This week, I accidentally teleported myself into a Second Life bedroom and was promptly spotted by two unsuspecting lovers. But as I'd only been a resident in this virtual world for two weeks, I didn't know how to teleport myself back out. So I stood there awkwardly, and then politely turned down their offer to stay.
Now the pressing question: Can avatars "actually" have sex? Well, the answer is yes--and no.
Discovering two avatars in flagrante is a bit like watching the seemingly impossible positions of the Kama Sutra being acted out. Since it took me over a week to master the ability to fly (a simple click in this virtual world), I couldn't imagine how these avatars managed to contort themselves into such positions. But the answer came shortly after, when I had my first encounter with a "posse ball" on a yacht (the Sweet Pea) in my island community of Knysna.
I clicked the "posse ball" without even knowing what it was and before I knew it, my little Eureka Dejavu was bumping and grinding uncontrollably. I quickly conducted an exorcism by clicking various tabs until something finally ended the commotion. Afterward, I stood there in a crimson miniskirt and corset, bewildered as Linda Blair when the bed finally stopped spinning.
Consenting adults should be left to their own devices (and by devices I mean keyboards, "pose balls" and monitors). But virtual sex involves actual people. A friend of mine, who is new to Second Life, quickly logs out when her husband comes home (even though she can't figure out how to change her shoes yet, much less to dream of performing cyber-sex with any kind of panache) simply because it's hard to escape the feeling that you're doing something downright depraved just by starting up a new life in a parallel world where your husband does not exist...at least, not yet.
The lay of the Second Life land is still a mystery to me, so to find subjects for interviews, I look at a map where green dots symbolize the presence of avatars, and then I teleport myself to those locations without knowing what I might find when I materialize. In this way I found Magnus at the Del-Mar Sex Motel. He enjoys his frequent visits to that place because you "don't have to wine them and dine them here."
Magnus, in a white, skin-tight outfit scattershot with black graffiti, has been married in real-life for five years and says he has a great sex life with his wife, who doesn't mind his forays into the Del-Mar dungeon for up to an hour of virtual sex that costs $1,200 Linden (the rough equivalent of less than $5). I caught him for a conversation as he was looking for some action in "Nora's Orgy Room."
Behind us, a massive, multi-colored neon sign was shaped like the curvy outline of a pin-up's body. The word "SEX" flashed. On the walls, posters offered erect phalluses for sale. These could be attached to an avatar's body using the same technique as when donning clothes or new hair.
I fleetingly considered making a purchase, just to see the thing. It came in various sizes, from perfunctory to outlandish, as depicted vividly on the posters.
"This is a sociological experiment after all," whispered the invisible devil over my right shoulder. "And as an investigative reporter, you have an obligation to the people! Do your job! It isn't real..."
"But what if," my steadfast angel countered earnestly, "and don't get defensive when I say this, but...if you die, and someone goes into your Second Life inventory and mistakes your intentions, I mean..." She cocked her thumb at the biggest one available.
Investigating Second Life can be a bit like being dropped off alone in Times Square before the neon lights of Disney replaced the sex shops and peep shows. Those didn't die, it turns out, but rather they took on a new, depersonalized form that's far more interactive but less real.
Magnus didn't feel that he was committing adultery. He only wished that the simulated bodies could be more realistic.
Eureka Dejavu: Do you get emotionally attached to avatars?
Magnus: Yeah, I guess.
Eureka Dejavu: Do you feel less inhibited in SL than in RL?
Magnus: Of course it's so easy to have sex here. Most girls are willing and ready. Casual sex at its best in SL.
Eureka Dejavu: Does having virtual casual sex lead to the idea of having RL casual sex?
Magnus: Oh, yes.
Eureka Dejavu: How do you define infidelity?
Magnus: Being in love with someone else.
Eureka Dejavu: How can you prevent that from happening once you start playing with fire?
Magnus: I don't consider casual sex for sport as infidelity. You must be comfortable at home to have casual sex.
The more you enjoy being married, by Magnus' estimation, the easier it is to have casual romps--and while it's acceptable in his worldview to have sport-sex behind your wife's back, you'd be crossing the line by taking your paramour out for a virtual dinner first, or caring about her as a person.
Beyond all that, there's the million-Linden question:
Eureka Dejavu: What if she had casual sex?
Magnus: I wouldn't like it.
Eureka Dejavu: Would you consider it infidelity?
Magnus: Yep, cause women put more heart into it than men.
The real-life complexities that create misery, joy and intrigue in human relationships carry over into Second Life in an unexpected way for some avatars, just as the mundane realities of daily living have a way of creeping in. My Second Life landlord Cha and I, for example, spent far too much time last week tinkering with the radio in my beach hut so I could play iTunes and entertain the avatars who populate my Second Life.
I don't have any pose balls in my beach hut, and the mojitos don't have an intoxicating effect, but at least I can listen to Nouvelle Vague while discussing the death of "string theory," and pondering physics with my other landlord, Lukas, who usually shows up shirtless to showcase his rippling virtual six-pack and tattoos.
For updates on the adventures of Eureka Dejavu, visit eurekadejavu.