Cyber Relationships: A new age of virtual romance

20 Apr

Using the Internet to find romance is a fairly recent, yet increasingly common social practice. It is with increasing frequency that individuals are turning to the Web to assist in their search for a romantic partner. Matchmaking sites such as eHarmony and Match.com are web-based companies that specialize in the creation and coordination of user generated web profiles. They use these profiles in order to pair site members with compatible personalities, based on user provided survey data. Match.com claims that “1 in 5 relationships start online”, implying that at least 200,000 of its 1,000,000 members will become romantically involved. However, websites that specifically cater to promoting relationships are hardly the only form of cyber romance –and not even the most successful. Currently, there is myriad ways for users to establish and foster online relationships,  ranging from forums, social networking sites, and even MMORPGs.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, or MMORPGs, are rich and immersive worlds that allows users to create a character extension of themselves known as an ‘avatar’. An avatar represents whom the user desires to be within the context of these fictitious worlds, the degree of customizability reflecting what the user believes to be the most potentially attractive traits. World of Warcraft, currently the world’s largest and more frequented MMORPG, has a user base of 12 million to eHarmony’s 1 million. Invariably, more users allows for more opportunities for users to interact and potentially court each other. World of Warcraft even has dedicated servers ( realms) that have strict avatar naming policies and role-playing guidelines, in order to create a more immersive and elaborate fictional world. These RP (role-playing) realms are often the host of many in-game “weddings“, uniting two or more avatars -whom are often couples in committed relationships to each other- in virtual matrimony. Second Life, a more realistic based MMORPG, focuses less on challenge completing -like World of Warcraft- and occupies its users with the task of creating and maintaining personal relationships. The UI (user interface) is so intricate, that users can even engage in virtual sex –digital genitalia and all.

It is becoming increasingly rare nowadays to find someone who isn’t involved in social networking services, in fact about 1 in 13 people on Earth use Facebook. The sheer volume of users makes SNS services like Twitter and Facebook makes them useful in the search for potential romantic interests, however, a person’s profile may not exactly translate who they really are. A new series on MTV entitled Catfish focuses on determining the identity and validity of couples engaged in online relationships.

MTV’s new series Catfish. A show about the truth and lies of online dating.

As viewers of the show discover, quite often are online relationships discovered to have at least one person passing off as someone they’re not, utilizing false pictures and profile info in order to make themselves more attractive. In fact, in one of the episodes an alleged 20 year old girl was discovered to actually be a middle aged mother of four. The show doesn’t solely focus on exposing the frauds, it also shows the unique moment when couples engaged in a virtual relationship interact face-to-face with each other for the first time.

As we head into an increasingly technology oriented society, it comes as no real surprise to see a rise in the number of people using the Internet and web-based services to try to improve their love life. The vast connectivity afforded by the Internet has revolutionized the capacity for interpersonal relationships, eliminating the challenge of geographic distance and linking users from around the world together. Whether it be exploring the Tower of Azorra together in WoW, a personal on Craigslist, or a blind date from a matchmaking site, anytime theres a human connection –whether digital or analog– there is a chance for romance.

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