Is Romance in a virtual world real?

Romance in the virtual world, is it really that different than in the real world? I started this project to look at Transreality which is about goods and/or services that have aspects in the real world and the digital world. What I am finding is that romance itself has become transreal. Romance can now exist in both the real world and the new virtual worlds. I guess I should not be surprised because relationships have existed throughout history so long as both parties could communicate in some manner. The Internet has been all about communication. So it has become another means of allowing a romance. What’s new to all of this is the 3-D virtual worlds and the use of Avatars. To understand why, you really have to go back in time to a period before the first PC. To a time when the first Role Playing games came out, such as Dungeons and Dragons. What people found back then was that for some people the roles they played in the game became their alter egos. Some people became depressed and emotionally impacted when their character died in the game. Now jump to 2007 and current avatars used in 3-D virtual worlds and the book titled “Alter Ego, Avatars and their creators”. In the book Robbie Cooper, Julian Dibbell, and Tracy Spaight let people who use avatars in different virtual worlds explain a little about their avatars. As you read through the book you see how avatars can become an extension of the people who use them in a 3-D virtual world.


So what do avatars have to do with romance? Avatars and the whole 3-D virtual environment allow a much deeper emotional involvement then were ever possible before, using the Internet. You have personnel space in a 3-D world. You can choose to share it or prevent others from invading it. Many of our behaviors in real life are reflected when we use an avatar because the avatar becomes an extension of ourselves. In the virtual world call Second Life this has become very clear. As I traveled through Second Life this week I attended a discussion on relationships in Second Life. The discussion verified a lot of what I had already observed. For those people seeking relationships, many of the guys seem to be looking for sex; many of the women seem to be seeking romance. This can be verified by the fact that you can find clubs where a guy can hire a female escort. Yet you find few clubs setup for a female to hire a male escort. People’s behavior in real life tends to carry over in their virtual life. Unfortunately, this is not really appreciated by the people who “play” the game of romance in the virtual world.

Second Life allows someone to create just that, a second life away from their real life. People meet new people. They make friends and even fall in love. What is interesting is that people have no trouble accepting that the friendships they make in Second Life are real friendships. They may never meet someone in real life but many of the friendships are as important as ones they may have in real life. Now here the interesting part, at the same time they believe that romance in Second Life can be treated as game. They meet someone, share a number of romantic experiences, in some cases they may even hold a virtual wedding. They tell themselves it is just for fun or it is just a game. In the end one of the two ends the relationship for one reason or another. It is when things end and they experience all the emotional pain that they really appreciate just how “Real” their emotional involvement was.

Over the last month or so I have been talking to people about this. I have heard people tell me about talking to their real life partners about their relationships in Second Life. Some have even gotten their partners blessing on their virtual weddings. After all, it is not real, it is just a game, what harm can it do. The trouble is that these romantic relationships in Second Life tend to be short for a number of reasons. I have heard several stories of the people who had the blessing of their partner for a virtual wedding, needing to be comforted emotionally by that same partner when the virtual relationship ended. They were surprised by how real the emotional pain of the breakup was.

At the same time there is another group of people that follow the “What happens in Second Life, stays in Second Life” philosophy. These are the ones who have real life partners who are unaware of their activities in the virtual world.

If you seek virtual sex, or find a romantic partner in a virtual world such as Second Life, are you really cheating on you real life partner? After all Second Life is just a game not real life. Do you really lessen your real life relationship by marrying someone in a virtual wedding that your partner does not know about? These are interesting moral questions for which I only have answers for myself. But as the popularity of virtual worlds and use of avatars grows these are questions that more and more real life couples will have to deal with. For it takes time and emotional energy to maintain any type of romantic relationship.


Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.


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8 Responses to “Is Romance in a virtual world real?”

  1. duncanrust Says:

    A very well written piece you got here. As I have experienced, and rather also have experienced first anded, for many, if not most people, second life is about emotions.

    Mostly, i think, this is contributed because what every you do, your mind and soul are always there, where as your body does not follow into the virtual world. Supporting the theory that everything you encounter has influence upon who you are (and vice versa) It is not hard to see how you can form a emotional relationship with people you meet in a virtual world.

    Since physical appearance is a no issue in virtual worlds like Second Life (after all you can change alter your avatar as wanted.. and it is even possible to make a good looking avatar with only freebies now a days) the difference between persons is more found in the difference in your personality, emotions.

    Another thing: people in virtual worlds are more open about their wants and needs. On both emotional and sexual issues. Especially if they are talking to people they don;t know in real life. Simple because it is safe. If someone thinks you are weird because of your different sexual fantasies, you just mute them, and delete them form your friends list, only to never encounter him or her again. And unless you already send pictures or an address, you will never know who it was in real life, if he or she walked by.

    The above 2 reasons (emotions and mind being more important, and the ability to be more open about things in a virtual world) can make people form very strong emotional bonds with each other. Maybe even stronger sometimes then any real world bond.

    I think that knowingly enter into a emotional relationship with someone in a virtual world, while you know your real world partner would not like this, is a form of cheating.

    In the end , I think dealing with virtual relationships is more a case to case based issue. For some, trying out new things in a Virtual World, can sparkle a new interest into the Real World relationship. while for others, it surely might be the beginning of the end of the relationship.

  2. Re: Is Romance In A Virtual World Real? « Duncans Thoughts Says:

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  3. sulz Says:

    i wrote a post about this issue before. after reading the comments i’ve received for it, i feel that if intention is there, it makes it real, even if people think it’s “unreal” just because it’s virtual.

  4. pinkshoegirl Says:

    I just wrote a blog about this and hope to expand on my thoughts on this in time. From personal experience, it is and it isn’t. If its real for you, it might not be for the other person!

  5. Vicente Gigler Says:

    I came across this blog because lately I’ve been exploring ways to get more successful with women. Recently I girlfriend and I’m a bit nervous about returning to the whole “singles scene”. I’m afraid to say my “skills” with talking to girls are rusty, to say the least!

  6. loni Says:

    i really enjoyed this article and feel i have a varied perspective to contribute. starting my second life journey in a vampire clan was perfect as i had always wanted to be a vampire. :F I met many wonderful people and became close to many. i was in a long term relationship when i began my journey. the relationship came to a close in real life though i was really close to someone in sl…specifically a blood doll of mine. as time progressed we spent most of our awake moments together for about 7 months in total. we had a blast. in february we decided it was time to meet. he flew 1000 miles and we encountered eachother at a airport. it was perfect…and we both just knew it was right. we spent the next 5 months traveling back and forth when we could. then i flew down and drove him back up here! he moved. we are now engaged and expecting a little one next spring. we are so in love! and feel so blessed that our relationship began with 7 months of chatting (not even voicing). we have a very strong communicative bond…it is truly amazing 🙂

  7. Pip Caramel Says:

    With regards to relationships in SL, I would advise people to be VERY careful, because the depth of emotional attachment between yourself and others in the virtual world, and therefore it’s effect upon ‘RL’, IS very real.

  8. Ralph Town Says:

    Well,I,ve just lost my wife to a SL romance that has spilled over into RL.
    She has been on SL for around 18 months and when she announced to me and my teenage kids that she was leaving,she told us she had not been happy for around 2 years.the same lengh of time she had been a SL member.
    She met a guy(an avatar) on SL and over a period,she grow to like him,went horse riding in SL and even bred horses there.
    Needless to say,he has ditched a family too and they have set up a RL lovenest.
    my only hope of bringing my wife back from this madness is the fact that “he” has some serious mental/emotional issues.
    In time,I hope she will turn back to her family and realise its all just fantasy and when RL comes crashing thru the door in the shape of bills and expenses we will still be here to support her.

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