As a gamer I found a piece I saw in the news rather interesting-it was about a guy who apparently has virtual relationships in online video games. The problem is, not surprisingly, that he is already married in real life. I had heard of such things before-people getting “married” in games such as the World of Warcraft. Even before such electronic role-playing games, I had heard of people deciding to have their role-playing game characters get married. I always thought this was rather odd. In any case, this situation does raise some moral concerns about fidelity in this virtual age.
On the face of it, getting married in a game would not seem to be cheating. After all, it is just a game. But, to make an actual argument, consider the analogy to acting. If an actor who is married in real life plays a character who get married or has romantic involvements, then that would not be cheating. This is because fake marriages and fake romances are no more real than fake murders and fake crimes in movies. Just as people who portray criminals are not actual criminals because of what they do onscreen, those who act out romantic roles onscreen are not cheaters. By analogy, when people are playing such games, they are no more really married or really having a romantic affair then they are really killing dragons or casting spells. It is all fake. Or is it?
One thing that is of concern is that the people pretending to be married and pretending to have romantic affairs in the game might have very real feelings. After all, one might say, unlike actors who are merely pretending to be in love, someone who spends all the time and energy creating a virtual romance within a game would seem to be up to more than just engaging in some harmless role-playing. This is especially the case if the conversations between the people do involve extensive talk about love, romance or sex.
In such cases, the game could be seen as merely a medium by which such communications take place-instead of steamy conversations via the phone, those involves have steamy chats through the game’s communication methods.
This raises a question about what counts as cheating. Obviously, if there is no physical contact between the people in real life, there seems to be little reason to see it as serious cheating. After all, having one’s virtual characters strip down and lay on a bed in The World of Warcraft or doing something more risqué in Second Life hardly counts as being physically unfaithful.
But, there is the matter of whether such mental unfaithfulness counts as cheating. Clearly, chatting and acting things out in a game is a far distance morally from actually having an affair. However, a committed relationship does seem to involve the expectation of a degree of emotional fidelity as well. Obviously, it would be quite unreasonable to expect a person to never think a lustful thought about another person while they are in a relationship. But there is, to repeat the phase just uses, a great moral distance between thinking a random lustful thought when seeing a supermodel on TV and engaging in a sustained virtual romance. That sort of behavior does seem to involve emotional infidelity and is probably something that should not be done. From a more practical standpoint, even as a gamer I think that doing the whole virtual romance and marriage thing would be a colossal waste of time-why not spend that time with the person you are really involved with? Do something in the real world with the person you really love-that would be far more rewarding and enjoyable. Also, computer games are for killing and looting-romance tarnishes this purity. 🙂