Avatars in love

 |  January 26, 2011

With the emergence of entire virtual universes online, the internet has now pixelated ‘love’ in the form of avatar dating. People all over the world date, make-out, get married or simply fall head over heels for the online avatar version of someone they have not yet – and might never – meet face to face.

He now prefers to go by his avatar name: SirBlues. There was a time when he had a secondary alias, too, named True001. Both SirBlues and True001 met a female avatar online, namely Doublelicious2000. She did not know that the two male avatars were of one and the same man.

Eventually, she ended up falling in love with both avatars inworld. the Instant Messaging Virtual Universe, more commonly known as IMVU.

Later on, he ‘disappeared’ his True001 alias, but continued spending time online with Doublelicious2000 as SirBlues without telling her he had been True001.

Their online friendship had lasted more than three years by the time SirBlues made the decision to really travel the more than 6,000 kilometres from England to visit her where she lived in the United States.

“I told her prior to meeting her that I had fallen for her, or the idea of her. Of course it’s a huge risk meeting in real life, but we met and we immediately knew we were meant to be together,” SirBlues says about the first time the two of them stood face to face in the real world.

Back then, SirBlues was worried what his new girlfriend might say when she found out that he had also been True001:

“When I told her, and proved this to her by telling her things that only she and True001 would have known, she broke down into tears and hugged me. Through her tears she said, I fell in love with the same man twice.”

The couple have been together ever since, both in the tangible world and in its virtual counterpart where they first met. This avatar love story is proof that it is indeed possible to find love in an online virtual world, and even take that love successfully to the real life level. But dating the avatar way is not without complications.

Don’t Judge Anything by its Cover

SirBlues is really a 49-year-old Englishman who works in the automotive industry. In IMVU, when he first laid his eyes on Doublelicious2000, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

“Her avatar was awful. She had this huge aluminous head,” he says. “But I never cared about the looks of anyone. It was plain to me right from the start that no one looks like their avatar.”

Not everybody knows how to distinguish real and virtual life, though.

“I think if you go on these 3D dates, you should just accept the fact that just as in the real world, you can’t always judge a book by its cover, and people might pretend to be someone they’re not,” says Joey Alarilla, Head of Social Content Strategy for Southeast Asia of Yahoo! SEA, who has years of experience in working professionally with social media.

“It might not even be a conscious wish to deceive: some people are just more confident when they interact with people online, but are actually introverted in real life. Or they might be interesting online and witty when they write, but are poor conversationalists,” he says.

It’s free to join IMVU, whose main income source is people purchasing the virtual credits they need to buy a new virtual wardrobe, home decor or hairstyle. With more than four million items for sale, IMVU has the world’s widest selection of virtual goods. Initially, you’ll be granted a standard newbie avatar along with 2,000 free credits to go shopping for your own customised look. On offer are eyes in shades of ‘Lustrous Blue’ or ‘Browny Sweet’, and hairstyles like the ‘Avril Lavigne Blonde’ for only 661 credits. In an instant, you can get this onscreen set of long, snowy blonde locks flowing down your avatar’s shoulders in waves of virtual extensions.

Relationship Councillor April Masini, famous for her bestsellers like Think & Date Like A Man, argues that the way people try to present themselves attractively through their avatar is not that different from the way real life daters enhance their looks by make up or push-up bras. She advises avatar daters not to wait too long before they take their avatar dating to the real life level.

“I have a significant number of readers who write to me on my Relationship Advice Forum AskApril.com asking for advice about relationships that have been conducted solely online for as long as up to four years. Some people use the internet to avoid real life entirely. Obviously this isn’t healthy,” she says.

These people get frustrated when they find out that their gorgeous avatar lover has very little in common with the real person behind it.
“I always advise these readers that the internet is a great place to meet people and get to know them, but it’s not a good place to conduct an entire relationship. After about a month of chatting on the internet, it’s appropriate to start dating in person,” says Masini.

Brave New (Virtual) World

At the time when SirBlues used IMVU the most, he spent around 40 hours every week on it, and he’s far from the only person who got hooked on this kind of social media.

According to IMVU’s official website, they have gained more than 50 million registered users since they started up in 2004, one year later than Second Life. Users build this online world themselves; they create, trade, chat, and date. In a Canadian survey among several hundred singles interviewed by OmniDate one year ago, 73 percent of the respondents said that they “prefer dating sites that offer virtual dating.”

“One of the benefits of avatar dating is that you can ‘see’ your dates and interact with them in real time. It’s as if you’re going out on a real date, but having this take place in a safe, virtual environment,” says Alarilla, who argues that sites like Second Life and IMVU appeal to people by mirroring the real world we live in, as opposed to fantasy game worlds full of wizards and dragons.

“The use of avatars generates less pressure, because you don’t have to worry about actually going out of your way to look your best in real life, or worry that the stranger you’re dating will turn out to be undesirable or even dangerous,” says Alarilla.

This lack of risk is the catalyst for a positive cycle where people are more willing to strike up conversations and mingle when they might be too shy in real life.

“We might even become more open to alternative views and lifestyles, as we talk to people with interests that we might not have considered in real life,” says Alarilla.

That said, as with any online network, you have to be careful and protect your privacy when interacting with anybody.

SirBlues warns that he has encountered several dishonest people in IMVU. In spite of this, he still found a girlfriend compatible both on and off screen without even looking for one in the first place. Today, the two of them have been married for more than a year, in both worlds. She proposed in real life, he in IMVU.

SirBlues describes their virtual wedding as “a grand affair with beautiful pixel puppets and a wonderful setting,” and when asked if he’s equally happy with both weddings, his answer comes promptly:

“Yes I am, and so is my wife.”
_____________________________
The IMVU users in this article prefer to go
by their avatar names.