“My boyfriend cheated on me,” A said. It sounded strange, coming from the lips of an 11-year old.
“How do you know he cheated?”
“I saw him with another girl.”
“Maybe he was just being nice to her.”
“No, I heard them talking, and he was saying how he loved her and everything.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay. I’ll just dump him.”
A was talking about her experiences in Wee World, a virtual world for adolescents. The interesting thing was that A talked about her cyber boyfriend like a real boyfriend (she didn’t refer to him as her “Wee World boyfriend”) and I didn’t find out that he was a cyber boyfriend until much later in the conversation.
Having a boyfriend/girlfriend seems to be an extremely prevalent phenomenon among young people, and many of them are even getting married (in the online world). I’m not sure what it means to be an online married couple, especially for children. I’ve talked with a lot of adults in Second Life who get married (in Second Life) and it’s a combination of role-playing and true feelings, depending on the individual. But what does it mean for kids to get married in virtual worlds? And why would they get married instead of just being boyfriend/girlfriends?
I’m not interested in people who re-enact their marriage in virtual worlds because they got married in the real world. I’m interested in people who get married in the virtual world where it purely stays virtual…or does it? It’s certainly an interesting question, because I’ve seen so much of these youth marriages taking place in virtual worlds and MMOs. It makes you rethink about what marriage is. People talk about marriage as a social practice, and how the decision is not just driven by emotional decisions, but religious, political, and economic reasons. In the virtual world, however, there are few, if any economic benefits to being an online couple (There are some exceptions, like the Sims, where it’s actually beneficial to get married in order to pool your assets). You don’t get tax breaks, there is no financial cost that is offset. There is also no political pressure to get married. There are no religious reasons to get married.
One explanation could be that kids play make-believe of what they see adults do. Or maybe the systems are encourage marriage, by creating venues for weddings. But what about adults? Perhaps marriages in virtual worlds reflect true emotional connection, or maybe as human beings, we have a limited capacity for emotion and thus feel safer in a situation that enforces and maintains bonding between two individuals. This could be because loneliness is amplified in virtual worlds if one does not have any social connections, thus people try to join groups such as guilds or make partners. On the other hand, the ease in which people enter and break up marriage is somewhat disturbing. If today’s youth are used to forging and breaking marriages in virtual worlds so easily, would their real-life marriages also follow a similar pattern?
Here is one of many videos that I found on YouTube documenting virtual weddings (this one is in Habbo Hotel):