He was a strapping 28-year-old with a mane of brown hair, she a dazzling redhead in a white strapless vest and tight trousers. Londoner Garth Fairlight and Californian Pituca Chang first met watching fireworks and eating burgers at a party in 2003. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but after protesting against high taxes together, the chemistry became obvious. Two months later she moved in, and by November they were married.
It sounds like a fairytale, but it actually happened — in the online fantasy world of Second Life, that is. Garth and Pituca are screen names, and the pair are at least 20 years older than they look inside the game, where players appear as cartoon versions of themselves — called avatars — and communicate by typing messages.
If the idea of a cyber-romance does not turn you on, perhaps you should take a closer look. Garth and Pituca insist the feelings they have for each other are genuine and that they were madly in love long before they met face to face. “The love part happened in the game,” says Pituca. She and Garth are now engaged to be married in real life.
While love in virtual worlds may still be unusual, online relationships have become commonplace. A study by the not-for-profit Pew Internet & American Life Project found 74% of single internet users in the US have taken part in at least one online dating-related activity, including sites specifically devoted to finding a match, while 15% of American adults (that’s 30 million people) say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship with someone they met online. So what’s the big attraction?
The internet has clear advantages over the real world as a place to meet people, says Dan Ariely, who studies online dating at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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