The Emotional Reality of Virtual Relationships

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Occasionally I find a post on another blog that resonates so strongly with me that I excerpt it here.  Here’s some eloquent reflections by Dove Mornington on the topic of emotional interactions in virtual relationships that occur in worlds like Second LifeI’m excerpting the first part of this post  to pique your interest–please click through to read the whole post:

“It’s only a game, Dove” were his last words to me when I stormed out of SL the other night. (Read blog below) This has started me thinking a lot about the so called “game” Second Life. Is it a game or isn’t it? For those who haven’t followed this blog and are just jumping in, Second Life is a virtual reality “game” where one creates and idenity through a character avatar, is given a psuedo name, then creates a life (a second life) within the program. Social networking with other avatars is the main idea of the game. Here a variety of activities can be experienced in three dimensional form. Unlike a regular chat program, each character avatar experiences their own created world. Unlike real life (RL) Second Life becomes anything imaginable. If you can dream it, it is there waiting for you in Second Life. The avatar becomes the extension of oneself, where real feelings are experienced to the degree one is able to allow. The interaction of one avatar to another is based in personality. Here, “in world” everyone looks perfect and attractive. We are drawn to individuals through the essence of who they are. Personality is the attraction. We get to know the persona shown to us, which may or may not be the personality of the person behind the avatar in real life. Men have been known to impersonate women and visa versa. Deep down, one never truly knows who they are “playing” with. Some people are the same as their real lives, others portray an entirely new idenity. Personality is personality however and this is truly what comes through. A kind person will be a kind person, a mean spirited one will also be that. Bottom line, no matter what the identity protrayed in the avatar, the personality of the person is going to be who they are. It’s one reason I do like the game.

Imagine a sea of souls; that is all you are able to connect with. You can not see the physical forms, just a sea of personalities. Each soul creates an image of what they would like to look like in world. In real life, we are distracted away from the personality at first for we are focused on the physical appearance, creating our own judgements and conclusions based on what we see. However, in Second Life, where everyone is beautiful, one sees the personality first. I suppose it is kind of like going to catholic school and wearing a uniform! A personality must stand out to be noticed. This is what Second Life is like.

 Now, we have entered the sea of souls. Here we find emotions and feelings alive and well. Every range of emotion is here. It is amazing to see what this “game” will bring out in one. Experiences are so numerous, that one could not encounter in a week of everyday life what they could experience in one day of playing Second Life. For this reason, the body is flooded with emotional feelings that come to the surface over many one on one encounters with other avatars….

Excerpted from MIND MATTERS by dovemornington: It’s Only A Game or Is It?.

I couldn’t agree more with the author. When you have the power to make your body look any way you like, appearance becomes inconsequential. Personality is all that really matters, and no matter who you “play” at being, you are drawing from your self. In this way, virtual worlds become a place where people can encounter the essence of others as well as of themselves. I think it’s also one of the reasons that drama can become so intense in those relationships: we bring with us all of the perceptual filters that we use to interpret the world, and there’s very little present in terms of nonverbal cues to anchor our perceptions of others, so our filters can play a larger role in these virtual contexts: a virtual blank Rorschach canvas of sorts, with very real emotions that surface.

Thanks to Dove Mornington for sharing her insights! And I would love to hear if any readers have similar or different reflections to share on this topic.

Photo by rafeejewell

9 thoughts on “The Emotional Reality of Virtual Relationships

  1. Pingback: The Emotional Reality of Virtual Relationships | Metaverse NewsWatch |

  2. Fascinating to think about. In many ways, I am intrigued by how much personality appears to flow from some individuals in social media. I have met a few people in person, like yourself, and that gives me just the extra depth I might miss through virtual connections alone. I often wish I could meet Dorlee M. as well.


  3. Yes, personality comes through more than people realize. It was great to meet you and Ellen.

    I wish I could meet Dorlee M as well…I plan to make it happen someday!


  4. Pingback: Understanding Interpersonal Drama in Virtual Worlds « Virtual Connections

  5. Here’s my take on all this. I know it’s a touch iconoclastic.

    When we meet people in RL, we are often led by physical attractiveness and we get physically involved with people long before we know them. Over the ensuing period, we then “fill in the blanks” as we get to know them, replacing our preconceptions and projections and desires with observations. And if we’re lucky we still like them at the end of it.

    In a virtual world, however, appearance is meaningless so physical attractiveness is meaningless too, and instead of being physically-led we are intellectually led – what we do is talk to each other. We get to know each other as a result and, paradoxically, do so much more deeply in a given time than in RL. Where in RL we would jump into bed, in virtual worlds we talk and very rapidly get to know each other in astonishing detail, emotional as well as intellectual. Because of that intensity we form deep relationships much more rapidly than in RL.


    • I agree completely Elrik, that must make us both iconoclasts! The best conversations that I’ve had in Second Life were reminiscent of those long conversations I had in college with good friends, or the dinner dialogue scenes from one of my favorite movies, My Dinner with Andre. The irrelevance of appearance elevated the importance of real dialogue. It’s wonderful to hear that your experience has been similar.


  6. Pingback: Virtual Connections | Svens(k) Idyll

  7. There are 3 ways of coming into a virtual world. Dissassociatively: meaning you don’t give any value to the pixels or the people behind and are purely coming in for entertainment. Immersively: Acting & reacting as if the avatar represented you and discussions are honest or you perceive they are honest. They come in to meet people and socialize. Augmentively: Those that use the virtual environment to add to real life, with work or education or even looking for real life mates.

    But just like using a hammer as a screwdriver one has to be able to use the tool in it’s proper way. Virtual worlds are amazing! They are especially good for those with handicaps or support systems for those that are home bound or taking care of the home bound.

    I give my State of Being lecture the first Tues. of every month at Rockcliffe.
    It is Chapt. Six in my book, Virgin’s Handbook on Virtual Relationships.
    I have been studying this for over six years. We just need to be gentle with each other and take ownership of the story we create in our mind.


    • Sorry for the delay in responding Pamala; I had shoulder surgery at the time you submitted your comment and I’m only now getting back into the swing of the digital world.

      Thanks for sharing your insights about virtual relationships. I might drop by Rockcliffe one of these days to check out your State of Being lecture!


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