Monday, April 26, 2010

Highstreet 5: Veni, Vidi, Videogame

POSTING a feature story I wrote last year for Wedding Essentials Beautiful Weddings. One of the magazine’s 25 Real Wedding Tales, this was about a couple who met, fell in love and got married while playing a popular online computer game.

While I personally believe everyone should view this thing called online dating with a fair share of skepticism, I also think that we should also not discount the fact that, well, there are more than quite a few experiences that do end up on a very happy note.

This is one of those stories.

For this online gaming couple, till disconnection do they part

MOST of us concede that love is a game. We play it to win the objects of our affections and hopefully, as fairytale endings go, emerge victorious with a happily ever after conclusion.

So it’s no big surprise to hear about people who spend most of their waking hours in cyberspace as they take the love game to a totally different level—as in finding the right matches, soul mates, love of their lives or whatever we want to call them. And we’re not just referring to social networking sites like Facebook and Friendster but also to addictive online games that give new meaning to the term “levelling up.”

But a virtual wedding that took place in a computer game to be later followed by an actual civil one? For Angelito Cayabyab and his bride, the former Athena Ruflo who are also known by their user names (or should we say, “love handles”) Pipezz14 and Siouxsie in the increasingly popular online game, Highstreet 5, there’s no such thing as a thin line that exists between fantasy and reality. Not in their case anyway.

Yes, Angelito, a 25-year old single dad from Bulacan and Athena, the 28-year old proprietress of a network gaming computer shop based in Pasig met, fell in love and got married while playing as their characters in the game. Prior to playing Highstreet 5, Angelito was addicted to the first-person shooter, Counterstrike, certainly not the type of game where one meets a future partner in life, while Athena was playing a not-so-popular musical-oriented game called O2 Jam that neither had too many players nor the kind of community interaction that Highstreet 5 has.

For the uninitiated, Highstreet 5 is not your average online game that involves fancy costumes, castles, dragons, monsters or anything usually associated with medieval-like fantasy worlds. The game is all about a virtual lifestyle that pretty much mirrors our own real lifestyle as latest trends in music, fashion and street dance steps are among ts most appealing features.

“Apart from its fun and interactive in-game chat and in-game web cam view, HighStreet 5 also has its own social network community,” says Rio Rachel Encarnado, Marketing and Communications Manager for Eaglegame International, the local distributor of the game. “So by connecting both virtual and real worlds, the game becomes a gateway of several individuals to find their real life partners. Players, who started as opponents and unfamiliar with the other’s real personality become close and intimate both in-game and in real life as time goes by.”

That’s how Angelito and Athena were both drawn to the game. “A friend installed the game in my friend’s network gaming shop in August of 2008 and me and our barkada of seven just decided to try it out and the next thing we knew, we just kept on playing,” Angelito enthuses. “I met Athena or Siouxsie at the HS Dance Room of the game where beginners usually hang out. Right there and then, we did our first lover’s dance.”

“He was actually my very first friend in the game,” Athena fondly recalls. “There’s something about his character and his hair that attracted me. And since then, we would meet each other in the game and dance everyday. We would usually go online at around 11PM and finish around 3, 4, sometimes up to 5AM in the morning just playing and getting to know each other from within the game.”

And that was even before they actually saw each other via webcam which didn’t take place until one month later. Athena, who was then in a relationship at the time with a guy that's not into online games, grew fonder of Angelito as they kept on playing Highstreet 5. She eventually broke up with her boyfriend as a result.

Not knowing that Highstreet 5 has an in-chat and in-game webcam view feature, Angelito had to log-in from a friend’s Yahoo! Messenger account to get his first glimpse of Athena. Obviously not disappointed by what they both saw, their virtual courtship further blossomed until she finally agreed to be his virtual girlfriend on October 24. That was exactly one week before they would finally see each other in person at a Highstreet5 Halloween General Eyeball event in SM Megamall.

“He was suddenly very quiet when we saw each other,” Athena continues. “Parang na-torpe yata at ako pa ang salita nang salita.” During that EB, the couple did their first in-game “deep kiss” much to the cheers of their friends or “guild members.” After that, they were pretty much inseparable as an ensuing drinking session at a nearby bar was followed by a group sleepover at Athena’s place that lasted for two straight days.

“After that he went home to tell his mom that he has a new girlfriend,” she says. “Less than 24 hours later, he brought his clothes over and we’ve been together since, whether we’re playing the game or not.”

Angelito says that at that point, both of them could no longer imagine living life without the other. So they started to cement their, uh, connection and plan their in-game church wedding, complete with their own designed wedding invitations as well as their own immaculate white wedding clothes. The way they tell it, the in-game wedding that took place only last February 1 of this year had all the drama of a real-life nuptial.

“Our wedding was scheduled on 11PM but then we suddenly got disconnected,” Angelito remembers. “We had to find an internet café that was still open at the time. One owner was kind enough to give us a few minutes after I had to explain the urgency of our situation. So at around midnight, we finally got married with our friends and guild mates as our guests who were heckling, ‘DC! DC! DC!’ as in “disconnect.” Fortunately, there were no more disconnections.”

After the arrival of Angelito’s father, an OFW stationed in Libya, the couple finally tied the knot for real in a civil wedding that took place last July 4. Today, the couple operates GameBox, the network gaming computer store that Athena put up near her place in Pasig. “The store is now devoted for Highstreet 5 gaming,” she declares.

While they hope to have their own church wedding very soon, Angelito and Athena are building their lives as they continue to share the same interests. Who would have thought that playing an online game can result in a win-win situation for them? As the gaming couple found out for themselves, sometimes truth is not necessarily stranger than fiction.

No comments: