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Virtual sex on IMVU is one step too far

HDN | 12/11/2009 12:00:00 AM | Ceylan Yeğinsu

While online 3-D chat rooms such as IMVU can be entertaining, there is a danger in people giving into their fantasies and becoming obsessed by the site.

It used to just take a baggy sweatshirt and makeup for women to hide their flaws, but today, the Web has made it possible for them to mask themselves completely with entirely new identities.

At first glance, the concept of creating a virtual version of yourself seems harmless. People can have a lot of fun creating their virtual versions, especially with all the features of the latest 3-D chat rooms that allow users to transform into better versions of themselves.

A deeper look, however, brings to the fore an entire nest of cobwebs, and the colors that lure people in by illuminating the facade can all too often turn out be quite dark indeed.

There are the obvious dangers of getting caught up in chat rooms, the most apparent being the fact that you do not know who you are talking to. But when a work colleague turned to me the other day and said, “Did you know you can have virtual sex in the IMVU 3-D chat room?” I realized there is also an extraordinary potential for psychological damage.

I wasted no time and downloaded IMVU, where the first step is to create your own 3-D character. A screen came up with a selection of glam-ragged, stick-thin women. I stubbornly clicked down to find more outlines that were closer to the real me, but there were no more choices. “Where are the short voluptuous brunettes?!” I shouted angrily.

This is where the dangers start. No matter what you look like, the site encourages you to become one of these tarty women, explicitly suggesting that this is what you have to look like to be successful in the dating game.

In my opinion, this merely encourages women, as well as men, to be sloppy. Before people could hide behind well-groomed virtual figures, they took much more care to address their own personal flaws.

But despite the deafening tones of the alarm bells ringing in my head throughout my navigation of the site – and despite my personal reservations – I had a lot of fun on IMVU. The site allows you to land in all sorts of destinations, from beach parties to cinemas. While some of the characters I spoke to utterly disgusted me, there were actually people out there who had interesting things to say outside of the crass context of the chat room.

One of my conversations went like this:

Me: “Hi, I was wondering if you could help me. I look nothing like this virtual figure and I don’t want to mislead people.”

Man: “Don’t worry; none of us are perfect like these men either. I’m sure you are beautiful anyway – what do you look like?”

The problem is highlighted explicitly in this very question. Despite demonstrating honesty and telling the man I did not look like my online figure, he complimented me by assuming physical beauty and then issued another invitation for me to describe my looks.

The temptation to craft a false version of yourself is immense. Too many women are falling into this false sense of security at these sites because the environment is so far from reality that it allows them to do so. It is the comfort found at these sites that leads so many people to go beyond the initial harmless fun and start substituting the endless possibilities provided by these artificial 3-D worlds for Friday nights in a real social environment, where there is a risk of rejection.

IMVU’s motto is “Escape to IMVU,” the operative word here being escape – one of the most critical words attached to human psychology. Escapists like to indulge in the idle world of fantasies, yet the further away they get from reality, the harder and unhappier they become in the real world.

IMVU itself could not be more real. It is a successful, highly profitable business that is constantly developing. There are thousands of people who play every day, doing so just for fun; once they log out, they can make the transformation to reality. Some people even play as a business, making up characters with special rooms and then trading them on the Internet.

However, the site presents far too much opportunity for the high percentage of people who use chat rooms to nurture their fantasies. In a time when the real world is becoming increasingly demanding, we must not underestimate the danger this can pose to future generations.

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