Cyber love – is it for real?

Some nights ago, I turned on the TV and found myself drawn into the BBC documentary shown on our local channel entitled Wonderland: Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love.

The programme features 37 year-old American suburban housewife and mother of 4, Carolyn having a passionate affair. She spends up to 18 hours a day with her lover in Second Life, the immersive, 3D online website. Her Second Life lover, Elliot lives in London and keeps asking to meet her.

So immersed and engrossed is she in her Second Life relationship, that she neglects her children and her hapless husband, who must be so madly in love with her (or just mad) that he’s willing to overlook his wife’s obsession and stay by her side, as she works out her feelings for an avatar. Her home is a mess and her bed is left unmade as she sits at the side of the bedroom typing away on her keyboard, transforming herself into a voluptuous Amazonian-type goddess in Second Life. Of course, Elliot is a hunky stud in warrior garb on Second Life. When Amazonian-like goddess meets Zulu-like stud, how can (virtual) sparks not fly?

After about 8 months of online relationship, Carolyn decides to make the trip to London to meet him and to see if their virtual love could transcend the online world’s seeming perfections and make it in the real world. Well, what did you think will come out of it? I think the outcome should be pretty obvious.

For those who missed it, there are blogs on Second Life that feature it and I found one on  The Grid Live that shows various snippets of it, or you can catch the first ten minutes on a Youtube clip.

While some laud her act and see it in a romantic light – woman abandons old humdrum life to seek new life and new courage – many are critical, and see her as needing to get her act together and needing to basically get a life.

Some see Second Life as an escapism – into a world in which you could be whoever you wanted to be. You could have your very own beach house or mansion. (This should make it very popular with land-scarce Singaporeans!) I mean, hey you could even fly!

Another couple was featured on the programme and they got married in Second Life – the bride looked resplendent in her white gown and unimaginably huge train that would have tripped anyone within a 5 metre-radius if it were in real life, and the guests even cried tears of joy! It’s just like the real thing – gushed the bride – you have to pick the gown, the venue and the flowers. She mentioned that her Second Life experience gave her the courage and confidence she needed to socialise and get her life together, and now she’s engaged to be married to her Second Life husband, this time in real life.

So, is virtual love for real? Is cyber adultery the same as real adultery? Should Carolyn’s husband be jealous of an avatar? Should Carolyn go for treatment for online addiction? Should Second Life marriages be legalised? Or perhaps this last one is pushing it…Well, what do you think?

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Gaming as lifeskills for the future

There’s no doubt that gaming has captured the hearts and imagination not only of  children, but adults as well.  

In an interesting article entitled Gaming? It’s no child’s play, we are told the virtues of gaming. Very much like what Marc Prensky (the guy who popularised the terms digital natives and digital immigrants) has said in his book, “Don’t bother me, Ma. I’m learning”, gaming has come a long way in shedding its image of schoolboys hanging around LAN clubs and playing games, to becoming an activity that is seen to have educational and lifeskills training!

There are currently an estimated 100 million gamers worldwide, according to Mr Eric Lesser, associate partner, IBM Institute for Business Value. And according to two studies conducted by IBM, MIT, Stanford University and Seriosity (a software start-up), “online games can help tomorrow’s workers become better corporate leaders as the workspace becomes more distributed, collaborative and virtual in nature.”

It seems that playing massive multi-player online role playing games can actually help you to pick up interactive and communication as well as leadership skills as you interact, collaborate and compete with thousands of other gamers, on a global basis!

And with things being played out in real time, players need to make snap decisions and adapt to the ever changing environment. And such skills honed in the virtual game worlds can have real benefits and it’s suggested that employers of the future look out for people who have played games as they have picked up those requisite skills.

Hm..so it’s no longer taboo to put gaming or playing games as one of your interests in your resume!

But of course, the consequences of  ‘game over’ in the virtual and real worlds have vastly different consequences and that’s something players need to be made aware of.  “Leaders in the future will need to be able to tolerate and manage informed risk to be successful in an increasingly fast and complex environment,” said Mr Lesser. 

In another interesting article, Avatars without borders, we learn that the creator of Second Life and IBM have joined forces to enable people’s animated online personae, aka avatars to rmove freely from one virtual world to another.

Currently, avatars are stuck in the world they inhabit, so an avatar in Second Life has to stick around Second Life worlds. Given that people spend so much time and money customising their avatars, getting new wardrobes, hairstyles, gestures, etc, they don’t really want to repeating the processes in multiple virtual worlds. This creates an obstacle to the full potential of the online universe to allow for avatars to socialise, advertise, do business and make money. 

“We don’t think the future of virtual worlds is going to involve a lot of ‘siloed’ experiences competing against each other. The future is going to involve going from one world to another, ” says, Mr Yoon of Linden Lab. According to Gartner research firm, 80 per cent of the people using the Internet will have alter egos in virtual worlds by 2011. IBM also has its vision of a “3D Internet” that includes companies using virtual worlds for tasks such as recruiting, meetings and employee training. Hm..imagine your avatar going for an interview online in your future virtual company! Better start practising your online interview skills! And make sure your avatar can fly straight!

So, once again, the gaming and virtual worlds are having more and more impact on the real world we inhabit. It’s no wonder some are beginning to not know where to draw the lines.