Everyone lives in various connections with others. We have parents, siblings, partners, children, close friends, and other connections around us. If we compare ourselves to a small stone, when throwing this stone into the water, the ripple that appears with differing boundaries is the people with whom we have a different intimate degree.
There are two types of intimate relationships: intimate relationship in broad definition and intimacy in a narrow definition. In the broad sense, it includes parent-child relations, kinship relations, friendships, partnerships, etc., as mentioned above. While intimate relationship in the narrow sense refers more to partnership, i.e., it is characterized by romantic love.
This article focuses on the narrow sense of intimate relationships and introduces how online intimacy is formed, the consumption influenced by intimacy and how it inspires our user research. At the same time, partnership has a very strong influence on many people's lives and well-being (Berscheid and Reis, 1998) - the intimate, close interpersonal partnership is arguably one of the most important relationships for most people.
1. Internet intimate relationship and in-game intimate relationship
Communication through the Internet has become very common in our lives. And this communication is not just about the traditional sending and receiving of information, it works on sharing and displaying unique personalities and building online relationships with others. People on the Internet can be a replica of themselves in the real world, or they can be very different from who they are in real life. Some people with social phobia in real life may be more sociable and more likely to find friends on the Internet.
In such a situation, online intimate relationship has emerged. Perhaps this phenomenon can be crudely explained as "net love". Online intimate relationship differs from real intimacy, for the two may not have met in person, but the Internet provides a place and a channel for them to communicate.
On the Internet, due to anonymity, when meeting strangers, people is easier to engage in self-expression and feel more comfortable expressing themselves to others than in real life. Enough self-expression lays the foundation for the development of online intimate relationships. As the two get to know each other through constant self-expression and build a sense of trust, it will lead to a more intimate relationship. Overall, the Internet provides places for people in communicate, and people can show each other who they are as they like, which on the one hand delights them and on the other hand prompts their relationship.
The intimate relations in-game is a typical Internet intimate relationship. Games provide the stage for players to present themselves to each other. Players complete various tasks, find matches, explore the world together, and go to scenic spots together in the gaming world. The game not only provides the opportunity for players to express themselves but also creates what is not available in other online intimate relationships. That is, players, can present what kind of people they are through the gaming and the game itself -- being a PVE commander, a leader in gulid, a puzzle-solver, and so on. The game enriches the content that people can tell others about themselves.
In addition, many games, especially MMO games, will give "certificates" to Internet relations. Players can form a formal romantic relationship, or even get married in games, which makes the in-game relations much more serious.
2. intimate relationships and microtransactions in-game
Intimate relationships influence the users' consumption significantly to some extent. For example, we commonly see lovers buying matching outfits, matching accessories (such as couple rings), and using matching avatars to show their partnership. In psychology, we use the pursuit of matches by both partners to explain this phenomenon, that is, the two in an intimate relationship present their intimacy with matching things. It is also the same in games, many "lovers" in-game will show mutual love relationships through the purchase of the same series in men's and women's clothing, the same accessories, or using couples' names.
The outfit in Justice Online, for Chinese Valentine's Day sales
The outfit in Justice Online, for May 20 sales (this date is another Valentine's Day holiday in China, cause “520” sounds phonetically very close to “I Love You”
But will both partners in an intimate relationship seek this kind of match all the time? Not exactly. As intimate degree grows, they will see each other as part of themselves, that is, they are one, not separate. In this case, when they purchase items in games, they can't help but complement each other. For example, in the game, one already owns a pet named A. In the eyes of his partner, A belongs to the two as a whole, so in the next choice, they will tend to buy a pet named B or something else. Because in their eyes, he/she already has pet A, to avoid duplicate purchases they will buy other items to enrich what they together have.
Here is an example of a close relationship, which is friendship instead of a partnership. For example, on 2021 November 11, Justice Online launched seven clothes in the same style but in different colors, for a small friendship group, everyone would keep one, so the "seven fairies" stand together with different colors, forming a very eye-catching effect. And they each felt that they have more than one clothes, the friends' owned, to a certain extent to meet the psychological needs of players.
So, as user researchers, we have to be careful not to think about this problem from various perspectives, and consider the real needs of people in the context of factors that influence the intimate relationship, such as the intimate degree between the partners, the characteristics of our in-game product, etc. For when they will prefer matchness or when they will prefer complementary consumption, there are different answers in different situations.
The intimate relationship highlighted and discussed in this article is the intimate relationship in a narrow definition, while in a broader sense, parent-child relations, kinship relations, and friendship relations are all categories of an intimate relationship, and the intimate degree and other factors will all affect the user/player's behavior to a certain extent. And these interpersonal relationships can more or less have their counterpart in the current online games - such as sworn brothers, fixed teams, and guilds, which are commonly found in popular games. Therefore, intimate relationship in a broad sense is also worthy of attention for user researchers.