Tuesday, May 03, 2005

« ART FOR ART'S SAKE | Main | BUSINESS MODEL PROTOTYPE »

YOUR CHEATING HEART

Beaux_and_his_lady

A survey on the morality of in-world romance provokes several Second Life lessons-- learned, and unlearned (originally published here).

Beaux Grayson was on the sundeck of his home, curled up on the couch with a slender brunette, when his wife walked in.   

"And went," as Beaux subsequently put it in a message he sent to his Second Life friends, "NUTZ." 

She demanded to know who this woman in thigh-high boots on the screen was, laying there with her husband's avatar. So Beaux told her. "I gave her the facts (married, English, kids, etc.), but not the name and that we have known each other about two weeks." He tried to be as open with her as he could; he begged her to join him in Second Life so she could be with him there, especially on those days when he was traveling on business, and going in-world from his hotel room, when there wasn't much else to do. ("I could go out to bars, but found it 'safer' to have my social interaction on-line.")

Whatever explanations he gave her, they apparently weren't enough.

"So," Beaux continues, "last night after we went to bed, she got up and went into SL. The first thing she saw on the entry screen was the last thing I was doing: Cuddling on the couch." This is because whenever you enter Second Life, you see the final image of whatever you were doing, the last time you were in-world. No matter what has transpired, since then. Considering what they'd just been discussing, the picture of Beaux and the brunette on the couch might not have been the best thing for her see again. And though Beaux Grayson's wife had never been in-world before, she "managed to do some stuff that shocked me." He found that out after waking up, and greeting her in the kitchen.

"I said 'good morning'.  She said it is not good."  She suggested that he log into Second Life.

Beaux_after_wife_logged_in

So Beaux went back in-world, to find that his avatar was now naked and gray and decidedly smaller-- and lying in the private room of a popular Mature-rated nightclub. "I don't know how she figured [out how to do] all that," Grayson says, astounded.

All this came out after I started looking into an online poll posted in the official Second Life discussion forum. Resident-created surveys are a staple of the Forum, sometimes a way to garner instant feedback on particular issues affecting the world; often a way to air personal grievances in the form of an opinion poll. The particular question, "Do you consider having AV Sex Cheating on your Spouse if the Flame has Gone?" was a simple one. The answers that followed, as they often are, were anything but that; they read a little like a society's first attempts to find a universally acceptable concept of infidelity.

And in a society that has grown to the size of a large, tightly-knit town, these questions are liable to be asked more often. Especially when so much of the town seems like a compressed version of South Miami, Amsterdam, and the Burning Man playa at full roar, and temptations are only constrained by the ethics of imagination.  If they are at all. 

As of today, 217 Residents (58.18% in all) had answered Yes, it was cheating, and only 156 (41.82%) had polled negative. One might think that such an ambiguous act (whatever it is, after all, it just occurs on a computer screen) would split the opinion a lot closer to 50/50, but many of the opinions accompanying the poll came with thoughtful and nuanced explanations.

"I have heard ad nauseum the argument that it is only a game," Jake Reitveld posted there, "and that SL relationships aren't real. But for me it's not the sex that is cheating, it's the sharing of intimacy, and all that takes is words. I often ask myself, if she is married, shouldn't she be having this conversation with her husband?"

Meeting_candy

"I was curious to know what people thought about infidelity on SL," Candy Bijoux tells me, explaining why she started the poll. Candy's in a unique place to know about the temptations of the Second Life flesh, as a self-described "avatar surgeon", who molds Residents into the avatar they most desire-- and often, it seems, the avatar that'll excite the most desire in others. ("Some have requested to look like certain celebrities... I have done Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Chris Noth... and this one [I'm wearing now], which is somewhat similar to Pamela Anderson or Jenna Jameson, facial-wise.* I tried making a Mel Gibson, but because of the SL Shaping Engine, I couldn't do [his] nose length. Though it is called that, it is really only Nose Protrusion.")

Candy_as_celebrity

Candy herself has a Second Life relationship, but says she enjoys it with the full knowledge of her real life partner. So does her SL partner, "but we still love each other and care about one another. However, we both realize where we are currently in real life. We realize where we stand. It is important to have a mutual understanding."

As for Beaux Grayson, he's drastically scaling back his Second Life activity, and going to marriage counseling with his wife. "I fully realize that all of this is my fault," he tells me. "I wish I had been able to talk to her about our problems, but I just stuck my head in the sand and played on the computer. Now it will get some attention... I hope all this gets resolved and we can move on with our lives." In the process, he's gotten a new perspective on what he did, in the sessions he attends with his wife.

"The counselor described an affair as 'ANYTHING that takes away energies that should be going to your spouse.'"

The woman behind the brunette on Beaux's couch has her own insights, on the incident. "It was very upsetting and uncomfortable being in the middle of that real life fight," she tells me, after asking to remain anonymous. "This may be a game and we're all pixels, but behind these keyboards lurks a VERY real person and it's hard not to get involved when you talk to people day in and day out."

Other Residents have found a way to balance their in-world relationships with their physical ones. Even, in many cases, to have one enhance the other.

"Does my husband know?" Another woman wrote in the survey forum. "Yes. We share an office together, and usually he's in there the same time I am [in Second Life]. And he actually LIKES it... because it's like foreplay. It gets me all riled up for the real thing, and then I turn around and drag him off his computer... We enjoy our 'me' time, and then enjoy the aftermath too. Win-win. Cheating? Hell no."

*I'll leave it to readers to guess the brunette celebrity depicted in the final screenshot. - HL

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bf74053ef00d8342d42f253ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference YOUR CHEATING HEART:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Sabrina Doolittle

This is not a new connundrum. I suspect the number of relationships wrecked by say, AOL, is higher then the number created by AOL. Any arena in which humans can interact, be it a bar, a chat room, or a RPG, is an arena in which humans can and will form relationships.

Everyone gets to decide what constitutes cheating within their own relationship - or relationships. But if your primary, RL partner and you have not agreed the parameters of your SL boundaries, then you're in for a real world of trouble.

A Husband

I think the question of whether a virtual relationship is "cheating" or not depends largely on the honesty of the real life relationship.

My wife knows I have a "second love"- we've talked about it quite a bit. Thus far, we've found that my virtual relationship has had a positive effect on our real life one. I had a sheltered youth- I married (and very much love) the first woman I worked up the courage to date. My virtual love is giving me a "safe" way to role play through various situations. My second love is a real person, and both knows and respects that I'm married. We talk a lot about relationships and chat a lot about life in general: its not just about virtual sex. And when I log off I have a different perspective and feel more open to trying different things in real life- strange as that might seem.

If you are hiding your in game relations from your real life spouse...then it's a type of cheating. And if your second life absorbs you to the point of ignoring your real life relationship...then it is potentially destructive. But I wouldn't blame the game for the problem- the problem is behind the screen.

Aaron

Definition: Virtual

"Existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination."

Stop hiding behind 1's and 0's. If you're more turned on by what your spouse isn't, then you should re-evaluate why you got married or entered into that relationship in the first place, and if you think you can find a solid lasting relationship with a virtual entity, then you are in for a long lonely life.

I feel that it is an abomination that someone would create an on-line universe that would perpetuate, and ultimately encourage this type of behavior. I feel awful for anyone that has found themselves trapped in this fake universe.

Get off the computer and do something constructive with the significant other that loves you. Define a real relationship with someone and work through your insecurities and differences. Stop hiding.

A Reformed Adulter

An Adulter's Tale
==================
In the beginning, Second Life proved to be a very heady and seductive medium for me. I could run to my computer, I could escape life's problems, I could be anonymous, and I could be everything I wasn't in the real world. It wasn't long before I was spending nearly all of my free time in front of it; in the space of about 3 weeks, avatar anonymity gave way to avatar pseudonymity. I began to think of myself and identify myself more in terms of my avatar - a sign that I was beginning to get lost.

During this period, I met a woman online. We had a lot in common, this woman and me. The friendship just 'clicked'. And then it became serious. She'd opened up to me and let me know how strongly she felt about me, and I'd done the same. Before I knew it, we were both madly in love with each other.

Except that I was a married man 'in the real world'. I didn't lie to my online paramour about this fact. I'd been forthright from the beginning as to the nature of this relationship, and of the risks associated with pursuing it further. I had the power to say 'no' at any point in our developing relationship, and I was the one who'd made the proposal to her. I am, in a big way, the one responsible for its escalating.

It wasn't until wedding officiants were asked and invited, and wedding dresses looked at, before reason began to take hold of my emotion, and I began to doubt my actions. We came up with little things (visual cues, etc) to let each other know when it was safe to show our online affections to one another. This idea was encouraged by friends. "It's just a game. It's not like its real or anything."

I'd stayed of course, fooling myself into thinking that I could have the best of both worlds. But with my hindsight being 20/20, love isn't something that can be doled out in percentages. Love is selfish, total, and absolute. And when I tried to balance both relationships, the guilt began.

I'm talking serious guilt here. The kind of guilt that causes you to lose your appetite, and robs you of any chance at a decent's nights sleep. My real life behavior changed drastically. I distanced myself even further from family and my real life friends. I became evasive and defensive.

The guilt I had to live with became so enormous that I told my spouse everything about the online relationship, putting my entire real life relationship at risk (without naming any in world or real world names of course, to keep the woman I'd left behind safe). It was the only way I could get my conscience to stop screaming at me. I'd put at risk - and destroyed the trust of - the real love of a woman who'd stood behind me when I became unemployed without any job prospects. A woman who worked a second job and took on the role of sole provider and care-giver to 2 children whilst I worked my way through college. A woman who'd loved me unconditionally and believed in me on days when I couldn't believe in myself.

My spouse wasn't an idiot (she'd long suspected), and eventually I was confronted with the choice of pursuing a virtual relationship, or throwing away the real one. It was then - at that moment - that the rose colored glasses had been lifted. I managed to claw my way out of Alice's Wonderland, and get my feet set squarely back on terra firma, terminating my account to save myself, before I lost what was left of myself altogether. And I did so by hurting a lot of people on the way back to reality in the process.

How had I gotten myself into this situation? We can talk all we want about the lack of any real life intimacy at home. Its easy to point the finger at your spouse, partner, or significant other, and try to convince ourselves that this is their fault just as much as it is ours. We can convince ourself that if it hadn't been for that damned software, this would never have happened.

That's a cop out. It isn't your significant other thats the problem, nor is it the software. Before you defend or justify these excuses, ask yourself, "What effort have *I* put into our real life relationship?' Chances are, if you're like me, there were (or are now) problems in your relationship long before you started playing in the Metaverse.

Readers, cheating on a real life relationship, whether you're doing it in an MMORPG, or in an IM chat, is still cheating. Anything that leaves real people with real hurt feelings in its wake departs the boundaries of what we call a 'game'.

So - am I saying that you should just stop looking for love? No. Real Life love *CAN* be built from a virtual world foundation. There's proof that such things happen, and for those of you that met this way, this letter isn't for you. I'm not even advocating that you throw out your software and 'purge' like I did; my case was an extreme one, and for me, because the lines between fantasy and reality lines became so blurred I lost touch, I had to take the extreme solution. All I can tell you for is that you need to put things in their proper perspective.

Now, in the wake of all this, how are things between my spouse and I now? We have to take it one step at a time. I'm lucky to have been given a second chance at a real life at all, when she would have been perfectly justified in throwing me out altogether. And now that I have that chance, I'm going to work harder than ever - each and every day - to prove to her that I'm once again the man she married.

Wish Me Luck.

My advice to those of you reading that have any kind of real life relationship - when you feel tempted to take that first step into a hole that will be difficult, if not impossible to climb out of, push yourself away from your monitor. Walk around your home and really give your significant other a hard look - if you've got children, look at them too. Unless you're prepared to put all of that in jeopardy, my advice to you is that you direct a major portion of the effort you spend in the virtual world in the real one. Work at loving your real life husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or partner.

Before you end up in a situation just like mine.

In closing, let me say this:

To the woman I left behind in the Metaverse, a woman whose feelings I hurt very badly (real life person to real life person), if you're reading this, I'm very sorry that I will never get to see the project you put so much time in bear fruit. I sincerely hope that you will one day be able to find that special someone in the real world (or the virtual one) that gives you the joy and happiness you're looking for.

A Reformed Adulterer

What I need to add to the letter above is that before I was compelled to leave, I was given every opportunity by my virtual ex bride-to-be to stay on in world as a friend, and to trust her as a friend. Some people have the ability to step back and do that. Some people are gifted with the ability to trust others. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people. I also want to say that I wasn't asked to give any more time to the virtual world than I could afford to give it. As I danced around and fought with my conscience, no doubt I put her through a special level of hell.

If I'd had this to do all over again - I'd have said 'no' at the outset. And when I wasn't balancing my real life with the virtual one, I'd be there still, we'd still be friends, and we'd be enjoying each others company - as friends -with no ill will or bad feelings on either side.

A Broken Heart

To A REFORMED ADULTERER...

You set yourself up for defeat - plain and simple. It's your own personal psychological problem whether in RL or SL... and you drag and hurt people along your way. I'm glad you're getting on with your RL, but wow did you handle things badly in SL (even after being forgiven time and time again). No wonder your RL marriage ran into trouble. And give this some thought. You never once asked me about my RL relationships. It was always about YOU.

To anyone reading this... I want to give you an example of the hell me and many of our friends have been put through. The person above thinks in worse case scenarios. Here's is an e-mail they sent to me today:


"I'll keep this email account open until 5:00 pm my
time. If I don't hear back from you by then, I will
assume that you don't want to reply - and I will never
again attempt to make any contact."


Well guess what? I just now got on-line for the first time today and read this e-mail... which automatically assumes how I feel. WRONG. When I went to reply... this person already deleted their account. I logged on around 11:10pm their time (6 hours after their deadline). Is that a healthy way to have any kind of relationship... even friendship? So I'm having to revert to posting some kind of response here on a blog to be heard.... which seems insane to me.

LESSON TO BE LEARNED: Take what this person said above with a grain of salt. There are clearly personal issues that only apply to our past relationship. I've seen and been around many happy people with both RL and SL relationships. And guess what... I've had a healthy RL relationship going for 14+ years now... and with no problems (even while with my SLSO). It's clear to me that my relationship had problems... not because of the RL/SL distinction... but because my ex-partner made me believe they loved me, proposed to me and then disgracefully walked out on me... even as I was open to just being friends. To each their own. What works for some... does not always work for others.

So my advice... if you start any kind of SL relationship - make sure your partner is okay between the distinction between RL & SL. Make sure your partner doesn't assume the worst when any challange comes up. Make sure your partnet doesn't make rash decisions - leaving you without a say. Test them if you have to. Cause these kind of people will only cause you grief and sorrow in the end.


Signed - "A Broken Heart"

A Reformed Adulterer

To A Broken Heart...

"No wonder your RL marriage ran into trouble. And give this some thought. You never once asked me about my RL relationships. It was always about YOU."

Coincidentally, these were the very first words that came from my spouse in our first counseling session. And my answer to you, as to her, is the same. You're absolutely correct. What I'm guilty of (amongst a slew of other things) was in making an assumption and not taking anyone else's feelings into consideration. It *was* selfish. You can't lay the foundation for a good relationship on that basis, real world or otherwise. I didn't - and still don't - recuse myself from being the primary source of blame in what took place. I also accept the blame in taking, for me, what was the only possible solution.

I'm going to stand up like a man - and admit that I behaved like an ass, and put a lot of people through a very trying emotional period.

Count yourself very fortunate that you have a solid RL relationship built on trust and understanding. Just as importantly, count yourself fortunate that you can make the distinction that RL begins where SL ends.

In my case, I had neither the relationship, nor did I have the mindset to use SL in the way it was intended. I used it as an escape and avoidance mechanism. When you can be anyone or anything you want to be, it proved to be a very powerful narcotic, where I lost touch with reality.

So, I'll stand as a man again. And admit that I became obsessed with it.

My spouse and I are going to counseling now, and we're finally doing something we haven't done in a long time. And that's to communicate with each other - and for me to start tearing down the walls I spent the last few years building around myself, and work towards putting my real life back together.

I offer no excuses for my conduct. As for your solutions towards preventing problems like this from happening to anyone else, I stand behind them 100%. Second Life is not a panacea - emotional baggage left in the real world will still be there later - in fact, its quite likely that these problems will have been made worse by not attending to them when they were smaller problems. For me, I've lost all interest in a Second Life. I've enough problems in the First Life, TYVM.

If this thread ends up helping someone else by reading its content, then this will more than have proven its worth. In what will be my last post about SL, this topic, and this thread, I accept your judgement, and the judgements of those involved. For anyone that reads or is directed to this subject later, I will have to accept the judgement of posterity.

Oddsock McCaw

My RL Fiance has sex with men in SL and it really bothers me for the simple fact that it leaves nothing sacred to our RL relationship. It's definitely cheating in my eyes and I wouldn't engage in that type of acitivity unless I were truly single IRL.

Oxytone

"I feel that it is an abomination that someone would create an on-line universe that would perpetuate, and ultimately encourage this type of behavior."

Then you need to get offline and stop using the internet. The same can be said about every form of contact online there is from WoW to IRC.

Mark

Second Life Lovers and RL Strip Clubs

My wife and I frequently go to strip clubs in RL. She's the one who often drags me along, knowing that after a few (or more) lap dances, I'm going to take her home and ravish her. She also enjoys a few lap dances, calling herself "lesbian from the waist-up".

On Second Life, I met someone special. She's also married with kids, so we have an understanding. We're both very happy in our RL relationships and don't want "us" to come between ourselves and our RL relationships. Yet, I don't think my wife would care for this relationship. Even though after being with my SL lover, I always want to be with my RL wife.

Why is this so different from the strip clubs though? Is it because I have real feelings for pixels on my screen, but not for the real life woman grinding against me? How odd. Maybe it's because I also met my RL wife online.

Mr. Sorbet

SL relationships are more or less doomed from the very start. There may be a few exceptions, but for the most part, not actually knowing who you are talking to or exchanging intimacies with, makes for a very unstable foundation.
Also, keep in mind that there are people on SL who make a "game" of hooking people into relationships, to drain them emotionally and materially, and leave them. That happened to me. The girl I met on SL was like no other that I had ever met in my RL. We shared special moments, our life dreams and I just knew that I had found my soul mate. Then one night while sitting in a romantic area and after having shared a very special evening..she gets up and just says "Leave me." "I'm not playing games with you anymore." Then she muted me. When I tried to get a message to her via another avatar, she had one of her SL henchmen send me a threatening message to leave her alone. So, be prepared to "play games" if you are looking for romance.

second life hater

Wow! SL almost seems like a cult sometimes, with its' special terms and doctrine. The constant using of RL and SL and this philosophy of keeping them seperate. THERE IS ONLY ONE LIFE AND ONE YOU. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR WORDS AND ACTIONS, WHEREVER THEY ARE.
We don't say that what I do on board an airplane is different from what I do once the plane lands. "That was an in-flight activity which is ok as long as the earth bound people blah blah".
It's all so crazy.
No I am not suggesting that a married man having avatar sex is AS bad as actually doing it, but there are shades and levels. It's not either 1's and 0s, hard as that may be for computer crazed people to fathom. Either it's actual adultery or it's fine. There are levels of wrong. Bad worse and worst.
And I see patterns. SL zombies tend to behave in certain ways. I have a loved one who lost herself to the game for a while, and I went in to see for myself just what on earth was taking her away from everything in the real world.
It must be some coincidence that almost EVERY SL zombie comes from a family or has a significant other who is too demanding, or needs to much attention. Who is smothering or won't give them enough space.
IS THIS TRULY THE CASE? Or are they delusional? Because SL requires them to spend 10-12 hours behind a screen, their family may turn the other way from a couple of hours, but once it gets to that extent, of course they will start to resent it. And because there is always on ongoing project,job, or in some cases RP going on which the SLifer resents being disturbed from, they tend to see everyone else as unreasonable and attention craving.
What about the FALSE SENSE OF POWER? Being able to kill and capture people, buy and sell huge properties, and in some places fly goes to the head. I have found in my interactions with these unsavory addicts a tendency to make vague implied threats when they sense a non-initiate has violated their world. Things like "I would stop if I were you" "Here's some advice and take it. I am going to let this slide this time. Don't push me."
PLEASE! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO FROM BEHIND THAT SCREEN? COME CUT MY HEAD OFF WITH YOUR GOREAN SWORD?
Not once or twice, but on several occasions I have found this attitude, especially amongst the maniacal "Goreans".
Very laxed moral codes which are common amongst the zombies but are not shared by most of the real world are common. They comiserate with one another about unreasonably jelous spouses and girlfriends while they, the level-headed ones, are able to see that it's "just a game" and "SHOULDN'T" affect RL. IF IT'S JUST A GAME THEN WHY IS IT THE MAJOR PART OF YOUR LIFE, DRAINING YOUR TIME, MONEY, REAL WORL FRIENDSHIPS AND RELATIONSHIPS? IF IT'S JUST A GAME TURN IT OFF. BUT YOU CAN'T. BECAUSE YOU ARE SICK ZOMBIES!

RL wife of a SL addict

It isn't the sex that is upsetting. It is the emotional bonds he makes. To Mark above with the wife who likes Strip clubs...what makes SL different from a Strip Club? Do you talk to the strippers for hour? Really get to know them? Buy them presents?

My husband, knows his SL friends. They have Rez day parties, buy each other presents, clothes etc. Tell each other personal stuff. they are his friend and I know he has sex with them too... he says he does't but why does he need the bed with the sex poses and the pool with the sex poses and the tree with the swing with the sex poses...get the theme. I am not stupid and it is disrespectful for all of you who use SL to think that the spouses you "Cheat" on are.

It isn't the sex...it is the TIME, the sharing, the intamacy with another person. If it was just sex with randome avatars I don't think it would bother me as much. It is the bonds that are created that get me. My husband and I have a good marriage, active sex life. I think he likes SL cause he is well like there...a cool guy.

Post a comment

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.