'A couple are divorcing after a woman found her was husband cheating – with a virtual character in an online world. Amy Taylor caught estranged husband David Pollard having sex with an animated woman in Second Life. 'I went mad – I was so hurt. I just couldn't believe what he'd done,' said Ms Taylor, 28. 'I looked at the screen and saw his character having sex. It's cheating, as far as I'm concerned.'
The couple met online in 2003 and, within months, she had moved into 40-year-old Mr Pollard's flat in Newquay, Cornwall. They spent hours together on Second Life, where players create fantasy lives, with jobs and relationships. After two years, the pair married – in real life and in the game – but Ms Taylor said she knew something was wrong. 'I had my suspicions about what he was doing in Second Life,' she added. In February last year, she caught her husband's avatar, Dave Barmy, having sex with a call girl in the game. Her character, Laura Skye, hired a virtual private detective to investigate his online adultery. But Mr Pollard apologised and begged for forgiveness. But the final bombshell came this April, when she caught her husband with his new online flame, Modesty McDonnell.
Laura Skye, Dave Barmy and Modesty McDonell'I caught him cuddling a woman on a sofa in the game. It looked really affectionate,' said Ms Taylor, who filed for divorce the next day. 'He confessed he'd been talking to this woman in America for weeks and said he didn't love me any more.'
Ms Taylor said she was down for a while – but now has a new man, who she met in the online game World Of Warcraft.
(Feature by Joel Taylor for Metro)
Now, the reason that this story fascinated me so much is the question of what constitutes adultery. Where does the boundary lie between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy? Amy Taylor obviously feels that she's been cheated on - enough to divorce Pollard anyway. But does that mean that I've been adulterous because I may occasionally have harboured a pathetic smouldering lust for Lara Croft?
When we play computer games, our avatars - the virtual characters that take part in the action on our behalf - take risks and perform tasks that we would (probably) never do in real life. We can steal cars and rob banks without repercussions. We can fly planes, drive tanks and play Premiership football like Beckham without having to learn those skills. We can vicariously shoot and slash and bomb and zap people without worrying about the police knocking on the door. We can slay dragons, defeat the alien hordes and conquer the known universe without being mugged by gangs of wizards or dissolved by death rays. Virtual reality - for want of a better phrase - allows us to indulge our fantasies - our reckless, ridiculous and occasionally naughty fantasies - by proxy. But sites like Second Life are different. In these kinds of VR worlds, the people we interact with are not computer sprites. They are digital extensions of other human beings sat at their computers elsewhere in the world. When a Second Life denizen decides to have sex with another, there are two real-life consenting adults agreeing to this taking place in Second Life. There is a degree of commitment there. And an emotional connection possibly. And that's why some people claim that it's adultery.
It's amazing how divided opinion can be. I've discussed this issue with quite a few people since the story broke. A number of them - men and women - maintained that it wasn't adultery as long as it 'stays in the computer'. One chap said that he could see no difference between what Pollard did and having a sexual fantasy. In his words: 'Everyone fantasises about sleeping with other people. If that constitutes adultery now, the courts are going to be swamped.' One lady claimed that it was just another kind of pornography. She saw it as a harmless release, stating things like, 'Better they do that than have a real affair.'
But a significant number of people claimed that it was a real affair because Pollard was out to have sex with another woman, albeit by way of his intermediary, the brilliantly named Dave Barmy. The question, therefore, is what constitutes a 'real' affair? Ex-US President Bill Clinton claimed that he wasn't adulterous because he hadn't indulged in penetrative sex and because he hadn't formed an emotional bond with the female parties involved in his Oval Office shenanigans. Does adultery have to involve actual sex? Or is the intent enough? I imagine that Hillary didn't see events in quite the same way that Bill did.
Let's image that I meet a lady online - it may be through Second Life or something less graphic like MSN or Facebook or in a chat room. At what point do I stray into adultery territory? Am I cheating if I flirt? What if I indulge in some saucy chat? What about if we start sending naughty photos to each other or plugging in our webcams and performing? Where does voyeurism end and cheating begin? Is this just harmless fun or are we having an affair? Or, to take another tack, forget all the sauciness and imagine that I form a growing emotional bond with her. What if I declare my love and she does the same for me, even though we know that we will never meet for real? Is that now adultery? If so, does an ardent fan (the word derives from the word fanatic remember) commit adultery by completely idolising their actor/pop star/whatever of choice?
It's confusing isn't it?
Earlier in the year BBC2 ran a tremendous TV series called Wonderland in which we visited a number of people involved in ordinary, everyday situations. What made the series wonderful was that each situation had a bizarre twist to it. For example, one episode was about a family's agonising decision about whether to put their ageing father into a care home. What made it unusual was that Dad was veteran comic and perennial naughty schoolboy Norman Wisdom. In another, we followed a group of pensioners on a Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. But what mad ethis coach trip extraordinary was that these people were all members of an 'End of the World' cult. However, the episode* we're interested in focused upon the life of a housewife from Bensalem, Pennsylvania, called Carolyn and her addiction to Second Life. When her avatar became romantically involved with another avatar, Carolyn became convinced that she was also in love with the avatar's creator. She became so sure of this fact that her family life fell apart and she was spending 14 hours a day at the computer. Eventually she flew to England to meet Elliott, the man she believed was her soul mate ... and, as you might have predicted, was crashingly disappointed to find that they had nothing at all in common. Their Second Life avatars' personalities may have been extensions of their own, but they were fantasy personas. Carolyn and real husband Lee are now trying to put their marriage back together. Lee will tell you that cyber adultery is very, very real.
I'm afraid that you won't find any answers on this post. I just wanted to raise a fascinating topic for discussion. As we all spend more and more time in cyberspace, we may have to review and re-examine traditional, social and cultural taboos and boundaries. It could be that we will have to redefine exactly what adultery is for the purposes of law. As VR environments become ever more realistic, the lines of demarcation between reality and fantasy are starting to blur. Thanks to CGI, we now regularly witness things in movies that look utterly realistic despite the fact that they do not even come close to representing reality. It's also happening in the 2D world where the old adage of 'The camera never lies' is now completely redundant. Almost any magazine portrait is now tweaked, airbrushed or otherwise Photoshopped. It's already creating a generation of kids who look at these blemish-free, super-skinny images and feel inadequate. Is it any wonder they seek solace in the perfect avatars available in cyberspace?
It makes you think doesn't it?*The episode was called Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love.