Verdict of the Week

Virtual Affair Leads to Real Life Divorce

There is nothing unusual about a woman divorcing her husband for having an affair, but what about if the husband was faithful to her in real life, but was having a fictional affair with another fictional character in cyberspace?

Fiction has spilled over into reality for one British couple who are divorcing after the wife discovered her husband was using the virtual reality site, Second Life, to live out his fantasies with an online alter-ego.

On the Second Life site, players can log in and be who ever they want to be. They create a virtual alter ego in the fantasy world, which they fully control. They can move around the imagined world, meet people, socialise , buy land, homes, go shopping, and set up businesses, all with the game's virtual currency.

In this case, the husband was pretending to be a dude called Dave Barmy, and in the game he was married to his real life wife's alto ego as well, but her Second Life world fell apart when she discovered his alto ego having a virtual affair with a virtual prostitute in the game. The couple managed to work things out but filed for real life divorce when she caught him chatting intimately and being very affectionate with up another woman again in the pretend world.

The husband admitted he was having an online relationship with another virtual woman, but in reality she lived in America and they weren't even having cyber sex, virtual or otherwise and he insists he was doing nothing wrong.

The virtual world Second Life is very popular because it allows its many devotees to live out their fantasies harmlessly, and online, without hurting anyone and should, in the most part, be regarded as nothing more than fantasy. The trouble is that there is obviously a degree of reality to the game, in that the person who controls the character is a real life person.

And this is where the confusion lies with this case. The realities of the real life unhappiness of this couple have manifested themselves into the Second Life fantasy.

The eCourt Verdict is, that, al though the two worlds are inevitably entwined and will be forever linked by the people who control them, it must remain that online gaming is not reality but a fantasy that should not be held accountable to events in real life. To do otherwise is to risk convicting Shakespeare for murder every time we read Macbeth.


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