Cheating in Second Life-based romantic relationships is extremely disturbing to the person being betrayed, a new study by a Belgian academic finds. This won't come as a shock to longtime SLers, but the study, led by PhD candidate Katleen Gabriels (of Vrije Universiteit Brussel), puts some quantified numbers to this insight. Surveying nearly 400 volunteers, both Second Life users (250 of that 400) and non-users, she explains, the researchers "asked to imagine as vividly as possible one of two scenarios: You are being cheated on by your actual partner, versus you are being cheated on by your partner in Second Life." Unsurprisingly, non-SLers were disturbed by the former scenario, but didn't react much to the Second Life hypothetical.
However, when SLers were asked to rate their reaction on a scale of "not at all" to "extreme", here's the percent who went with the strongest response:
- 44% said they would feel extremely disappointed
- 34% said they would feel extremely betrayed
- 29% said they would feel extremely angry
- 25% said they would feel extremely unable to forgive
Katleen conducted many follow-up interviews, and those results are very interesting too: "After a break-up, one of my respondents burned all the (virtual) pictures of him and his ex (they never met face-to-face) in a virtual fireplace. When the partner of a respondent found out that he cheated on her, he was banned from her sim and her friends also banned and avoided him... In other instances, the love sorrow was so intense that some temporarily left Second Life."
Upshot to this study, which (I would speculate) can probably be applied to other 3D/immersive worlds: "[T]he emotional reality of virtual worlds is crucial," as Gabriels puts it. "Even though represented by a 3D avatar, people inhabit shared virtual spaces and the relationships they build in-world are truthful. They spent time together. Friends in-world often literally share land (e.g. they live on the same sim) and, for instance, organize surprise parties for rezdays... The genuine emotions, strong connection, shared experiences, SL’s meaningfulness for avid residents et cetera can explain why people experience similar emotions in response to cheating in-world, even though these emotions are virtually elicited."
On the other hand, a slight majority in her study said virtual cheating would not elicit the most extreme response, which is a relief. Also, virtual cheaters can take some relief here: According to Gabriels' study, only .01% said being cheated on would make them want to take revenge.
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