I was reading Felixe Thorne’s Rambles and I wanted to link to his post called “Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love”. I thought about making comments on his site, but since he didn’t really discuss it there, I thought it more appropriate for me to give my take of it here. Felixe has provided YouTube copies of an episode of the BBC’s Wonderland broadcast with the same title as Felixe’s post. Links to videos are on Felixe’s post or here: part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4.
Here’s a synopsis from the BBC website (I would link but it is a daily listing and I didn’t see a way to do a permalink):
“Carolyn is a 37 year-old mother of four in the midst of a passionate affair that is tearing her family apart. She’s spending up to 18 hours a day with her lover, and her husband is in despair. But the extraordinary thing about this affair is that Carolyn’s lover is man she has never met. Because he’s not a human being. He’s an avatar (or computer generated figure), who exists only in the virtual world of Second Life. And their relationship exists only in cyberspace.
The population of the virtual world Second Life has grown to over three million in the three years since it was created. It’s a world in which you can buy the things you could never afford in real life, and have the body and looks of a movie star for just a few dollars. But as relationships develop in this strange animated world, the risk is that they start to become more real than those in your first life.
In the face of fierce opposition from her husband of nine years, Carolyn flies 5000 miles to London to meet Elliot, the creator of the avatar with whom she has fallen in love, in order to see if a relationship formed in cyberspace can work in the real world. And she leaves behind her a family left rubbing their eyes in bewilderment and anguish.
This is a film about those who’ve become so disillusioned with their real life that they’ve sidelined it in favour of a virtual life. It’s about people who’ve cheated on their life partners and risked losing everything, for the promise of a life that’s so far only been experienced in the pixels of a computer screen and the dream world of their own fantasies. Deals with adult themes”
First off, I think it is indicative of the seeming need for a show like this to exaggerate the aspects that might titillate an audience that juices on Schadenfreude for not mentioning in this synopsis another pair of people they feature that met in SL, fell in love there, then met in real life, and got married simultaneously in both worlds.
This why I chose the title for this post “Your World. Your Imagination. Your escape or augmentation” because the Wonderlands episode shows two sides of a difficult balance we all must find as we add the metaverse to our palette of realities – are we escaping/neglecting the real world with our second life, or are we augmenting?
The Wonderlands episode has a lot going for it – it deftly tells a story showing us people in both their real and second lives, then we follow them as they jump a chasm of being avatars interacting meeting each other in real life. I was able to identify with many aspects that were portrayed. I have mused with a number of my SL friends about times we felt we were spending too much time, or that we were overwhelmed by our emotions, or that we were otherwise addicted to SL. We see Carolyn, who neglected her husband, kids, and house, sitting at her computer in the corner of a bedroom that appeared in the midsts of a redecorating job gone bad (the walls were mostly painted except the spot around the computer, making me wonder if she refused to move from her seat there as someone tried to paint the walls). I’d like to think the only things I have neglected for SL is theta-wave vegging with the Tivo, or drinks in the pub; with the worst neglect of which I am guilty is not getting sleep a couple nights.
One of the impressions I was left with when the credits of the episode were running was that it was like seeing a documentary on some sort of [other] addiction, such as alcohol or drugs, and how when something that can bring benefit or pleasure to us is used too much the imbalance can have very detrimental effects on our lives. When I see such a show I normally think, “sheesh, I am glad I am not one of them…”, but this was a little closer to home. Pais has been trying to learn to better understand and handle his emotions, his perceptions of himself and others, and other aspects of living in a metaverse of projected personalities.
We also might want to think about how our friends and families who don’t otherwise know about SL come to form their perceptions. There was a scene where one of the people in the episode was describing their second life, and I recognized the way they looked away from the interviewer, kind of into space, searching for how to describe some of the things we come to accept as normal in SL but can sound absolutely bizarre or unfathomable to the non-initiated. I have found that it is best not to talk too much about SL to people who believe in only one form of reality. Shows like this may give more reason to be that way, since it tends to over emphasize what can happen if we allow SL to take us out of balance, and this will certainly give some people the wrong impression.
Thanks to Felixe for providing a way for those of us not in the UK to see the BBC Wonderland broadcast.