Wednesday, May 07, 2014

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Cheating in Second Life Relationships Extremely Upsetting to Many SLers, Study Finds


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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Pussycat Catnap

I always say that if you feel some bit of play is moving into real emotions, take a real act. Pick up the phone or something and chat with the other party outside the context of SL... and do something physical like an old fashioned personal letter...

Don't just 'voice' in the context of SL. Make sure you know the real person, if real romantic emotions are involved.

(One reason I suggest the old fashioned letter - it means each of you is sending something real from yourself to the other person. Something they can hold in their hands. That either cements or exposes a long distance relationship better than anything else.)

If the other side does not wish to go there - then either get out of it before your emotions get strong, or dial is back to just online play between casual friends.


You can't cheat in SL.

Pep (Because you can't have a "relationship")


Silly Pep. Any interaction between people is a relationship. The medium of the interaction makes no difference. As far as falling in love in SL that would depend on the individuals. Problems arise when each party to a relationship views the relationship differently. Much like in RL.


Only advice I can give to those with relationships in SL: have a Plan B for your love-nest in case the world folds.

Derek Torvalar

From the abstract:
"However, emotions are also linked with involvement, and SL residents presumably are more involved in SL compared to non-residents."
People get upset in SL when they are betrayed. Unless of course they don't use SL.
Fascinating insight!
This constitutes a PhD thesis?
You wasted the bandwidth to report on this pseudo-intellectual tripe?
Oh wait, it's a joke post, right? Right?
Like an early Friday post to give people a smile to get their weekend's off to a nice start.
How many people could have been fed with the funding wasted on this crap?

Tracy RedAngel

It doesn't seem like a very comprehensive study, nor does it really shed any new insight onto virtual dating. I mean, out of the respondents, how many were involved in long-term (more than a year) online partnerships? How many of them had taken the relationship outside of the virtual environment and met in person?
When people put an emotional investment into someone else (real or imagined) of course they're going to feel at least some disappointment if they feel betrayed by the other person.
I've seen so many people (men and women) feeling hurt, betrayed, shocked by cheating, lying partners in SL. I think it's safe to say if you're going to explore romance in Second Life, you have to expect that some people, maybe even a LOT of people are going to lie. Unless you have some real life connection such as person-to-person, you really have no way of knowing with 100% certainty a person is who they say they are.


Silly Amanda76. That's why I used "quotation marks.

Pep (has lots of unquotation-marked relationships in SL; not that the other party enjoys them much.)


Tracy said: "a LOT of people are going to lie".

Pep (suggested that she was understating the problem; massively.)

Motoko Henusaki

Agreed, Catnap. Dial back to casual or just abandon if things get problematic with the emotional aspects.

Adeon Writer

There will always be those that feel that because something is done over a computer, it is illegitimate.

I will never understand this concept.

Arcadia Codesmith

Human beings have a nearly unlimited capacity for deception, and we may be the only species that routinely deceives ourselves.

Conversely, we're also quite talented at affection, forgiveness, learning and growth, when we take the opportunities presented to us.

If you never trust anybody online, that's certainly a safe course to take. It's also one that closes off many fascinating pathways.

I've been betrayed online, and it was intensely painful, but I would not undo that pain if it meant giving up the opportunity to form deep and lasting bonds with people I met online. If I had, I'd be short a real-life soulmate and my life would have taken a much darker and probably much shorter course.


Hamlet, please buy a AO, you've been in SL far to long to stand like day 1 noob.

Adeon Writer

@2014: Hey, I *like* the "lost in a mall" look!

Normcore, baby.

CronoCloud Creeggan

I don't have much to say about relationships except from what I've seen, the feelings in regards to SL relationshipis can most certainly be intense, for good or ill.

@Adeon and 2014:

I think that's a re-used old picture because it looks like his avatar before Iris gave him the makeover.

elizabeth (irihapeti)


as Adeon says theres normcore. then theres Iris who can help you with getting that look right ok

q; (:

Hamlet Au

The pic is from this 2007 post:

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