Relationships in Second Life and how they can affect Real Life

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These immersive 3D environments, also known as Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVE) (Mennecke et al. 373) or Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), allow large numbers of users from diverse backgrounds and locales to interact via the Internet (Ducheneaut, Wen, Yee, and Wadley 1151). However, for many inhabitants of Second Life, it is not just a 3D online game, but another world that …has its own economy and millions of residents who own and create property, make friends and even get married (CNN Living, 2008). These virtual worlds (VWs) have become conduits for socialization, collaboration, entertainment, social networking, and business development (Mennecke et al. 371). Second Life vs. Real Life In VWs like Second Life, users must build virtual representations of themselves through creation of customizable avatars, which gives them a 3D body that they control and provides a tangible embodiment of their identity (Ducheneaut, Wen, Yee, and Wadley 1151). Through the avatars, users can discover an ever-growing assortment of virtual sites, fabricate all sorts of items, from clothing to buildings, and create businesses to sell their goods or services, forge relationships with other players through their interactions with their avatars, and buy virtual property (Hayes 154). According to Dell, as many as 13 million people have logged on to Second Life at least one time and about 450,000 subscribers are from more than 50 countries are online in any given week, ranging in age from 18 – 72, 27% of which are female (Hayes 154). Researchers have begun to conduct studies to analyze the way self-perception formed through interactions in VWs affects behaviors in the real world (Dell). According to Ducheneaut, Wen, Yee, and Wadley, the choices users make when creating and customizing their avatar will have repercussions on their interactions with other users (1151), which can cause users to create online personas that are sometimes the complete opposite of who they are in real life. The ability to …do, create or become just about anything you can imagine (Hayes 154) in the VW can result in people adapting qualities that spill over and change their demeanor in the real world (Dell). This reaction frequently occurs without the person being aware of the shift and research has determined that as little as 90 seconds spent interacting with avatars online is sufficient to bring forth behavioral changes offline due to augmentation to the individual’s self-perception and self-confidence (Dell). Additionally, researchers have determined that physical characteristics, like height and appearance, can have significant effects on the online behavior of the person as well as how they interact with others offline (Dell). Studies conducted regarding behaviors determined that individuals that used avatars considered to be physically attractive tended to display a higher degree of self-assurance than they normally did after inhabiting the avatar (Dell). This was also true for people that used tall avatars, with these individuals displaying behaviors more aggressive than their usual demeanor and the converse being true for people using short avatars (Dell). VWs can potentially be used to improve health for some adults by allowing them to watch avatars that closely resemble their own likeness exercise, which, in studies, resulted in the individuals also exercising within 24-hours of the interaction (Dell). More recently,