SLE Ticker

18 Years and counting...Got SL News? Get it Published! Contact Lanai Jarrico at

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blurring the Lines Between SL and RL -DoctorKaren Kanto Reporting…

There is, and has always been, a lot of discussion and even argument about the lines and boundaries between "real life" and "second life".

In this short piece, I hope to explore some of the issues involved in this, some of the potential dangers, potential benefits, and, ultimately, answer the question, "Can an SL relationship lead to lasting love?" In this, I am following many other authors who have written great pieces on the subject. This is simply my contribution to the mix.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's start with some definitions. Real Life (RL) is that set of experiences you have while you are alive. Second Life (SL), on the other hand, is a computer network-mediated means of communication and interaction. As such, it is just one of all the various ways you might communicate or interact in your RL. SL is a part of RL. SL IS RL. So those who assert that "this is a REAL person behind my avatar" are quite correct. Up to a point. Not all of RL is "the same thing". To understand SL better, let's look a moment at RL and the concept of multiplicity of personality.

When you are in the physical presence of your mother, you likely behave and speak differently than you do when you are with a friend, and differently in both those situations from when you are with your boss, or enemy, or lover, etc. You may even be called by different names in the different settings. For most people, this creates no problem most of the time, as they readily move from one role the next with no disruption of memory or sense of self. We all have many parts of our selves, and these show up in lots of ways, mostly quite functional. Very few of us are the same "me" everywhere we are. Most of us are comfortable being "ME" with a wide array of "me"s that we can be. Many times, we create boundaries between the various "me"s, for instance by not bringing work home, or letting go of the argument we had with the spouse a moment ago in order to care for the child now. Few boundaries are perfect, and one "me" is likely to impact another "me", but to varying degrees and effects. It is the boundaries, not the multiple "me"s, that determines how much "me"s impact one another.

That said, we can look at SL as simply another "me".  The boundary between the SL "me" and the rest of our RL "me"s can be strong or weak, opaque or transparent. There are advantages and disadvantages to each end of the spectrum. Most people will ride somewhere in between.

Advantages of opaque boundaries: Your avatar is free to be whomever you wish and do whatever you wish without impact on the rest of your RL. (This is limited by your own internal boundaries, of course. If your emotion in SL cannot be contained, it will spill out into the other aspects of your RL time.) You can explore any situational, behavioral or emotional context that you are able to handle. Whoever the rest of your "me"s might be need not come into play. What happens inworld stays inworld.

Disadvantages of opaque boundaries: Your avatar is free to be whomever you wish and do whatever you wish without impact on the rest of your RL. This means that you are able to behave in ways that may hurt those behind their avatars, whether you mean to or not so the burden is on you to take sufficient care with your avatar so as to avoid harming others. You cannot use voice inworld. You cannot post RL pictures or describe your offworld life. You cannot cite your experience, knowledge or training. This can end up feeling disconnected or lonely. There are no offworld meetings, no extensions of relationships beyond the SL context, no direct enrichment of RL. What happens inworld stays inworld.

Advantages of transparent boundaries: You don't have to remember who "you" are. It is just "you".  You can be open and direct in all of your dealings and have access to all of the experiences, knowledge, and training you possess. You can bring offworld resources and systems to bear (e.g. email, telephone, skype). SL connections can become RL connections, which can allow good relationships to flower. You have no concern about exposure since you have nothing hidden.

Disadvantages of transparent boundaries: You are ONLY who you are. You cannot readily invent a new or different "me" from which to act. You cannot do or be in SL anything that you would not or could not in RL. Your RL existence is open to a great many anonymous players, some of whom may turn out to be malicious in intent, and may attack your offworld resources and relationships. SL connections can become RL connections and entanglements, which can allow bad relationships to explode. With nothing hidden, everything is exposed, and to an audience of people mostly unknown to you, and this level of visibility may feel intolerable.

There is, of course, a middle ground between transparency and opacity. It is nearly impossible to be an entirely different "me" than any of the other "me"s of your "ME", so some of the SL avatar is going to reflect that. This still allows for a large degree of freedom from which to act, and, while limited somewhat, an essentially secure anonymity. Voice can be used, though it will reveal some things about you. You can reveal the region in which you live in RL, to greater or lesser extents. Each bit of information contributes to the overall breaching of the boundary. The extent to which you allow the breaches will depend on your own circumstances and your risk tolerance. There is no absolute answer to how much boundary transparency is the right amount. Consequently, there is no valid means by which anyone can judge someone else's level to be wrong. It's your call.

Finally, "Can an SL relationship lead to lasting love?" Sure, why not? If you can sustain a love relationship in other aspects of your life, there is no real barrier to doing so in SL. This, however, begs a few questions.

"Are there problems with turning an SL love relationship into a RL love relationship?" Yes, a lot, especially if both your boundaries were not fully transparent. The RL meeting of SL lovers is a story often told, and with a wide variety of outcomes from glorious to horrendous.

"Are there problems with the development of SL love relationships?" Yes, quite a few. For all of its visual, auditory and text communication channels, SL is still a fairly constricted bandwidth as human communication goes. Pacing, tonality, intonation, accent, volume, inflection, body language, odor, skin texture, dryness or sweatiness, facial expression and more are all lost in SL, either not represented, weakly represented or entirely misrepresented. What is left is a relatively thin channel of information with a lot of missing data. To make up for that missing data, our minds tend to fill in the gaps, fleshing out our sense of the person with whom we are interacting. More often than not, we flesh out the data with what we would LIKE the data to be, and thus make the other into the person we would like them to be. As long as their behavior does not violate our perception of them, this is sustainable. If, however, their behavior becomes unexpected and does not fit our model of who they are, we can become very disappointed, hurt or even feel betrayed. The "soul mate" becomes the crashed and burned disaster.

There is a value in limiting the demands placed on an SL love relationship, so as to avoid this starburst effect. SL relationships CAN lead to lasting love relationships, in SL and RL, but they are not really likely to do so at a much higher rate than any other relationships we might have outside of SL, and they will require similar levels of care, engagement, tolerance and compassion.


  1. " More often than not, we flesh out the data ..............."soul mate" becomes the crashed and burned disaster. "- was one of the most insightful things I have read in a long time.
    " Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us By Ross Rosenberg " is an example of effort in this direction.
    But your analysis has a more realistic and straighter view. Enjoyed it.Good reading !


Comments will be reviewed and posted within 24 hours. Please note any abusive content or outside promotional links may not be approved.