If the media are extensions of our senses, the internet is wired directly to our genitals.
Every fetish, every desire, can be met vicariously, as voyeur or exhibitionist. People feel free to share their most degrading fantasies with total strangers. Silicon citizens flirt, fuck, woo, cheat, and cohabit in cyberspace. Love, lust, and emotions that don’t have names are fed in chat rooms, across IM space, in Facebook messages and Twitter kisses.
So, of course, in the world of online games there are relationships too, torrid and emotionally intense as meat space. Often, they are more visceral than chat room flirtation because the world around the partners is persistent.
So here’s something to mull. If you divorce your husband the troll, who gets to keep the castle? Sound insane? Trust me, I’ve seen virtual world “divorces” end with almost as much venom and bitterness as any real world divorce. The saving grace with the pixels? Killing the virtual offending troll doesn’t land you on death row. In fact, in the right game, a player can even enjoy killing an ex over and over and over again!
But peel away the layers of technology and high def graphics, online amour is ultimately all about time. “Time jealousy” is the greatest risk in online relationships, especially within shared worlds, and also in the weird interface between virtual and real space. Even if your boyfriend is tolerant of you having make-believe sex with muscular fantasy objects, he is likely to resent the loss of your company when he wants to watch a movie or share the sofa while he watches muscular fantasy objects beat each other up on a football field.
The variety of reactions from significant others to fantasy world cybersex is endless, fascinating, and diverse. Please don’t get me wrong. It can be serious business. There have been divorces over Second Life relationships and countless engagements have been broken over World of Warcraft (WoW) addiction. Support groups exist for men and women whose partners spend hours in various on line worlds including Everquest and WoW.
But there are other reactions as well. My partner Drake used to play with a female player whose spouse was not only okay with her having steamy encounters in games, but who encouraged her because the cybersex warmed her up for real world action. Cyber ménage foreplay, as it were. I’d like to see some marriage counselor wrap themselves around that one!
In online worlds, especially the complex, goal-driven games like WoW and Age of Conan, one of the most valuable resources for any player is a reliable playmate. Even if the idea of roleplaying sex is repugnant to a player, a dependable companion to help kill those tough dragons is essential. Some of the content in these games requires staggering commitments of time and whole groups become interdependent on the availability of players with particular skills, such as healing.
This is where things become interesting. As everyone knows, the faceless internet tends to erode social skills rather than to encourage them, but consideration and communication, the foundation blocks of social life, are absolutely essential if one is going to have a successful online fantasy life, with or without sex.
So, how does this consideration work? What kinds of agreements, spoken and unspoken, can exist between cyber playmates? That’s coming up next.