Years back, I had a discussion with some friends about what defines adultery. If one fantasizes or thinks about committing adultery but never acts on it, is that still a cardinal sin?
Some believe the mere thought of adultery is no different from the act itself. I personally prefer to deem only the act itself, not the thought of it, adulterous--after all, who hasn't daydreamed about frolicking in the sun with the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Keanu Reeves?
That said, though, if a married man spends most of his time playing up fantasies about having adulterated affairs with other women, there're probably already problems in his marriage that need to be fixed.
And with the emergence of technology, alongside the Internet, the definition of what constitutes as mere fantasy has been stretched to the limit--so much so that I wonder now whether only the physical act itself defines a wrongdoing.
This week, I caught an episode of the BBC's Wonderland documentary series titled, Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love. Its main highlight was an American couple where the wife, Carolyn, spent hours on Second Life maintaining a steamy online affair--through her avatar--with another character on the virtual world.
Carolyn is a mother of four who turned to Second Life as a way to escape the monotony of her suburban American life. Through her avatar, she began a relationship with another Second Life character--manned by a human named Elliott, who lived in London. They hung out for hours on the virtual world, went out on dates and even "had fun" in bed--if you get my drift.
Carolyn spent so much time, and became so intimately involved with her virtual "boyfriend" that it put a strain on her family and marriage with real-world husband, Lee. Though troubled by his wife's obsession with her virtual relationship, he patiently tolerated it until Carolyn decided to visit Elliott in London.
"Role-play is one thing, but where she took it was real," Lee said. "It's one thing to chat on Skype; one thing to chat on [MSN] Messenger; one thing to look at somebody on a Web cam. But when you physically go out there and meet them and interact with somebody you met on the computer, that's crossing the line."
I think that line was crossed way before Carolyn took that flight to London.
The problem here is that Second Life isn't a game, as the BBC documentary points out. It's a virtual life that's representative of real people and fueled by real wants and desires.
When I fantasize about spending a romantic evening with Keanu Reeves, unfortunately for me--to say the least--I and only I alone am enjoying that fantasy. Keanu is unaware of this imaginary date and is not an active participant of the fantasy. This isn't the case in virtual societies like Second Life.
Carolyn's relationship with Elliott may seem "real" only in the virtual world, but the emotions she carries are real enough--she admits to crying her eyes out whenever she has a fight with Elliott.
Carolyn's experience clearly demonstrates that it's not only the naïve and young children who need to take care where technology and the Internet are involved. Even adults, consumed by the desire to escape their less-than-perfect lives, can find themselves seduced by the promises of the virtual world.