing, just on a more challenging and satisfying scale. In the books, she meets Merlin, prince of Amber, narrator of the second series and son of Corwin, prince of Amber and narrator of the first series. He shows her a good time and the secrets of the universe. While not of Amber blood, and therefore not eligible to “walk the Pattern” and gain control over “shadows,” reflections of the infinitely varied images of Amber, the ultimate Order, or Chaos, the ultimate Disorder, Julia gained and maintained control of a “Broken Pattern,” one of the flawed reflections of the original Pattern of Amber.
It was through this in-game prop, and through one of those up-and-coming authors (the guy with his picture in that NYT article. Yes, him.), that I met my husband. He’d started with an “unblooded” character and wanted access to greater powers and, probably more importantly to him, access to better players and better scenes. Since feature characters were screened, there was a greater, though not perfect, chance of higher quality play, and I certainly took my obligations to give access to the powers I controlled — the Broken Pattern and my online availability — very seriously. When my friend recommended this new player to me, I arranged to have my character “bump into” his at the game’s common watering-hole/fight-starter. As our characters hit it off, we started talking behind the scenes, and before long, he’d made a good enough impression on enough of the influential players to merit an invite to TooMUSH.
Our biggest obstacle turned out to be the time difference. You see, I lived in Kansas; he lived in Auckland, New Zealand. A 19-hour gap is decidedly awkward to schedule around. But as my hours in the computer lab had grown exponentially as I acquired more characters to play and more friends to visit with, and he had little care for a minor thing like sleep, we managed to meet in and out of character with surprising frequency. Our online scenes coincided with the mutually simultaneous meltdown of our offline relationships, and we provided each other with sympathy and distraction. One summer evening, he confided to me that he had developed romantic feelings for one of the women he knew online. Understanding yet totally failing to understand, I asked, “Is it Adrienne’s player?” His blunt response still strikes me as if I’d heard it, not read it: “No. It’s you.”
This revelation came only a month before my departure for a year of study abroad in France. I resisted his appeals to try a long-distance relationship, though we began exchanging the kind of care packages essential to an online romance in the ’90s: letters, photographs, graphic novels, and mix-tapes. On the one hand, I felt deeply for him, and my own laptop and a 12-hour time difference greased the skids for communication. On the other hand, the Telecoms of France and New Zealand would end up costing us the equivalent of a family-sized car.
But love won out, and when he flew to the UK to meet me for the first time in person, it was with an engagement ring and a plan. The plan, to propose at midnight on New Year’s Eve at a Scottish castle, was ultimately wrecked; it was finally in flannel pajamas in an Aberdeen B&B where he popped the question. And I insisted on working out the finer points of “where” and “how” before I would even open the ring box. But obviously, I said yes.
“Where” ended up being Lawrence, Kansas, in October 1996; “how” was thanks to my mom and a K-1 visa — and with a surprising number of our Amber/TooMUSH friends in attendance. If I’m not mistaken, we were one of the first AmberMUSH-originating couples to marry, but we certainly weren’t the last. And if we wanted to show our two sons where we met, we’d have to do something unusual: look up an IP address. But first we’d have to explain to them about roleplaying games.