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Friday, July 6, 2007

They call it the SL effect...

The first thing everyone does in SL is build an avatar. A persona. You, but not you. The six-million-dollar version of you: better, faster, stronger. . . also younger and prettier. All the things that you would like to be. With all the attitude and sexuality you want to display. And why not? This is a game, what is wrong with having attractive pieces. Some of us go farther. Non-humans, gender-shifting, multiple avatars and multiple persona stories. SL is all about role-playing. We can do things we'd never be able to do in real life. Live in the storylines of our fandoms. Participate in wanton sex, slave and master games, consensual violence, BDSM. Buy and sell anything, including not just our bodies, but our souls in some ways.

SL gives us the opportunity to wear complicated masks. To construct stories, behind which we are safe to escape from the complications of RL. But when does that line between RL and SL blur? When you have a mask, no one can see your real face. Or can they?

Being able to operate behind a mask gives us all a freedom that is heady and addictive. You can now be the bad-ass dude or the sexy lady. But when we act out sex and suddenly find we are falling in love, are we falling for the person or the persona? There are, in SL, a gazillion opportunities to make connections, to experience romance that we may be missing or wanting in our RLs. What happens when the RL person behind the mask starts to fall, to have real internal emotional attachment to another SL persona?

Those who say it is just an SL effect, will tell you that the emotions you are feeling are also a fantasy. You are in love in the same way anyone might have crush on an unreachable object of affection. Whether you go with it or let it go, these people tell you it will pass. And that is one way to deal with the emotions you are feeling.

But for some of us the SL persona is not too far removed from the RL persona. And the emotions, the attraction that turns to love is very real. The biological responses are all there . . . why not the psychological ones?

The irony here is that love works exactly the same in SL as it does in RL:
  • You meet someone. You find them physically attractive.
  • You flirt. You talk (most people don't realize that the largest sex organ is the brain--that conversation, flirtatious conversation, is more conducive to positive sexual experience than all the right moves in the world. This goes double in a virtual world where encounters are based, not on touch, but on narrative).
  • You date (in the RL world that tends to happen over the course of weeks or months, the ease of access in SL allows that to happen over hours and days).
  • You get even closer and have sex (in RL this takes while as we generally need to build up huge level of trust or too much alcohol, in SL however this might happen your very meeting).
  • You make each other feel good. On a regular basis.
  • You decide you can bottle and keep that feeling by tying the other person to you permanently (in RL this is marriage, in SL . . . well, people have ceremonies, but permanence ia even more ambiguous in SL)
Here is the problem. While each of us knows exactly what we are feeling, we can never--in SL or RL--know what is going on in someone else's head. Never. We can only trust in the honesty of our lovers.

I know of several RL couples who play in SL. But not with each other. One or the other partner has an SL marriage/partnership/sexual relationship with someone (or more than one) else. In the best cases all parties know and agree to allow it. are honest with each other. In some cases--and these are the ones where someone is bound to get hurt--one partner has backed off to give the other freedom to experience SL love, an SL relationship. Is that love real? I don't know, it may depend on how you define real. Love is a feeling. If you feel love it is real enough. If you love more than one person and you can't be upfront about it, if there isn't an honest attempt to make all the relationships work, you will hurt someone and likely be hurt yourself.

Love, in any reality, is based on trust and honesty. But when you open yourself up and tell honest truths, you always run the risk of being smacked down. When someone you trust is honest with you it can hurt, too. Love runs the risk of hurt because love is worth it--wherever you find it. The risk and the working through are what separates real love, wherever you find it, from shallow fantasy sexual romances.

So, yeah, I believe up-front, sometimes painful honesty. Pretty much all the time.

I also believe that there is more to SL love than just an SL effect.

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