LOVE AND SEX IN VIRTUAL REALITY
Please spare a brief, sympathetic thought for poor Sue of Phoenix, Arizona, whose husband spent thirty hours a week on Second Life, pretending - or being - a 6’9” muscular giant from the Netherlands called Dutch Hoorenbeek who had his own virtual island. Her husband had even taken on a ‘virtual’ wife called Tenaj Jackalope, the Second Life identity of Janet Spielman.
Said the flustered Sue to The Wall Street Journal: "You try to talk to (Ric) or bring (him) a drink, and (he)' ll be having sex with a cartoon."1
It’s wise not to comment on the relationships of others, but it would appear that the marriage of Sue and Ric Hoogestraat may be a little troubled.
A quick look on Facebook for a ‘Ric Hoogestraat’ brings up someone of the same name in Tonopah, Arizona (about fifty miles from Phoenix). Ric, it seems, is now married to someone called Janet Spielman. Now that’s a new definition of ‘augmented reality’.
The relationships we have within social virtual reality (VR) will cause and come under the same pressures as the ones in the real world. What is not apparent is where the lines are to be drawn in VR experiences.
DRAWING THE LINES
Let’s play ‘Let’s Pretend’ for a few minutes and say that you are a couple in the real world but not in the virtual reality world. One day, you find out that your partner has been leading a secret life within a VR platform such as MATERIA.ONE. What if they’ve been watching and participating in virtual reality porn? Is it a betrayal?
For starters, what you are doing on the social VR platform. Are you flirting, being within a ‘romantic relationship’, calling someone your ‘other half’, or is it merely a sexual engagement? Is it a continuing thing, or just a one-off? Is it VR love or VR sex? How do you even define ‘virtual sex’ in a vr world?
And who are you doing it with? Is it with one extra partner or a series? What if you experiment with someone of a differing gender to the person you are in a primary relationship with? What about a harmless conversation that suddenly veers suddenly into romantic territory?
Is it a romantic relationship if you are pretending to be someone else? If you had the screen name of ‘The German Lovehammer’ and were entangled with someone online called ‘Madame Thunder’, is it cheating if you’re just playing a character?
That’s assuming that they’re human. If the other party is not a real person’s avatar, but an entirely computer-generated creation, is that stepping out on your real-world relationship? Can you cheat on your partner if the someone else isn’t even a real person?
There’s no easy answer as advanced AI and analytics continues to offer deeper, more sophisticated, better-tailored two-way interaction between user and interface. At one point, if you were having a relationship with that AI, would you slip into a Her-like situation?
It’ll also be interesting to see how interactive VR porn will become. It will no longer be just about video gaming when you put on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive-like VR headset and strap into one of many VR systems.
A couple of years ago, Zoltan Istvan wrote about infidelity and VR for Motherboard. He compared it to the high-end RealDoll company in Japan that creates customized sex robots. They are obviously not virtual reality systems but they’re in the same ballpark.
As Istvan put it, “I feel more comfortable having so-called extramarital sexual liaisons in cyberspace with software than the real world with a robot that calls out my name and asks me how my day went.”2
IS THIS THE REAL LIFE, OR IS IT JUST FANTASY?
There is also the question, if you are using your own name and persona, as to whether your virtual life will spill into your real one, like our unhappy three in Arizona. For most, this would not be the smartest move. Meeting anyone in real life is always a disappointment.
The truth is that all relationships operate on a foundation of what is permitted and what is not. There are some happy couples for whom their red lines are in alignment from the beginning. For the rest of us, however, there is a period of negotiation at the start. And perhaps that is the core of it, the idea that cheating is a betrayal of what has been decided and settled.
One of our staff at Staramba said that they classified intimate relationships in two ways: sex and love. They said that you can have people that you sleep with, but that these do not have to be the person you love, or vice-versa. The most-important thing, they say, is that the trust is not breached.
As ‘VRising’ said on Reddit, “Depends how open your relationship is. Some people are okay with their flirting with other people as long as they don’t sleep with them. Swingers, on the other hand, are okay with partner swapping for a night. Cheating is more a betrayal of trust and as long as rules are established first, we don’t really know what people's’ definitions [are].”3
Please chew on all that for a while. Right now, I need to get back into a virtual reality system. There is someone on there called ‘Mistress Hammerpants’ that I really need to get back to speaking to.
- ‘Is This Man cheating on His Wife?’, The Wall Street Journal wsj.com/articles/SB118670164592393622
- ‘Is An Affair in Virtual Reality Still Cheating?’, Motherboard motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/53dzb3/is-an-affair-in-virtual-reality-still-cheating
- ‘Is an Affair in Virtual Reality Still Cheating?’, Reddit reddit.com/r/oculus/comments/3tq6n7/is_an_affair_in_virtual_reality_still_cheating