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.

7 comments:

Dale Innis said...

"Comfortable in the space of unknowing" is a wonderful phrase! (I find myself designing the Tshirt in my head.)

One thing that I love about SL is that it brings out exactly this state of constant uncertainty so obviously, and perhaps thereby makes it easier to realize that we are in the space of unknowing in RL also, *all the time*, and we'd darn well better be comfortable with that also, if we want any comfort at all...

Debbie said...

"or even if the narratives that were described to her weren't complete or partial fabrications."

Very good point Botgirl, I have a tendency to take people at "face value" until they prove themselves different. Yes, I have been fooled many times, I admit it, in both real life and second life.
Sometimes I wonder, if we were somehow forced to make our avatars look like the real person behind the keyboard.. would there be as many partnerships and in turn, broken hearts? It just proves that physical beauty does seem first and foremost in our minds. :)
dinee

Argent Bury said...

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.

Is a successful SL relationship one that moves to FL eventually, or one that stays in SL?

What FL facts about ourselves, if any, are we obliged to tell someone up front, without them even asking?

What is love? What is successful?

Notice I'm not answering any of these, because they're irrelevant to the true nature of the problem. They're based on personal conviction. Most arguments about these matters devolve into people confusing their personal definition of the terms with a blanket that applies to everyone. Then shouting ensues.

There are millions of us in here now, and each of us has their own thoughts on those definitions. Assuming a standard is unwise. (Although the various societies that arise in SL will try to push their own definitions on their members and on others. This isn't good or bad, it just is.)

I think the real key here is communication. If you're going to trust your feelings to someone, see what their thoughts on the matters above are. If both sides answer honestly *before* things get serious, then the worst that can happen is probably a peaceful break with the person involved.

My personal stance on the whole FL disclosure thing is, don't lie. If you feel some FL fact about yourself shouldn't matter, say that and don't reveal it, but don't lie. Let the other party decide what to do with that.

(And yeah, I think the couple playing with the guy's feelings, assuming any of his story is true, is pretty rotten. Now I just have to figure out how to quantify that according to what I said above ;)

Botgirl Questi said...

dale: Yes, the eternal challenge of finding that fine balance between chaos, comfort and boredom

debbie: Physical beauty certainly has a potent impact on human biochemistry, and makes many people spell "hawt" instead of "hot"

argent: I thought you might weigh in on this one :)

I wasn't intending to make any blanket definitions about love, successful relationships, etc. I mostly wanted to throw out a reminder that if you get a hot crush on an avatar, it might save you some pain to keep in mind the bigger picture.

But, to answer your questions, at the minimum, I would define a successful relationship as one that doesn't leave either party feeling heartbroken or betrayed.

I agree with you that concepts such as "love" and "success" are pretty fuzzy. That's why I used the phrase "romantic relationship" which is influenced by the biological process of limerence.

I agree with you that open honest communication is a foundation of a genuinely close relationship. Unfortunately humans have a hard time controlling the speed at which they fall in lust or love.

Finally, I think that the worst that can happen is not a "peaceful break." The worst that can happen is that the other party goes nuts, hacks your identity and kills you in FL. Okay, I know that's an extreme example, but a little sensationalism is good for site traffic. :)

Gahum Riptide said...

I think for those of us living in the FL, it's best to be honest about to others as well as ourselves. You don't have to go into every little detail about your FL, but you should be mindful of the consequences of your actions. It may seem like a game, but you ARE interacting with humans who have feelings and form attachments.

I view deceitful SL people the same way as I view deceiful FL people: as scum. I think to break someone's heart because you're playing a game really does say something about the person behind the screen, even if in their FL they come across as the most caring person ever.

In Vita Secunda Veritas

(in bad Latin)

Argent Bury said...

I wasn't intending to make any blanket definitions about love, successful relationships, etc.

Yikes! I hope you didn't think I was implying that. I thought your take on it was pretty thoughtful and personal.


I agree with you that open honest communication is a foundation of a genuinely close relationship. Unfortunately humans have a hard time controlling the speed at which they fall in lust or love.


Yes, and quite often neither side wants to "break the spell" of romance by asking concrete questions or making statements of conviction. It kind've ruins the moment when you're slow-dancing with someone and they start detailing the expected course of your relationship and asking for all sorts of personal details.

Maybe that's the turning point between romance and relationship - when you start asking questions, and both parties find that they are comfortable with the answers (or lack thereof, in the case of SL).

OK, getting philosphical now. Best stop.

Finally, I think that the worst that can happen is not a "peaceful break." The worst that can happen is that the other party goes nuts, hacks your identity and kills you in FL. Okay, I know that's an extreme example, but a little sensationalism is good for site traffic. :)

I'd say that's more likely in a case where the parties involved didn't compare information and definitions until *after* things got serious.

(Of course, there are differing definitions of "serious" too, so even more potential for confusion. Maybe that's why we do have societal standards. Anyway, tangent...)

I wouldn't worry too much about site traffic, though. You seem to be getting plenty ;)

Thanks for another engaging post!

Botgirl Questi said...

gahum: I agree with you. We would all be better off if we consistently considered the potential consequences of our actions before impulsively following the desires of the moment.

That said, my guess is that projecting our own fictions onto the mostly blank canvass of other's avatar identities is the more common and significant than intentional misrepresentation.