It started out as a friendship, as many relationships do. And although they shared all kinds of intimacies in Second Life, the real people have never laid eyes on each other. “The fear of someone calling me up at home.” For many folks, the arms-length quality of in-game romance is what separates a (fairly) harmless experiment from actual infidelity.But gradually Sam's feelings for Kat, a beautiful, smart and confident woman, had turned romantic. If these intimacies, no matter how personal, never translate into a real-world meeting or real-life sex, can it be considered cheating? They bonded intellectually, emotionally, and yes, thanks to Second Life animations, even physically. Unlike his avatar, which is female, in real life, Sam is a man. “With Second Life, there wasn't the fear of a real-life physical attachment,” he says. So although he acknowledges feeing some guilt, he didn’t see the online affair as being as damaging as a real one. Some gave us their avatar names, while others went with pseudonyms.) Sam knew from the outset that he had no intention of ever meeting Kat in real life. (As you might imagine, some people interviewed for this story did not want to reveal their full names.The majority of people who responded to the MSNBC.com/i Village Lust, Love and Loyalty survey think it can — although that characterization tends to skew along gender lines.Sending a sexually flirtatious e-mail to a co-worker?
Ratchet that up to online talk or “Webcamming,” and the cheating meter ticks up slightly: 57 percent of men think that’s a no-no, while 77 percent of women do. “What looks like a hot blonde babe could be a 60 year-old man in Milwaukee.” But at some point, Sam’s in-world relationship with Kat began to intrude on his real life.A recent family vacation was punctuated by furtive Second Life meetings with his avatar girlfriend.“I dreamed up any excuse I could with my family to tell them I needed to get online for a few minutes here and there,” he says.“It was pathetic.” That’s where the lines get blurry, says P.Shavaun Scott, a marriage and family therapist from San Luis Obispo, Calif.“If people are getting their needs for love, attention, intimacy, companionship and sex from somewhere else, I think it’s cheating,” she says. “She no longer became the funny, excited and refreshing girl I had fallen for,” he says.