A recent article on the Wall Street Journal Online website asked the question “Is this man cheating on his wife?”[1] The article introduced the reader to the virtual world of SecondLife.com, a website community of real-life (RL) people living a second-life (SL) online. SecondLife.com is boasting huge numbers, with close to ten million registered accounts, although many of those were one-time curious loggers-ins that remain inactive. Users create “avatars” that become their character in the SL world, through which they interact with other users, much as they would in the RL world. The WSJ article focused on one of the SL avatars, Dutch Hoorenbeek, which is controlled in RL by Phoenix, Arizona resident, Ric Hoogestraat.

While the article focused on many of the surface difficulties that Ric’s obsession with his second life is having on his first life, it never really bothered answering the question that it posed as a title. Ric’s first life wife, Sue Hoogestraat, does not share her RL husband’s fascination with the world of SecondLife. She prefers the world of television as her second life. Ric’s SL wife, Tenaj Jackalope, is controlled by the RL Janet Spielman. Although Spielman and Hoogestraat have never physically met, they have a virtual life together that seems to be just about perfect by RL standards: they are popular, wealthy and successful. Although Spielman is apparently unmarried in her first life, Ric’s second life is putting a strain on his RL wife.

“It’s sad; it’s a waste of human life,” says Mrs. Hoogestraat, who is dark-haired and heavy-set with smooth, pale skin. “Everybody has their hobbies, but when it’s from six in the morning until two in the morning, that’s not a hobby, that’s your life.”

Mrs. Hoogestraat’s comments are insightful because she rightly understands that SL for Ric is no longer his second life, it has transplanted his RL existence and has become his first life. His job and marriage in RL are the real second life and they only exist in his mind to serve his virtual first life. The line between RL and SL has become blurry in Ric’s mind. In fact, that line has become blurry for many of the SecondLife.com users. As of this morning, almost $200,000 US dollars were spent in the online world during the last 24 hours. In other words, tens of thousands of RL people have spent nearly 200,000 of their hard-earned RL dollars in a fabricated world that exists only in their minds. So much for “virtual” reality, SecondLife.com is a RL cash-cow.

But as far as the WSJ question is concerned, is Mr. Hoogestraat cheating on his RL wife Sue by also being married to his SL wife, Tenaj (Janet backwards). First, I think we have established that Ric spends far more time and energy in his SL, so maybe the question should be turned on its head. Is Ric actually cheating on Tenaj by being married to Sue? The article positions Sue as something of a nuisance in Ric’s life, a RL distraction that invades occasionally into his SL world of make-believe. Second, for a Christian at least, the answer is fairly obvious. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the point that adultery (or stealing, or lying, or killing, etc.) isn’t just the physical act. Adultery actually begins long before the actual event ever takes place in the heart and mind of the individual. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). Jesus didn’t bother making the delineation between RL and SL women because it doesn’t matter. You can commit adultery with an avatar just as easily as you can with the RL woman that controls it. Adultery, just like every other sin, is a heart issue, that may or may not be lived out for real. “For as a man thinks within himself, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).

The implications of this SL “what happens online, stays online” mentality is far-reaching and far more depraved and perverse than Ric’s adulterous online relationship. We will look into this, as well as the biblical response, in the coming weeks.

Wallstreet Journal online