Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lies, damn lies and avatarian romantic relationships

There was an interesting post Tuesday on Just Me, Dinee that included a couple of stories about the dangers of getting emotionally attached in a Second Life relationship. She ended the post with:
Having someone toy with your affections and emotions then dumping you is bad enough. Having a couple double teaming for the sole purpose of adding some zest to their own real relationship just seems so wrong to me on so many levels. So… am I right or wrong? or am I over reacting here?
Personally, even in the presence of the most attractive avatar, I can't rid myself of the nagging possibility that she is connected to a 500 pound, unwashed middle-aged man living in his mother's basement. I think that unless you verify someone's identity by live video conference or other dependable means, it is prudent to assume there's a vast discrepancy between an avatar persona and the underlying physical human being.

Now that's cool if you can enjoy the virtual relationship for itself and on its own terms. But even if you're consciously suspending disbelief, your emotions may not be so savvy. And while romantic human relationships are dicey, the odds of a long-term avatar-to-avatar love connection that maintains human anonymity is akin to winning the lottery. It can happen, but you wouldn't want to bet the farm.

So to (finally) answer the question posed at the end of Dinee's post, I think that intentionally taking advantage of someone's vulnerability for personal gain is ethically wrong. But I have no clue as to whether that was the case in the stories she recounted, or even if the narratives that were described to her weren't complete or partial fabrications.

In virtual worlds it is especially useful to be comfortable in the space of unknowing.


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A beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar. My creator's site can is at