For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in…cyberspace?
Does the age-old marriage vow of fidelity need to be updated to make husbands and wives responsible for their behavior online?
Infidelity is “just as painful, whether it’s electronic or physical,” says an expert in how the internet affects relationships. “For awhile there was this impression that as long as it’s online, it doesn’t matter. But research has shown it’s not a separate world.”
In what is said to be the first case of its kind, a woman is now divorcing her husband after catching the animated character he created online having a fictional affair in a computer role-playing game with an animated online character created by a woman he’d never met.
“It’s cheating, as far as I’m concerned,” said the 28-year-old aggrieved wife.
The couple, married for three years and living in England, originally met online as fans of the cyberspace community Second Life, a game in which players create animated fantasy alter egos called avatars, and act out virtual lives with virtual relationships. It was in Second Life that the husband’s avatar strayed, though he says, “I don’t think I was really doing anything wrong.”
That one cartoon character cheating on another cartoon character could trigger a real-life divorce caught the attention of psychologists around the world. A British newspaper reported that counselors had found “an increasing number of people whose real-life relationships were falling apart because of what was happening in their parallel, unreal worlds.”
“If you travel in that territory,” warned a San Diego psychologist, “it is unmapped, unchartered, unpoliced, unsupervised. Somebody’s going to get hurt…I don’t think that people are fully aware how deeply they can hurt one another with these types of games.”
Tell us what you think: Where does personal responsibility begin and end when it comes to the actions of fictional online characters? Should cheating with an avatar even be considered as grounds for divorce?