Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Virtual Affairs: lessons not yet learned...

This article is about infidelity that occurs in the virtual world. Published on the web at MSNBC on April 16th 2007, this article goes into the emotional aspects of what can happen when online romance interferes with real world relationships.


It is written not by a social psychologist, not by a sociologist nor by a marriage therapist, but by a game editor which is the critical problem.

The author Kristin Kalning is sadly missing the entire depth and breadth of the subject in which she has cleverly exposed. A quick search finds that Miss Kalning writes for technical book publisher PeachPit Publishers a small print house for software tutorial texts. So to ask her to delve into societal or emotional pathos that her subject touches upon is beyond her breadth of knowledge at least as it appears in this article

The article primarily focuses on two couples Sam and Kat, and Max and Sarah. Though, it touches on other online worlds such as World of WarCraft (Action role playing game), the meat is about an online world known as SecondLife. As opposed to an online quest game in which the user is fighting dragons or killing secret agents, SecondLife has no quest, no death, no violence, and no crime. It is a creative simulated world where users can build, buy and own anything they can create in the virtual world. Even real world things such as paintings or music can be purchased in the online 3-D stores. Yet the article is about the jeopardy about falling in love online and its consequences…

In brief, Sam becomes obsessed with Kat in the virtual world. This online affair of avatars affects his real world marriage. Kat leaves Sam, and Sam is emotionally distraught. The other relationship, is one where Max becomes a real world jealous husband because of Sarah's constant need to be online in her second life. The two come to an impasse when Max finds that Sarah has become "virtually" married online. Sarah leaves Max, when she realizes that what she wants is a real man, that treats her more like her virtual lover. An irony that is poorly illustrated yet made by Miss Kalning.

The article uses a SecondLife Blogger to point out some of the pit falls of falling in love in a virtual world. The one that is stressed immediately, is that Sam met Kat as a female avatar. So technically, they were having a virtual lesbian affair, despite being in reality man and woman.

Now despite glossing over this as salacious, which Miss Kalning does, she avoids the entire realm of gender, power, and simulation. Understandably, these issues need more room, than her editors could have afforded. Yet, we have entered an entire world where Baudrillard's hyperreality and Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto map an entrance into a PostModern view of emotional attachment and its vast emotional cartography.

The question that the author careens around, is can romantic attachment be attained without gender? So that 3-D animation, sound effects, and a chat window can provide enough for the human to bond. Based on the examples, the answer is yes. That despite complete physical separation, the hormones are released to have us bond to these virtual mates.

Thus the essence of the article is not about the pitfalls of personal romantic destruction, but how technologies can destroy our sense of gender and identity. If a man falls in love as a women avatar with another female avatar who is also in reality another man, can there be any more proof that gender may be indivisible from biology, but that our ability to fall in love can with the use of technology be extricated from cultural chains that bind us to gender.

Though this requires deeper analysis than this paper can provide, we also must acknowledge that other than idealized avatars and their 3-D environment, the only window of real-time interaction is a chat window. Thus, we also must note the stream of sentences are our only unfiltered connections in this simulated world. Does Whorf-Sapir provide a navigational instrument for digital text and its distilled rapid shot use as a paramour in the attachment . Yet based on the interactions, and long term relationships of these virtual players, is language gender specific? Are there metaphors, phrases, words, verbs or adjectives that would betray the virtual illusion, Miss Kalning has not a clue nor does she attempt to approach the subject.

On the other hand, I have not only approached the subject but navigated it as well. As an individual who has entered SecondLife, both as a male avatar and female avatar, one can not be truly post-modern until they have fallen in love in a virtual world and let gender slip away. Once the body is eliminated from the equation of attraction and replaced by a simulation of body, the biology of passion in a 3-D world resembles "a map of an empire" of power politics which we use gender to control our social compass. A map that covers us as completely as the skin that reacts to the touch of another human.

As J. L. Borges points out;

"On Exactitude in Science . . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography." ----- From Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, Translated by Andrew Hurley Copyright Penguin 1999 .

Therefore, if we do not analyze these monumental changes, if we do as Miss Kalning not honor the perfection of our virtual maps, we just might like Max, Kat, Sarah, and Sam be beggars or animals in the tattered ruins of our human geography, at a longitude and latitude where history and biography meet.


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