The main online story in the UK this week has come from an unlikely quarter. You might think it would be about Labour’s revival in the polls or the ongoing financial meltdown. Perhaps US President-elect Obama’s continued online engagement via email and YouTube. Maybe even the closing down of one of the biggest email spam outfits in the world. But no, the main story has been a British couple’s divorce over Second Life.
Amy Taylor and David Pollard met in Second Life in 2003 and married both online and in real life in 2005. However, the marriage has since fallen apart after Amy caught David’s character with a call girl and then having an affair with another character in the game. The story has caught the British press’ imagination and had led to some rather unkind stories about the pair (they’re both obese and computer game addicted, making them an easy target).
However, these events do lead us to a more serious question – where does the online world end and real life begin?
The couple in question met via Second Life and got to know each other through their characters in the game. By all accounts, much of the ‘quality time’ they spent together was done in Second Life. So is it reasonable to assume that an affair in Second Life is every bit as real as one in the off-line world?
Second Life, like many other online games, has a thriving economy attached, both within the game and in the real world. Players can both earn and lose money through their online actions.
Even Public Administrations are getting in on the act, with Manchester Council and the British Council setting up areas to encourage the gaming community to get involved in politics and democracy.
But has it all gone too far? Are the British tabloids right to poke fun at two people who seem to spend their lives in online worlds rather than the real world? Should we be worried about obsessive gamers losing money in cyberspace at a time when most people are saving pennies in the face of very real financial crises? And should Public Administrations be spending time and resources reaching out to online gamers – a population who are likely to be internet-savvy and literate and therefore not exactly hard to reach – when they could be reaching out to the genuinely socially excluded?
In short, is the obsession with having a ‘Second Life’ getting in the way of having a real life and should we care?