Tuesday, May 03, 2005


A survey on the morality of in-world romance provokes several Second Life lessons-- learned, and unlearned.

Beaux Grayson was on the sundeck of his home, curled up on the couch with a slender brunette, when his wife walked in.

"And went," as Beaux subsequently put it in a message he sent to his Second Life friends, "NUTZ."

She demanded to know who this woman in thigh-high boots on the screen was, laying there with her husband's avatar. So Beaux told her. "I gave her the facts (married, English, kids, etc.), but not the name and that we have known each other about two weeks." He tried to be as open with her as he could; he begged her to join him in Second Life so she could be with him there, especially on those days when he was traveling on business, and going in-world from his hotel room, when there wasn't much else to do. ("I could go out to bars, but found it 'safer' to have my social interaction on-line.")

Whatever explanations he gave her, they apparently weren't enough.

"So," Beaux continues, "last night after we went to bed, she got up and went into SL. The first thing she saw on the entry screen was the last thing I was doing: Cuddling on the couch." This is because whenever you enter Second Life, you see the final image of whatever you were doing, the last time you were in-world. No matter what has transpired, since then. Considering what they'd just been discussing, the picture of Beaux and the brunette on the couch might not have been the best thing for her see again. And though Beaux Grayson's wife had never been in-world before, she "managed to do some stuff that shocked me." He found that out after waking up, and greeting her in the kitchen.

"I said 'good morning'. She said it is not good." She suggested that he log into Second Life.

So Beaux went back in-world, to find that his avatar was now naked and gray and decidedly smaller-- and lying in the private room of a popular Mature-rated nightclub. "I don't know how she figured [out how to do] all that," Grayson says, astounded.

All this came out after I started looking into an online poll posted in the official Second Life discussion forum. Resident-created surveys are a staple of the Forum, sometimes a way to garner instant feedback on particular issues affecting the world; often a way to air personal grievances in the form of an opinion poll. The particular question, "Do you consider having AV Sex Cheating on your Spouse if the Flame has Gone?" was a simple one. The answers that followed, as they often are, were anything but that; they read a little like a society's first attempts to find a universally acceptable concept of infidelity.

And in a society that has grown to the size of a large, tightly-knit town, these questions are liable to be asked more often. Especially when so much of the town seems like a compressed version of South Miami, Amsterdam, and the Burning Man playa at full roar, and temptations are only constrained by the ethics of imagination. If they are at all.

As of today, 217 Residents (58.18% in all) had answered Yes, it was cheating, and only 156 (41.82%) had polled negative. One might think that such an ambiguous act (whatever it is, after all, it just occurs on a computer screen) would split the opinion a lot closer to 50/50, but many of the opinions accompanying the poll came with thoughtful and nuanced explanations.

"I have heard ad nauseum the argument that it is only a game," Jake Reitveld posted there, "and that SL relationships aren't real. But for me it's not the sex that is cheating, it's the sharing of intimacy, and all that takes is words. I often ask myself, if she is married, shouldn't she be having this conversation with her husband?"

"I was curious to know what people thought about infidelity on SL," Candy Bijoux tells me, explaining why she started the poll. Candy's in a unique place to know about the temptations of the Second Life flesh, as a self-described "avatar surgeon", who molds Residents into the avatar they most desire-- and often, it seems, the avatar that'll excite the most desire in others. ("Some have requested to look like certain celebrities... I have done Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Chris Noth... and this one [I'm wearing now], which is somewhat similar to Pamela Anderson or Jenna Jameson, facial-wise.* I tried making a Mel Gibson, but because of the SL Shaping Engine, I couldn't do [his] nose length. Though it is called that, it is really only Nose Protrusion.")

Candy herself has a Second Life relationship, but says she enjoys it with the full knowledge of her real life partner. So does her SL partner, "but we still love each other and care about one another. However, we both realize where we are currently in real life. We realize where we stand. It is important to have a mutual understanding."

As for Beaux Grayson, he's drastically scaling back his Second Life activity, and going to marriage counseling with his wife. "I fully realize that all of this is my fault," he tells me. "I wish I had been able to talk to her about our problems, but I just stuck my head in the sand and played on the computer. Now it will get some attention... I hope all this gets resolved and we can move on with our lives." In the process, he's gotten a new perspective on what he did, in the sessions he attends with his wife.

"The counselor described an affair as 'ANYTHING that takes away energies that should be going to your spouse.'"

The woman behind the brunette on Beaux's couch has her own insights, on the incident. "It was very upsetting and uncomfortable being in the middle of that real life fight," she tells me, after asking to remain anonymous. "This may be a game and we're all pixels, but behind these keyboards lurks a VERY real person and it's hard not to get involved when you talk to people day in and day out."

Other Residents have found a way to balance their in-world relationships with their physical ones. Even, in many cases, to have one enhance the other.

"Does my husband know?" Another woman wrote in the survey forum. "Yes. We share an office together, and usually he's in there the same time I am [in Second Life]. And he actually LIKES it... because it's like foreplay. It gets me all riled up for the real thing, and then I turn around and drag him off his computer... We enjoy our 'me' time, and then enjoy the aftermath too. Win-win. Cheating? Hell no."

*I'll leave it to readers to guess the brunette celebrity depicted in the final screenshot. - HL

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I've talked to a lot of people about this-- in which cases things are split 50/50 also. Some say their spouse knows and it's just like any other RPG taking on the role of a superhero, a medieval dwarf or Jedi Knight. Why should a stripper or housewife be any different?

By the way, is it Carmen Electra? haha.

Posted by: Clark Ambassador at May 3, 2005 10:43:30 AM

Excellent job Hamlet! Some may be wondering why I didn't have SL secured. Well, I blew it! After all of this happened I was not trying to hide anything and was using the same password that we use for our banking. I actually had the box checked to remember my password. That has been changed.

Posted by: Beaux Grayson at May 3, 2005 11:51:27 AM

Hamlet, there was a great thread about a year ago that got lost in the great forum move of '04. - About how people are SL vs RL, online vs off. This topic was discussed at length. It really means different things to different people, but insofar in regards to cheating, I think most people reply to the effect of "If you don't feel comfortable telling your partner it, you shouldn't be doing it."

Posted by: HiroPendragon at May 3, 2005 10:41:23 PM

> By the way, is it Carmen Electra?

Interesting guess, but no!

Posted by: Hamlet Linden at May 5, 2005 12:26:28 AM

Cheating is cheating nomatter if its SL or RL.

Posted by: Phil Murdock at Jun 13, 2005 7:28:22 PM

I recently found out about my wife having an SL relationship. Little did I know that it was taken a step further with IM chats and then Webcam. SL was the focal point of the whole thing. It hurt me realy bad to find this out. I know they have never got together in real life... but when you see those words "I love you" scroll across the screen... you cant help but feel like your heart got ripped out.

Cheating is cheating... I just think that people can dismiss it because it happens on a computer.

Posted by: ????? at Jun 22, 2005 1:46:43 PM

"cheating" - to break the rules.
relationships don't have to conform to standard rules.
marriages dont have to exclude others.
we dont have to be locked into little monogamous family units.
we can choose to love unconditionally. we can deny fear, fight our demons - and recognise them as our own.
when i feel bad, because my wife is enjoying someone else, it is MY stuff.

Posted by: andy at Jun 24, 2005 12:02:39 PM

Great artical Hamlet. I must say that I do find it quite interesting how some people have a real life partner who's also in Second Life, but in Second Life, they aren't together. I was never a big fan of cheating or being cheated on, but I believe I did "fool around" with a woman who was dating someone. I just think that if you want to be with someone in real life bad enough that you get married... wouldn't you want to be with them in Second Life as well?

Posted by: Zion Volos at Jul 16, 2005 11:03:51 AM

I think this "is it cheating?" question is a maguffin. The truth is that it is a heart that cheats, and not an action. So if you have an SL relationship outside your RL one, the only true test of whether it really is cheating depends on where your heart is committed. What makes that difficult to deal with is that the answer may be different for different people.

Posted by: Escort DeFarge at Aug 27, 2005 6:07:12 AM

My RL wife died 14 months ago and in both in world and real world I have been in mourning for her. We were together for a little over 18 years of real life; and were accquised of being interdepent. This is, I've been told not a good thing, but she was my best friend and at the end she became my almost only friend. There never was any thought on either of our parts of having outside male or female relationships; except as a couple. She never saw or knew of Second Life; I only recently became involved with it as of last July when I became a member. I've ment and made a lot of friends in world that I would never have made in real life; due to the nature of our real world's hussle & bussle lifestyle. In SL things slow down enough so that interpersonal relationships can become a reality. I have ment a lot of women who are married in RL but play in SL as a single. With these women I'm a platonic friend only and would never dream of pursuring them as more than "Good Friends"! I've talked with a few of them about the issues of cheating and some have said that their married real life's are one thing and their single SL activities are quite another. For me this is a troubling factor; for when I begin to look for another mate again I would hope to find one that isn't encumbered in RL. I like the fact that Second Life is populated with so many potential equal women. Women who aren't held back or down with self esteem issues that I run into on dating services or internet sites. As I've said this issue of cheating is troubling to me since I've become older now and prehapes more mature in my thinking when it comes to finding another mate to play with in SL and possibly the real world as well!

Posted by: JPatrick Maltese at Oct 20, 2005 1:28:37 PM

For me and my friends, we're pretty different in RL than we are in SL, I think the fact that it really IS a second life, it's an escape, and It gives you a chance to start your reputation all over, but when RL and SL mix, only bad can come of it.

Posted by: Jasper Shriner at Oct 23, 2005 9:58:11 AM

If it hurts your partner emotionally - it's cheating.

What you think about it doesn't matter, when it comes to marriage it's about what the other person thinks and feels.

Posted by: Aiden Reymont at Oct 24, 2005 8:24:46 AM

This is a kind of game that you kinda have to have a little bit of fear in the back of your mind about cheating. I trust my fiance when he plays this game, but it is the girls in the game I truely do not trust. I find that even if your loved one is behaving, there is going to be someone somewhere that will try to get in the way, even by jealousy, or pure lust.

So even if there is no cheating, there still has to be fear. I have seen quite afew rl relationships in my day end due to this game. Hell I hear there is even a book fixing to be published about a guy whose marriage ended due to online gaming like this.

Is it cheating? Even if it is pixels. Hell yes. You yourself are physically on your side of the pc forcing a avie to touch another person who on their side is physically forcing their avie to do what their avie is doing. Even though they are not connected in rl, they are still connected because there is still two real people making it happen.

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