EverQuest becomes ever after: A talk with Linda Carlson of SOE

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EverQuest becomes ever after: A talk with Linda Carlson of SOE
When it comes to getting involved with community, Sony Online Entertainment's Director of Global Community Relations Linda Carlson knows it well. Most often seen tromping around conventions dressed as her beer-craving Dwarven alter-ego Brasse, Carlson was a fixture at SOE's Fan Faire events and author of her own gaming comic long before she ever started working for the studio. As we had the chance to find out recently, this was due at least in part to EverQuest changing her life many, many years prior.

While these days meeting up with someone you've met online is considered fairly commonplace, when you look back to the earliest days of MMO gaming, it generally was not something many people did. Even if you did meet someone from "on the computer," they tended to be folks from one or another BBS -- local connections that were easily made and just as easily dismissed. The idea of not only meeting someone online in a romantic fashion but leaving the country you live in to see him/her was considered completely insane. "What if you don't get along? Or what if he/she is a murderer?" your friends might ask, since this was all really new territory and nobody quite knew what would happen. Still, some early MMO gamers like Carlson gathered up their courage and took that gamble.

In honor of Valentine's Day, we interviewed Carlson about how her EverQuest connection became an "ever after" -- join us after the break!

Massively: How did you and your husband meet?

Linda "Brasse" Carlson: In 1999, EverQuest launched, and I was in the game almost immediately. Eric joined the game a couple of months later. He picked up the game largely so that he could stay in touch with his best friend, who lived in Green Bay since he'd moved down to Orlando to take a job. They wound up joining my guild -- and honestly, the introduction was terrible because they'd managed to get past our normal protocols and approvals to join. As such, I was kind of rude to both of them in guild chat to start with!

I will cover that by saying I was roleplaying a drunken male Dwarf at the time. Yeah, that's it!

Why a male dwarf?

Well, back in 1999, social standards in MMO games were non-existent. When you started a female character, it was very difficult for you to interact on a normal basis. People were always saying, "Hey baby, nice rack!" -- and that is a direct quote that I remember well. After a few sessions of what can only be defined as sexual harassment in-game, I decided to roll a male Dwarf, figuring that nobody would hassle me.

So I rolled a male Dwarf and became friends with Eric. Back then, camping took so long that I can actually pinpoint when I became interested in him. I was helping him camp for his Ranger pants for five days -- mind you, that's not five straight days; that's five days playing several hours per day -- so we spent a lot of time together. As time progressed, our guild decided that since everybody got along so well in-game that "hey, we should meet in real-life!"

To be honest, panic ensued. It was one of those "Oh my, creepy internet people! I don't want to meet them!" moments that were common back then. None of us knew what anyone else looked like, either. Before the meeting we sent pictures of our avatars and our real-life pictures to our forum admin, who mixed them up, and everyone tried to guess who was tied to each avatar. Of course, nobody got any of them right, which was really amusing -- but I was outed as a female at that time.

So by the time we decided to meet up as a guild, Eric and I had already spent a great deal of time together. Part of that was him apologizing profusely for all the coarse language and guy talk he'd been having with me -- now that he knew I was actually female. That was OK, though, because that was the honest, real Eric I'd grown so very fond of in all our time together.

We wound up getting married roughly a year after that, and I moved from Canada down to the United States to live with him.

How did your family react to the idea of your meeting someone in an online video game back in 1999?

Well, it was interesting. With my son, it was much easier because he knew all of the people, since we'd played together online. The younger generation really doesn't have problems with it since they essentially grow up with this kind of thing. Other members of the family? Very dubious. "You met this guy online?"

It's particularly true for people who didn't have any type of an online presence and didn't know what the internet was other than something they'd read about in the papers or seen on TV. Nowadays more and more people are on the internet, so it's nothing. However, back then it was very strange. Eric's family was very dubious as well. We wound up going out to spend Christmas with them at the time. They were very nervous about meeting some strange woman that their beloved son had met on the internet. It actually wound up turning out very well after an awkward first few minutes. I guess they decided I was relatively normal -- for a Dwarf!

Do you two continue to game together?

Since then we've played everything together; EverQuest, Asheron's Call, EverQuest II, Star Wars Galaxies, PlanetSide -- we even play Free Realms together. Ultimately, it's really great to have someone to play with whom you have so much in common with. There's never really an argument about gaming -- unless you're both interested in two different games at the same time! Currently we're playing DC Universe Online together, which is fun. You have a built-in play-partner, you know him really well, and it's a fun way to spend an evening together.

And you both work at Sony Online Entertainment now.

Indeed! I work in community, and Eric works in platform QA. Now when we commute back and forth to work, it's more talk about games and the gaming industry, so it's all become a very integral part of our lives together.

It's really very nice. Eric used to come home from his work as an engineer and would talk to me about work, and all I could say was, "Oh? Oh, yes. Oh wow." Now when we talk about work, we know exactly what we're talking about, so it's made those conversations better in many ways.

From meeting in EverQuest to working together at SOE -- did you ever imagine it might turn out this way?

There are a lot of things that I never would have imagined. That's why when anyone does the "in five years time I'm going to be doing x, y, z...." you really have no idea. In 1999, I never could have imagined that I'd fall in love with, marry, and remain married to someone I met in an online game. In 1999, it never even would have occurred to me that I'd ever be working in the gaming industry, never mind one of the biggest companies out there. And in 1999, I'd never have imagined I'd wind up living in Southern California, either -- and it's all been absolutely wonderful! Games have been such an extraordinary, positive part of my life.

Are there any particular problems that are unique to being a gaming couple working at SOE that you've found?

I'll tell you one thing that surprises a lot of people: We don't get to play our games as much! It's interesting because as Global Community Director for all the SOE games, I get to see what all the communities are doing, and I know what's coming, but I don't get to jump in nearly as much as I'd like and have all the fun. It's very rare that I get a chance to log in and participate in the events.

But from the other point of view, it's amazing to be able to be on this side and watch the evolution of these games. In just two short years I've had a chance to watch so much change: how devs respond to player concerns and how players themselves change in their approach to the games and community. It's fantastic -- almost as if I'm living a whole new type of MMO now!

It's especially fun when Smed sends out those mandatory playtime emails, as Eric and I then get a chance to play together for work. Oh darn.

So what do you play when you play together?

Eric will almost always play a Ranger class. If there isn't a Ranger, he'll play the nearest Ranger-equivalent. For me, I tend to play healing classes -- especially given his choice in game style. We make a good pair that way.

You were part of the guild leadership when you met. Did that ever become an issue between you?

Oh, heavens no! Eric was always perfectly happy just being a Ranger. He was never concerned with becoming involved in guild management. Most of the time I spent running the guild was during the time I was trying to get my green card. Eric and I were married shortly after 9/11 happened. The immigration laws had immediately changed. It wound up taking four years to get my green card. In that period of time I couldn't work, so I ran a guild in EverQuest II and Star Wars Galaxies since I had a lot of time. During that period, I also joined the EverQuest guide program and was part of that for a couple of years as well, which was a tremendous experience. Eric joined the guide program as well, but eventually it was too much of a time commitment.

These days I don't run guilds anymore. I just like to log into game and say, "Hi guild, how's it going? What's happening? Where's my beer?" which is what I have fun with now.

Are your old EverQuest characters still stomping around together on occasion?

They are, although not truly as the originals. They instituted gender change potions in EverQuest and I thought, "Well, I guess it's time." As such, Brasse is now a female Dwarf. It's really kind of ironic because that's the one and only male character I've ever had. I suppose it's somewhat symbolic in how much online games have evolved that I feel incredibly comfortable playing a female character in online games now as opposed to those early days in EverQuest. Over the years our guild went from having just two real-life females in it to more than half of us are female now.

Any advice you'd give to anyone meeting other people in an MMO these days?

It would be foolish not to say there are pitfalls in meeting someone and getting into a relationship online. However, that is true of any relationship that you may embark on. You could meet at a Sunday ice-cream social and still run into problems. It's just like anything else, really: be careful. Try to remain rational. Take time to learn as much as you can about the person before you invest your life in him/her. Ultimately, I don't think it's a question of where you find the people anymore -- it's how you develop the relationship afterward that is the important part.

The nice part about meeting in an online game is that it's incredibly nice to meet someone and learn him from the inside out. All we've got most of the time is appearance to go with, initially, and a very short conversation. A lot of second dates may not occur as a result. With online games we tend to meet and become friends first -- generally over a long period of time.

So what are you two planning for your Valentine's Day this year?

We'lll probably forego the niceties -- chocolate, flowers, and all of that. Instead, we'll probably just buy a case of beer, grab some Doritos, and play DC Universe Online together.

Sounds like fun!

Hey, it's a lot cheaper than a candlelight dinner, diamond earrings and stuff, right? Mortgages are expensive!

Definitely. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Linda!
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