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Virtual Sex: How Online Games Changed Our Culture

Games like Second Life let you to live your fantasy as a pimp, prostitute or pirate, knight, dominatrix, or any other self-created design you see fit.

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Porn and Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Other Sexy Games Changed Our Cultureby Damon Brown, published by Feral House.

The camera zooms in on a perky young woman. She looks to be in her late twenties, perhaps early thirties, and she starts talking to you about her first date: how the restaurant had to kick them out because they talked until it closed, how she looked in his eyes and could tell he was the one for her, about that instant spark, you know, the spark you feel when you click -- connect -- with someone. The distant strains of Natalie Cole's "Everlasting Love" -- also used in the Diane Lane movie "Must Love Dogs" and other modern divorcee-looking-for-love films -- begin to swell in the background.

Her husband (see the ring flashing as he's gesturing?) is now talking to you about the same incident, but he has a different, complimentary interpretation. A grey-haired, honey-voiced old man begins talking to you. His face seems to take up the whole TV screen. Aren't you tired of dating, he asks. "Find your soul-mate." He tells you that eHarmony uses scientific data to match people together. There is a science, founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren implies, a science to chemistry, something his company eHarmony analyzes and gives to its subscribers.

The Pew Institute's first online dating survey, released in 2006, found that one out of every three people knew someone who belonged to an online dating service and more than one in four knew someone who has gone out with a person they met online. "Nearly overnight, it seemed, dozens of similar sites emerged," The Atlantic Monthly wrote the same year as the survey. "Online dating became almost de rigueur for busy singles looking for love." The Los Angeles-based eHarmony alone had nine million members.

Up the coast, California developers Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe were also convinced social technology was going to be the next big thing. They worked within a computer company -- eUniverse -- and began MySpace, the first mainstream multimedia blog. (A disputed history has MySpace culling its concepts from eUniverse CEO Brad Greenspan, a man who has called himself "the true founder of MySpace.")

After a five-minute setup on MySpace, you can type in your interests, post messages and music, and make new friends who, in turn, would provide links to their personal web pages. It would be a test of six degrees of separation, the concept that every single person knew every other person in the world through a maximum of six connected people. Every personal site is one-page deep, but can scroll down as much as someone could fill it up with new friends and content. The average MySpace site would have a small box of bio information (22, Los Angeles, CA, Sagittarius), an uploaded picture serving as background (usually a personal pic or a favorite band photo) and stacks of friend "testimonials" reminiscent of high school yearbooks ("You are the kewlist! Stay sweet!"). Wired News called it a "highly customizable amalgam of blogging, music sharing and social-discovery services, a typical page is a near perfect reflection of the chaos and passion of youth: a music-filled space, rudely splattered with photos and covered in barely-legal prose rendered in font colors that blend together and fade into the background." MySpace grew to have seventy million users, roughly one-fourth the population size of the United States.

Geriatric mogul Rupert Murdoch bought the site for $580 million. Within weeks of the Rupert Murdoch News Corporation purchase, ABC, CBS and NBC, influential papers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and other major news outlets began covering MySpace in earnest -- as a virtual smorgasbord for teen predators. Popular among kids, MySpace entries often gave detailed personal information, if not actual data on their location. It was like a diary open to the world. "This site," said the Connecticut Attorney General, "is a parent's worst nightmare."

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