Virtual Sex: How Online Games Changed Our Culture
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MySpace was not the only site of its kind. Before MySpace was a popular networking website called Friendster, and, after MySpace, Facebook became the most discussed site. Launched in 2004 by student Mark Zuckerburg as a college networking website, Facebook grew into an older-skewing version of MySpace. Newsweek featured Zuckerburg on the cover. On the inside the feature story told what happened when Facebook had one of its rare maintenance shutdowns. "Over the course of those four hours I probably tried to get in five or more times. I'm addicted to Facebook," one person lamented. She was a 40-year-old mother of three.
As Facebook began, Linden Labs released the program Second Life. It was a 3D virtual world where you could create an avatar (a digital representation of yourself) and buy land with real money, mortgage a virtual home, get married, get drunk, make new friends, start a money-making business -- in other words, you could begin and live a new life. That was it. Second Life was a video game with no video game in it. The virtual world remained quiet until Wired and other tech tastemakers began claiming Second Life could be "Web 2.0," the almost mythical multidimensional Internet that would take over the now dated World Wide Web. The New York Times, Time and others "discovered" the program in 2006. A woman, who's avatar name was Anshe Chung, became the first Second Life resident to become a millionaire in real life. (The value of the Second Life Linden dollar fluctuates like a real economy, but was roughly $300 Linden to every U.S. dollar in 2006.) She did it by buying up virtual real estate and flipping it for a higher price. Sony, Nike, and other companies created virtual stores with real products. Reuters opened up a Second Life branch. Several 2008 presidential hopefuls hopped on digital soapboxes to hold town meetings. By May 1st, 2007, Second Life had six million citizens (though critics argued that this figure was inflated since some people had multiple avatars).
Second Life visitors could actually modify the virtual world. Aside from a few restrictions, Linden Labs took a very hands-off approach to its universe. One of the first modifications was by visitor Kevin Alderman, known in-world as Stroker Serpentine. He created SexGen Platinum, a fourty-five dollar modification that gave an avatar realistic genitalia and the ability to have detailed virtual sex with a partner. He would later sue another Second Lifer for stealing and distributing the applet, making it the first known lawsuit over a stolen digital dick.
A popular website called SL Escorts listed and ranked avatar prostitutes based on user feedback, linking the virtual world concubines to their real life handlers for a potential Second Life meet and greet. "I love all sorts of sex play from the innocent school girl … to the sex slave (with or without torture)," read an ad for one leather clad escort. "… you can just IM [instant messenger] me and I'll be very happy to content to your deepest desires!" It was followed by this itemized listing (in Linden Lab dollars):
* L$350 with clothes
* L$500 shows tits
* L$1,500 for half and hour
* L$500 for each additional 15 minutes
* L$2,000 for 15 min SL voice
* L$3,000 for 30 min SL voice
The developing virtual world brought new sexual ethics to the forefront, and books like Regina Lynn's The Sexual Revolution 2.0, Audacia Ray's Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing In on Internet Sexploration and Tim Guest's Second Lives: A Journey Through Virtual Worlds attempted to navigate what was fair in virtual love. "In the Bible it says something about thinking carnally about another woman is being unfaithful," Guest said at the time. "I don't think people nowadays would agree with that, and similarly, I think people who have online sex don't see it as cheating. It's morally okay, a pocket they can put those desires into where they won't threaten their real-life relationship."