Love the One You're With

Love the One You're With
Love in the Time of Pixels

Mark Wallace | 14 Feb 2006 07:00
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This is a love story of a particular kind. It's a story of love in an online world, and of the ways it can bleed into the real world around it. It's a story of flesh and it's a story of pixels, and it's a story of how the two may interact, depending on context and how the romantic leads play out their roles.

It's the story of Diamond Hope, a beautiful avatar I met one night in Second Life, standing near a tent in a grassy field on the eastern edge of the Grid. Second Life is a virtual world of individuals more than anything else; its character creation and modification screens and the raft of user-created clothes, hair and accessories available to be purchased or made mean no two avatars look alike. And though I'd been around that world for a while, I'd rarely met an avatar who looked as fetching as Di, standing in a campfire's glow in her white boots, short shorts and halter top, a pistol strapped to her nicely curved thigh.

The nice thing about my job as a virtual journalist is it's a good excuse to be nosy. And the nice thing about working for a tabloidesque rag like the Second Life Herald is we run our "Post Six Grrrls" on a regular basis, featuring a few tastefully shot "art photos" of the most attractive avatars on the Grid. So, when I bumped into Di and started wondering, quite naturally, what was beneath her skimpy pixilated uniform, it was a quick task to line up a photo shoot with the publisher of Players, Second Life's premier in-world skin mag, and document the work of Players publisher Marilyn Murphy for an article in the Herald. When I proposed the idea to Diamond, she was delighted.

While Di may have been brave enough to bare all in Second Life, her offline existence was a bit different. In Second Life, she worked as part of the security team at a popular nightclub. In her "real" life, she was a midwestern single mother of two who would never think of taking her clothes off for the cameras. But, Di felt insulated by the virtual world. Not everyone likes the fact that the Herald publishes nudie pictures, but Di knew taking off her toon's clothes was not the same as shedding her own. Her existence in Second Life allowed her to try on (pun intended) a new persona, one just a bit brasher than the woman she had become in the midwest.

Not that that woman wasn't affected. In fact, her (real) life was radically changed. My article caught the eye of a male resident of Second Life named Unmitigated Gall, who, besides admiring Di's form, was taken by the things she said and the way she said them.

Unmitigated is a man who knows how to navigate cyberspace. He was wise enough to know a hot toon bod is one thing, but far more revealing than naked pictures are the words that provide insight into the person behind the avatar. So, when he found himself wanting to know more about Di, he sent her an instant message.

Apparently, what Di and Un learned about each other was enough to convince them they wanted to know even more. And as they explored their online relationship further, they only liked what they found.

Soon enough, I got a notice in my Second Life mailbox that the couple would be holding a virtual wedding within the world. Such events are not uncommon in Second Life, which even provides a way for residents to formalize their virtual unions through the world's user interface.

But the best was yet to come.

Shortly after Di and Un tied the virtual knot, they donned their real-life Sunday best, stood together before a real live person of appropriate authority, and said the actual words that would transform them from a couple of pixilated people who happened to meet in an online game into a couple bound together in the eyes of God and the law. In other words, they met in the real world, moved in together and got married.

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