Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Do androids dream of electric sheep?

(A tip of the hat to Philip K. Dick for one of the great titles of all time.)

OK, we're back to the love for a bit. Just what does it mean when avatars love each other? Does that make any sense? Is this just a game, or is it more?

Here is another case where I'll offer a personal view that might or might not apply to any other relationship in Second Life. I don't know about SL love in general. I can't even speak for Patrice. I know about what I myself have experienced.

Back in the early days, I thought I loved M-. What did this mean? It meant I—the real life "I"—was happy to see him, or even to IM with him when we didn't have time to meet. It meant that I found him—his avatar—attractive. It meant that I thought he had a great personality. It meant that I found making love with him—SL sex—to be a wonderful experience. In First Life terms, this is more like falling in love, more like infatuation, than it is like loving someone over a long period of time, through thick and thin. It's easy to fall in love in SL, just as it is in FL. It's easy to become infatuated.

Did this "love" mean anything in First Life? I am very happy with my SO. M- has an SO as well (I didn't know that at the time), and presumably he is happy with her. Yet we found each other in SL, had feelings for each other, talked a great deal, and had SL sex. Was this an affair? Good question, and I don't have a good answer for it. I can only say that my attachment was confined to SL, and it seemed not to affect the relationship between me and my tolerant SO.

(Note: I do not do cybersex in SL. SL sex affects me, sometimes very strongly, but for the most part, I keep both hands on the keyboard. Some people occasionally have trouble typing, and I have no problem with that. For me, SL sex is more "psychosomatic"—it affects me mentally and emotionally and therefore physically. I have found that imagination is a powerful thing.)

Later, I grew to love Patrice. This started out much the same way as I described—falling in love, an infatuation. But we have stayed together. We have spent a lot of time together. There was a crucial point for me in our relationship, and this is a very personal thing to relate here. It was a night when a lot of things were broken in SL, including animations. We couldn't use the bed for sex, nor any pose balls. There were no animations. I mentioned earlier that SL sex is basically talk anyway, although the animations help. Well, that night, Patrice talked through making love with me, without any animation, without any visuals, and it was one of the most amazing, profoundly touching things I have ever experienced. I cried like a baby. It still affects me when I think about it.

We have had other moments like that, not necessarily involving sex, moments of profound connection. We are not just lovers, but friends as well. We are not alike, yet we often think the same thought at the same time. Our friend Push says "jinx" when this happens. We say "sync." It's not bad luck. But it's odd.

So does this have any meaning in First Life? FL Patrice and FL VĂ©ronique do not know each other directly. We are both circumspect about sharing details of First Life. We know a lot about each other, but we do not know each other. Our SL characters know each other. Even so, even though our avatars are virtual, we feel real emotions in First Life when our SL characters interact. Perhaps for some people, SL "love" is just a game, a matter of role playing. For us, it doesn't work that way.

My SO says we are in a polyamorous relationship. SO is right. SO shares me with Patrice, and Patrice's SO shares her with me. We both know where SL ends and FL begins. We are not crazy. But our relationship and our friendship, as well as friendships we have with other SL avatars, are real in some way. And I'm glad for it. SL has enriched my life. Complicated my life, to be sure, but enriched it as well. And that's extraordinary.

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