Monday, August 31, 2009

Love, Lies and Avatars

This is an unretouched screen shot from an iPhone view of Tateru Nino's Dwell On It blog. The juxtaposition of the post title and the display ad was just too juicy to pass by without comment.

Although we dwell on being lied to by others, the most pervasive and debilitating fabrications we fall prey to are the ones we tell ourselves. Especially when it comes to romantic love, virtual or otherwise.

The advertisement lays out the process that leads to the suspension of disbelief that fuels romantic avatar-based relationships:
  • Create an avatar
  • Define your look
  • Interact romantically
  • Fall in love
So where do the lies come in? This is all very honest and above-board, right? Everyone knows that there is absolutely no correlation between the look of an avatar and the associated human, don't they? For god's sake, you made your own avatar and it looks nothing like you, how could you be crazy enough to think otherwise for any one else?

Unfortunately, humans are stuck with a biology that doesn't differentiate between virtual and actual experiences. As I've noted before, once those love chemicals start getting cranked out in your body, it's likely you'll believe the sweet lies they tell you. You'll associate the blissful feeling of the love drugs with the experience of the other person's avatar. Even though you "know better."

Of course, it's possible you'll be lucky enough to fall in love with one of the real life supermodels who are so common in virtual worlds. Or maybe, your passion will survive the cognitive dissonance between the idealized avatar and the all-too-human form of your soul mate. There are certainly a number of virtual relationships that successfully extended to the physical world. But the odds are very, very long.


Delinda Dyrssen said...

Makes you wonder if people who have "Dragon" avatars get romantically involved and if so.. is there a "Long kiss goodnight" poseball for them?

Dale Innis said...

I dunno, I'm not so sure. I mean, many many SL relationships *do* fall apart, and many of them fall apart because of lies.

But I don't think the particular "lie" consisting of a radical difference between SL AV and RL body is anywhere near the top of the list in terms of causation frequency. I think it's more the sorts of lies that break RL relationships: he wasn't really single, she wasn't really an investment banker.

I'm not sure why I think that. Probably because I have in fact heard about quite a number of SL breakups (sometimes from friends directly involved and sometimes less directly), and I can't recall any where the AV != body issue seemed to be a major factor.

On the other hand, that *is* a great screen capture. :)

E said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Come to Eshi. Eshi will tell you the truth:
- Virtual worlds - places where lack of anchored physical identity allows you to for the first time shift focus from "what others should believe" of you to "being what you really are". Luckily for our business - we know most of you have issues with connecting to each other emotionally and sexually. Have fun!

Botgirl Questi said...

Dale: I agree that there are many reasons relationships tank, including lies others tell. But I think that immersing oneself in the illusion of avatar form makes it easier to be fooled. It blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Eshi: Awesome! Fuller disclosure in advertising would be nice.

I think that using virtual worlds and avatar form to push beyond current human limitations, including emotional and erotic connection, can be beneficial. I just don't think that's what the ad in question is advocating.

Lalo Telling said...

@ Delinda - As a furry with dragon friends I can vouch for "yes" to your first question. No clue about the second, but it would surprise me to learn the answer is "no".

@ Botgirl - stumbled across this entry through four degrees of separation via Twitter and Tateru Nino's blog. Agree that avatar appearance (even furry!) initiates the same reaction as RL physical attraction. Also agree: discovery that a SL partner's real appearance radically differs from their avatar might be construed as a "lie" and a deal-breaker, if the relationship is that shallow.

Consider, however, that beyond the initial virtual appearance factor is the ability of each of us to express ourselves, and the way in which we do. Speaking for myself, at least, admiration (which may become romantic love) is grounded in the personality of the human behind/within the avatar.

Botgirl Questi said...

Lalo: I agree with you! I don't think the appearance would be construed as a lie (unless the person had claimed their avatar was a dead ringer for their human counterpart). Just that the chemistry could be broken, like after the reveal on Dating In The Dark .