A woman in Cornwall, England, has filed papers to divorce her husband on the grounds of "unreasonable behavior" after she discovered that his character in the online role-playing game Second Life had been having an affair.
Amy Taylor, 28, whose online alter ego is named Laura Skye, said that her husband's virtual infidelity exacted a pain that cut as deep as any extramarital liaison. "It may have started online, but it existed entirely in the real world and it hurts just as much," she said. "His was the ultimate betrayal. He had been lying to me." (See the 50 best websites of 2008.)
In Second Life, users create an online persona, known as an avatar, which moves freely through the imagined world, making friends, socializing and buying property with the game's virtual currency, the Linden dollar (so named for the developers behind the game). At any given moment, 38,000 users are logged on to the site.
Taylor met her 40-year-old husband, David Pollard, in an online chat room in 2003. Their mutual interest in Second Life helped their relationship flourish, and the couple married two years later. To mark the occasion, Laura Skye married Dave Barmy, Pollard's avatar (who clearly opted for the modest lifestyle on the game, living in a chalet with a Cobra helicopter gunship parked next to it), in a lavish ceremony on Second Life. "People find love in lots of different ways," Taylor said.
Avatars need not represent players' real-life personas. Online, Laura Skye works as a club DJ and is 6 feet tall, weighs 112 lb. and has a penchant for skin-tight cowgirl outfits. In reality, Taylor, an unemployed former waitress, is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 224 lb. and prefers T shirts and leggings.
Taylor may have brushed the affair aside had it not been the second time Pollard strayed. Shortly after her marriage, Taylor woke from an afternoon nap to find Pollard watching his Dave Barmy avatar having sex with a computer-generated prostitute.
"I went mad I was so hurt," Taylor said of the Internet affair. "I just couldn't believe what he'd done. I looked at the computer screen and could see his character having sex with a female character. It's cheating as far as I'm concerned."
Disgusted, Taylor ended Laura Skye's relationship with Barmy but chose to stay with Pollard in real life. In an effort to test his commitment, Taylor hired a private investigator on Second Life named Markie Macdonald. Macdonald hatched a plan whereby a female avatar flirted with Barmy in an effort to lure him to her cyber-bed. Instead of succumbing to temptation, Barmy spoke of his strong feelings for Laura Skye.
In April of this year, however, things soured when Taylor caught Barmy getting intimate with another avatar, named Modesty McDonnell. "I caught him cuddling a woman on a sofa in the game. It looked really affectionate," she said. "I ended up going off to his mum and dad's in floods of tears."
Pollard dismisses any accusations of wrongdoing. "We weren't even having cyber-sex or anything like that," he said. "We were just chatting and hanging out together."
In fact, Pollard said, it was his wife's addiction to another fantasy role-playing game that drove him to the other avatar. "Amy never did anything around the house. She just played World of Warcraft all the time," he said. More hurtful was her refusal to give him attention. "If I wanted to spend time with her, I had to ask, but it was always too much trouble for her to come off the game to spend time with me, so the marriage was a bit of a joke." (See pictures of World of Warcraft.)
For both parties, though, there appears to be a silver lining. Taylor has a new boyfriend whom she met through playing World of Warcraft. And by Friday afternoon, the Daily Mail in England had reported that Pollard is now engaged to Linda Brinkley, 55, the woman behind the Modesty McDonnell avatar.
Brinkley, a twice-divorced mother of two who lives in Arkansas, said that her avatar met Pollard's at a Second Life nightclub called Holodeck where McDonnell works as a hostess not, as in the words of Taylor, a prostitute. "When we first met, it was at a fancy-dress night on the game, and he noticed me across the room and said he felt something special," she said. Brinkley also claimed that their relationship remained platonic until Pollard formally separated from his wife. After that, their avatars married in an online ceremony attended by seven guests.
Distance and money have kept Pollard and Brinkley apart, but they chat on the phone for two hours every night and, Brinkley said, they have the same goals in life. Currently unemployed, Brinkley plans to complete an online degree in religious studies and to work as a missionary.
"I would say I'm in love with Dave," she said. "I've been married in real life before, but they weren't really good relationships, and I haven't had much luck with men until now." Given her future husband's wandering avatar, it's probably too soon to know if that luck will last.