Jealousy: An emotion that creeps into cyberspace

Let’s say I have a crush on Avatar X. And one day, your oversexed avatar flirts with my love interest, gives the digital goods a few once-overs, and then the two of you ultimately go and do the wild thang behind my back. I find out. Would I get pissed? Honestly, I’d say, shit yes! I would in fact get pissed. But to a degree.

Try as you may, it seems you can’t totally inoculate yourself against jealousy when you’re interacting in a virtual space like Second Life. It’s a pretty resilient emotion, and one whose sting can easily penetrate the online world’s virtual bubble.

The question is, where to draw the boundaries. How much do you permit yourself to be haunted by such feelings while maintaining avatar-to-avatar relationships — and in a place where there is such wonderful leeway to explore fantasy and let go of the inhibitions, prejudices and other types of hang-ups that plague us in real life?

Blixa Shirakawa, one of several Second Life residents whom I solicited thoughts from on this topic, suggests a pretty measured approach when dealing with this type of dilemma.

“I believe you must separate your feelings when you’re in-game to an extent. You can express a part of yourself and bring emotion into your avatar, but you’ve got to know where the line is drawn once things get physical,” Blixa says. “The whole purpose of the game is to explore and meet interesting people. What you choose to do with those people is solely at the discretion of the parties involved. Therefore, if you choose to become intimately involved with avatars and don’t feel like playing house with just one, you must make your intentions known up front and make sure the potential partner is OK with it. If not, do not pursue anything other than friendship.”

“I believe you must separate your feelings when you’re in-game to an extent. You can express a part of yourself and bring emotion into your avatar, but you’ve got to know where the line is drawn once things get physical.”


Blixa’s philosophy was echoed by fellow SL’er Allaria Campbell, who says she lays everything out bluntly in writing inside Second Life. All residents have to do is right click on her digital likeness and access a menu to find out how she feels about playing the field. “I think that like RL, being clear what the terms of your relationship are from early on, and negotiating any changes to those terms, are the key things,” she says. “For example: sitting in my SL profile are two things (1) don’t expect me to be faithful and (2) don’t ask me questions about RL. Clear limits, expressed early.”

Still, she admits being human is unavoidable. “Of course, it’s all too easy for your emotions to get involved and to start breaking limits that you set yourself. And if you do get too involved, then jealousy, anger and vengeance are just around the corner. I guess the key is to remember that it’s not real, and to let it go,” she says. “Having said all that, I don’t doubt that I’ll find it difficult when and if it happens to me.”

darkchyld Maeterlynck, who seems pretty wise in the ways of Web-based love and lust, says she is no stranger to feeling jealousy’s sting. “It rears its head all the time for me. I get those pangs at my heart, especially with those I have opened myself to, those that I love dearly,” she says. “That being said, I can separate sex from love. I can accept a partner having sex with the random person in SL, but it’s a partner’s TIME that I get jealous of. It’s the connection, the closeness that causes those strings of my heart to pluck.”

Personally speaking, I admit that this emotion has stirred inside of me from time to time as I have engaged with the digital characterizations in SL, although I was initially unsure whether it had been completely justified or even rational of me to do so. I almost felt ashamed of having experienced such feelings, like I shouldn’t be taking a virtual world so seriously. I mean, theoretically speaking, why should I even give a shit about the indiscreet behavior of an avatar whom I have established a romantic connection with?

Well, I happen to think that there’s a very real degree of legitimacy to online relationships, and they give rise to genuine human emotions in the people behind the avatars. Sure, you’ve got to maintain a reasonable perspective. But I think that online romance and cybersex are only going to get more commonplace as platforms like Second Life grow increasingly sophisticated and immersive and become more culturally diffused and omnipresent. And that means that human emotions will be proportionately in tow.

I really like darkchyld’s thoughts on this phenomenon as it relates to Second Life: “We all bring our real selves into this dream world, and you can’t totally divorce yourself from your avatar,” darkchyld says. “Actually, I have a hard time with the people who do nothing but role-play their avatar. My avatar is me. Not visually, but when you talk to me, you aren’t talking to some invented character — you’re talking to the person on the other side of the keyboard.”

I feel the same way.


  1. Comment by Richard on April 30, 2006 1:36 pm

    I hadn’t thought of anything like this. But given that some people have either killed themselves or a competitor over online games I’m sure many have had their heart broken because of the feelings they attached to a virtual crush.

  2. Comment by Donovan Preston on June 24, 2006 1:23 pm

    Very interesting post. I think jealousy is an emotion most modern people, especially americans, have a very difficult time dealing with. When a person feels jealous they often do not know how to react, and end up reacting in irrational and damaging ways. I believe this may be because the jealous person was not honest with themself about what they are comfortable with. Thus they are not able to articulate boundaries or concessions that would make them more comfortable and less emotional.

    Perhaps experiencing jealousy in a virtual world, acknowledging it and asking oneself what motivates it, will help people learn how to interpret this complex emotion better and deal with it in ways that are more loving and less destructive, both in virtual worlds and real life.

  3. Comment by Shai Delacroix on July 10, 2006 3:07 am

    I have been toying with bouts of online jealousy and virtual relationships. After all you are who you are and you bring that emotion with you online. Personally, jealousy is something i equate with the need to belong to someone. Unfortunately, the enticement of playing the field online is strong. But still I question the need for mapping and stalking. Not a very healthy projection of oneself.

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