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Aug 15, 2007



FYI, The BBC story on Mark Griffith's research gives a bit more information and does end with focus on the considerations of obsessive vs healthy play.


It's a matter of measure and moderation, as anything else. And things are different when we're talking about an addictive product/service/environment. When " going to have a booze " became a hobby, you already have a problem. Wait , you're happy, you don't have any problems : we do.


Great point. I remember running into this same crap with the internet in schools in the late 90's. All of a sudden people were going off about how the web was going to cause plagarism. You had to keep reminding them that this was not a new problem - the solution is the same it has always been - teach kids that it is wrong. Not to mention that typically a solution emerges (but only after the initial negative press has taken hold) that alleviates the problem in new and interesting ways. Look at turnitin.com as a way of proactively catching plagarists that never existed before. In the end all the tech did was amplify behavior on both ends of the spectrum - it didn't actually change anything in the underlying dynamic.


Perhaps its not only a matter of addiction and obsessive versus healthy play. Episodes like these demonstrate an undeniably greater social trend towards a future that looks more like Blade Runner than Snow Crash. Man's perpetual obsession to recreate himself continues as this story demonstrates. For its not the medium that defines the addiction, but the player which defines the addict. That said, numerous studies have shown that people's behavior is largely a product of the environment in which they were raised and that in which they inhabit. Nature versus nurture. Although Second Life is hardly to blame for these tragic tales, "avalanched beyond repair," there is something to be said for how virtual worlds such as Second Life offer microcosms for otherwise questionable social behavior. My Tiny Life all over again. Take an environment formed on the basis of user-created rapes in cyberspace and just imagine what kind of people show up. But this is hardly the only type of activity going on in SL, but perhaps the most prevalent and that which makes it a less worth while social experience. A value judgement to be sure, but shouldn't values be important? That said, 1st amendment rights are paramount to discussion. By no means am I saying anything about regulating this type of behavior, rather as Castronova, Yee and others have noted, a behavior becomes problematic when it degrades other important aspects of normal life. Second Life made this couple's already troubled marriage all the worse, despite its ability to provide an escapist outlet following the man's surgery. The question ultimately becomes, what was the aggregate effect of Second Life as a contribution to social reality? Again we come back to measuring utility and happiness, underdeveloped metrics and perhaps worthy of further discussion here? However in the end it is always fun to quote the professor: "we can only judge whether presence in a virtual world is good or bad by reference to the ordinary daily life of the person making the choice to go there." Virtual worlds, like the internet before it allows people to transgress otherwise social norms, using technology as an escapist shroud to discredit the voice of reason.


@Lee "Look at turnitin.com as a way of proactively catching plagarists that never existed before"

Yet this poses a problem as well as turnitin.com collects work for free and then proceeds to sell them...and we have another problem on our hands: one created by people though, not the underlying technology, so i agree with that point.


There's a Python sketch on "MP's Contractual Obligation" album where a man (Simpson, played by Eric Idle) with miles of string (unfortunately in 3" lengths) to sell comes to an adman (John Cleese) for help pushing it. At one point during a marvelous riff/rant, Cleese says, "It's waterproof!" Simpson disagrees, saying, "No it isn't." To which Cleese gleefully replies, "The it's water-absorbent!"

Lesson? All things are either waterproof or water-absorbent.

Except when they're neither or both or it doesn't matter to the discussion.

Will VW's end some relationships? Sure. I don't even see it needing to become an issue of addiction, overplay or doing creepy virtual stuff. Anything that you can feel strongly about and/or that takes up bunches of time -- i.e., things that are important to us -- can be causes of friction or connection.

What's new and interesting about VW's (and, still, the Web in general) is that a shared media is undeniably creating such strong feelings, whether good or bad.

The telephone didn't really do this, did it? I mean, you can use it to break up with someone or have phone sex, but how often was the phone the primary medium of a relationship? It's a tool, not a platform. Most mainstream, broadcast media are (for most of us) "receive only." Yes, I'm sure that an addiction to TV or the PS2 has ruined some lives and that people who really like the same shows and games have had that as a primary attractor.

But, again, there are very few instances of media that promote social relationships, per se. And none, that I can think of, that do so on such a granular yet global basis. IE, I can find someone very interesting to me, defined by incredibly narrow parameters... but it doesn't matter if they're in Dubuque or Dubai. As long as their tags match mine.

So... I think the "social things" being done in MMOs/VWs aren't particularly new. But a medium that encourages and allows it in such a huge way... that's kinda new, yeah. Will it "subsume RL relationships?"

Well... isn't the Web part of the real world?


I'm in agreement with all of your points about VWs, but I'd disagree strongly with you about the telephone and its use. If we are talking about a medium that allows for many to communicate with many, then yes, it sucks. However, if we're interested in one-on-one relationships, there is a rich history associated with the telephone for nurturing, sustaining, and even destroying relationships.

For instance, many people in long-distance relationships still rely on the telephone for daily communication. If we broaden how we think of "relationships" then I'd say my parents, and mother in particular, sustains her relationships with me and my sister primarily through the telephone. Lana Rakow wrote in the 90s about how it was primarily "women's work" to maintain social relationships through the phone, so that makes sense.

I also just flashed to a scene from the 80s movie When Harry Met Sally where the two stars have just watched a movie "together"-- i.e. each in their own apartment, but over the telephone. And if the telephone wasn't somehow important to relationships, why do we have the drunk dial? :P

This is mainly to say that I'd caution against dismissing the telephone as something important to relationships. It certainly has nothing on the scale of VWs, but it can be fascinating nonetheless.


@Mia: I'm not dismissing the phone as important to the maintenance of relationships. My wife and I were "long-distance" for several years before our marriage and relied heavily on it. The phone was an amazingly disruptive force (in mostly good ways), and continues to be a core technology of our lives.

What is different about the Web and VWs is that relationships can be initially formed there. I'm aware of very few instances where someone initially "met" someone on the phone and where the phone was their primary, preferred media. We talk on the phone as a substitute for talking to someone in RL. The interactions taking place online are initially enabled by the technology, and much of the congress of those relationships may be found there. For example... it might be neat to meet your guild buddies in RL... but it isn't necessary to the continuation of your friendship in and through the guild.

Phones are important, yeah. But as what we do there, primarily, is talk one-on-one, they are inherently going to be less social.


Just my anecdotal observations: I've witnessed a number of folks who've run into trouble with real life relationships and/or obligations because of virtual relationships. Some of these folks have been within my extended family.

When it comes to disrupting a marriage or screwing up one's job I think it's a matter of lowering the bar. At least the guys I know, most or maybe none of them would have been likely to engage in any type of real-world affair. In fact at least a few of them probably wouldn't ever be presented the opportunity. And if they did, they wouldn't know to hide or handle it anyway so it would be very short lived.

But virtual relationships are easily accessible. They are deceptive in that they seem to be disposable, low risk even morally defensible (alas, many on this forum have defended otherwise reprehensible behavior under the guise of 'virtual role playing'). But the emotional ties caused by virtual relationships are strong, maybe even stronger even if much more shallow than real world ones.

I think of it as a sort of cheap, mass produced, commoditization of relationships. It's not that they are bad or good, just that they're much more accessible to the masses. Once upon a time, in order to have an extramarital affair one had to actually go attract a mistress, hide the courtship from their wife, then enter into a dual existence where the cheater was perpetually in a state of double-jeopardy. The real costs of "switching off" the relationship were also inordinately higher because you risked having your pet rabbit boiled, your house burned down, or putting yourself onto death row.

As for guilds/mmogs/raids and all that stuff that takes people from riches-to-rags. That's just old fashioned addiction. Also a matter of ease of access, but many of those folks will just find some other addiction, be it golf, gambling or pretending to be army men with paintball guns.


@randolfe: My cynical side would agree with you... to a point.

My even more cynical, evil twin would say, "Any RL relationship that can be broken up by a shallow, commoditized, bar-lowered online fling wasn't much of an RL relationship to begin with."

IE, if the only thing keeping your marriage together is that having a fling is *hard*... maybe (one of) you (at least) is better off elsewhere. After all, the Book says, "...every one who looks at a woman to want her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Now... all that cynical stuff being said, I'll say some more cynical stuff. And that is that while the opportunity for true, complete relationships is probably not as high in VWs -- because the physical component and much emotive content isn't there -- that doesn't mean that you can't have *some* virtual relationships (or "eLationships" as I call them... ha ha) that are, in fact, "better" than many RL ones.

When it comes to writing, for example, I have more, good "writing buddies" on the Internet than I do in RL. Which is mostly because I have none in RL. Finding people who are good, intelligent readers, commentors, writers, etc. in my day world is pretty close to impossible. I have made good friends, however, come out of writing groups online where we then stayed in touch on other things.


randolfe, I think of it as a sort of cheap, mass produced, commoditization of relationships. It's not that they are bad or good, just that they're much more accessible to the masses. Once upon a time, in order to have an extramarital affair one had to actually go attract a mistress, hide the courtship from their wife, then enter into a dual existence where the cheater was perpetually in a state of double-jeopardy.

Tragedy of the barrens...in all this talk of protecting the integrity of virtual (real) space, what is to become of the quality of these social bonds as spillover effects? It is important to remember how these devices function as tools, enabling stronger connections to be formed rather than isolatory spaces. True new bonds can be formed, but these can then be strengthened using other tools, such as the telephone, facebook, myspace, and perhaps the occasional meeting in meat space. There is but one life. The existence of a strong bond in and of itself is not the same as a bond that transcends mediums. As the work of love in the age of mechanical sociality continues to suppress interactivity amongst and between individuals, I see these spaces as isolatory, anti-social, despite a primitive potential to transcend any one communication tool. Rather than promoting these as social spaces, we need a clear eyed view of how they are not entirely social in the larger context of society. Why limit ourselves to one space when we should be worrying how to connect. SL-AIM-WOW-Facebook-RL-What have you...we need connections and standardization. Not walls. What makes the telephone remarkably great still today is that it can be used to call ANY telephone in the world. The same cannot be said of cyberspace, despite glimpses of techno-communicative marvel.


Relationships were being created and ruined before computers were even conceived.
Media folks just like to write this kind of crap to generate drama and thus readership.
Anyone with common sense can see that games are neither the problem nor the solution, if there is at all a problem. Some people are introverted and they seek refuge in games. Same thing goes for book worms and anyone who is, by nature, not very sociable.


But that means that there is some underlying fundamental problem worth exploring. Interestingly, it seems relationships have a lot to do with augmented reality.

Ian sums it up best in a parallel thread: "Helping people understand that a metaverse does not have to be a stand alone channel, just as real life and web do not have to be stand alone channels sounds like the next big challenge. They are not just games and they are also not just stand alone.



Heres the link for convenience sake Augmented Mixed Reality


Same thing goes for book worms and anyone who is, by nature, not very sociable.

Please give me an example of a spouse leaving upon finding out their companion has been carrying on a relationship with a fictional character in a book. Please. The analogy is profoundly flawed. Technology does change things. Isn't that what half the academics on this forum actively study?


Not exactly what you asked for, but I can find with Google plenty of references to people who claim that being in love with a fictional character messes up their real love lives.

It's probably easier for a spouse to get upset and jealous over an actual person, even if it's an actual person you never met - but people have been divorced or dumped for any kind of obsession that makes them stop paying attention to their partner, not just ones that involve falling for someone else.


Most of the time blogs don't carry alot of information and just made for time pass. But I think your blog is the one where I have learned many things with your practicles and experiences. Thanks


I think internet 'addiction' is a real enough thing. God only knows I'm a bit prone to it myself. My first experiences with the social internet came around 93 on a very early local IRC thing, and it ended up in near tragedy when one of the local guys ended up hospitalised when he was caught sleeping with one of the women from the channel by an enraged husband.

But thats no different to the pub really. And god, the pub throws a bit of inhibition trashing alcohol into the mix for good measure.
As for Morals on the internet. I think its hard to really call what is moral and what isn't yet. The hard yards of philosophy for virtual morality just are not there yet. Theres been a bit of sloppy libertarianism , and far sloppier conservatism applied to the formula, but really, until we have a better idea about some of the metaphysics involved, I don't see truly coherent philosophical ethics emerging for a while yet.

Best I can come up with is "Folks with real feelings mucking about in fantasy settings". Yeah. Hard to do much with that :(


@dmx : maybe a lil Karl Popper.


Speaking of social connections vis a vis gaming...


Interesting article, saying : " my biz of 10 customers have now 17 of them, while your biz of 3000 have now only 4500 ".


The WSJ story came to my attention as an SL story in the WSJ. I'm usually a business reporter for the Metaverse Messenger, L4U and so on, but there were a few things about this story that struck me.

First, what a tawdry thing to splash a broken relationship on the front page of the Weekend section of the WSJ -- what else did this woman write for the Journal?

Second, why did this pathetic jerk spend so much time with the reporter strutting his addiction?

The first question was easy to answer. Other than an article on baby names, this is Ms. Alter's only article for the Journal. Usually she is the religion reporter for the Miami Herald and a religious news syndicate, turning out such pieces as “Doctor Says Obesity Can Be Won By Asking 'What Would Jesus Eat'” and “Jesus in Film: Faith Sells.”

The second question was a little more disturbing. I won't say that Ric/Dutch is a model of relationship skills, but he was told this story was *not* going to be about relationships. What he saw was that a WSJ reporter walked into his house and said something along the line of, "I'm here to do a story on small business in SL, can you show me everything you do?"

What small businessman wouldn't put aside food, drink, and sleep for that? Two days with a WSJ reporter? A four hour photo shoot? What's that worth in PR?

The story has Sue lionized on the Christian blogs as a model of the wronged party in a family values morality tale. I suspect the sweet, presumably Christian, reporter probably never saw Mrs. H's very explicit hejira (RL Gor lifestyle slave) blog.

Ric reports that they really broke up when, after getting fed up with SL, Sue uncollared herself and got spiteful. The SL detractors out there will probably be wondering at this point why Sue didn't "click" with the rather vibrant Gor community in SL -- but there's no accounting for it, the interface or concept just didn't click with her. Ric had tried. But Sue kept doing what she did for 6-7 hours an evening -- watching TV and spending time in online (non-3d) chatrooms.

I asked Ric if he thought there would be a story if he were an ESPN fan, spending so much time on that. He said of course not -- that's normal and accepted in our culture.

Ah yes, RL is so much messier than either SL or the simplifications of the press... (And I have 29 pages of single spaced chat logs, emails, and various reporter notebook documentation to prove it.

So you see, his relationship was a mess before Ms. Alter got there. And there are NO heros in this story.

But to me, it shows me we don't have to wait for Murdoch to take control to have editorial standards go to hell at the WSJ.

The M2 article should be available next week at http://metaversemessenger.com.


Wow, now that's backstory.


Or a whole lot of words amounting to an ad hominem argument. But at least it includes a few non sequiturs for good measure.

Ease of access matters. But if inappropriate analogies win the day yet again: do all those in the "he'd have found another way to ruin the relationship..." camp also believe that putting guns in everybody's hands has no affect on violence? Guns don't kill people... That's your fundamental argument.


"Andy Havens says:

@randolfe: My cynical side would agree with you... to a point.

My even more cynical, evil twin would say, "Any RL relationship that can be broken up by a shallow, commoditized, bar-lowered online fling wasn't much of an RL relationship to begin with."

Well, Andy , that wouldn't be cynical for an argument, but childish .Relationships are life processes and the day have only 24 hours.
If " playing " the game is performing, why don't you compare : seeing a porn movie , with performing in one.


Of course the medium creates opportunities, just as cell phones have dramatically facilitated extramarital affairs in real life, making them (seemingly to the unwitting participants) "easier" to carry out and hide and so forth (ask any divorce lawyer about this). The real issue comes from whether someone is capable of maintaining adequate boundaries.

I don't subscribe to the "one seamless world" concept. My doings in SL begin and end there. I have relationships there and I do not want them to bleed into my real life -- that's the point for me of Second Life to begin with. If I wanted to meet people for my real life liasons on the internet, I wouldn't use Second Life as the platform for that. The problem arises, however, when people are approaching Second Life with a kind of "Web 2.0" approach, as if it is some sort of graphically enhanced MySpace. It isn't. If you proceed down that path and don't maintain a barrier between your real life and what happens in the VW, you very well may walk down a path that will end up hurting, to some degree, your real life. If you don't maintain that barrier in the context of relationships, then of course there will be problems, just as there would be with any kind of extra-marital relationship, regardless of where it started. Blaming the VW as being a kind of "new platform" for "cheating" seems pretty misplaced when even today, the majority of these kinds of "dalliances" begin at the workplace, not in cyberspace.

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