sometimes the world is too small; or, virtual life sucks too

Sigh…. this is when I wish I’d been keeping up this journal the past few months, because tonight’s (well, early this morning’s) entry needs the context of the backstory to make any sense whatsoever except to the people involved (who, if they even knew of the journal’s existence, likely would be grateful that no one else does either).

Briefly, I started playing The Sims Online as a beta tester last October. I’ll try to leave out a lot of the intermediate angst, but detailing some of it is necessary in order to explain what’s going on now. Eventually my avatar developed an in-game “romantic” relationship with two other avatars (played by Roger and Daniel), and the three avatars including mine moved in together. Roger and Daniel both already are in long-term real life relationships. While the in-game relationship was between the avatars, the emotions, nonetheless, feel real and begin to spill over into real life. The three of us began to develop a friendship/relationship that straddled the virtual and real worlds that our avatars and our selves inhabited. Daniel seems to be in an unhappy and/or unfulfilling real-life relationship, but seems unwilling/unable to do anything about that; in game, he was very flirtatious, to apply a reltively judgement-free term to his behavior, in and out of the relationship. From the beginning, the in-game relationship was passionate but troubled, while the real-life friendships seemed to be pretty solid.
I also will admit that I felt overshadowed by Daniel, not just within the relationship, but in any space where both our avatars were present. He was able to present an image and a personality that it seemed that other gay men in the game responded to more readily and avidly, while I felt ignored whenever he was on, and I reacted by withdrawing more and more whenever he was around. I stopped getting anything from the game that I really enjoyed.
Over time, the in-game relationship began more clearly to crumble, from the differing expectations and levels of satisfaction, and eventually I removed myself from it, though the avatars continued to live together. At about the same time, I was becoming very disillusioned and bored with the game environment more generally, and began to enter it less and less. At first, I maintained the out-of-game component of the friendships, and Roger and I began to play together in There, another virtual world. He has remained a very good friend, and I recently visited him and his partner in Tucson. The friendship with Daniel, however, dwindled until we were no longer exchanging email or chatting with one another.
Oh, another part of the story that’s relevant… a fourth person, Josh, entered TSO, and he and I hit if off. We spent a lot of time together, and started to talk about meeting in real life, and that’s when he finally admitted to me that he also was in a real-life, long-term relationship, with which he was unhappy but not willing to change. That revelation changed our own in-game relationship as well, and we stopped spending as much time together, and eventually stopped communicating outside the game as I spent less and less time there for other reasons.
Fast forward to There. Daniel had applied as a beta tester, but hadn’t yet been approved, so for a couple of months Roger and I had the game to ourselves, at least in some measure, and made a lot of new friends, and I felt like I really blossomed again, out of Daniel’s shadow (yes, I know it’s not really his fault or anything to do with him, but I blossomed anyway and attributed it to that… psychologically, it’s real to me). In the last couple of weeks, though, I’ve been less present there due to other commitments. And during the time that I was away, Daniel finally got his invitation to join the game. Unbeknownst to all of us, Josh also joined the game at the same time, and the two of them (using different avatar names than they had in TSO, where they felt, at best, ambivalent about each other given that they were both involved with me), not realizing at first who the other was and the little history they’d had there, have become a bit of an item (ed. note: I’ve since learned that they’ve become more than a bit of an item, even, but rather a very public, “obvious,” “sickening” [not my words] one). I really shouldn’t be bothered by that, as I made my own decision in TSO not to pursue in- or out-of-game relationships with either, but it does. And already I find myself starting to withdraw, assuming that I’ll again be overshadowed (after all, I tell myself, even Josh–who was my TSO admirer–has chosen Daniel over me, feeling there’s a pattern repeating itself), even though that doesn’t have to be the case…
I learned most of this just last night, when I already was feeling out of sorts from returning from Tucson and the somewhat ambiguous and problematic nature of my relationship with Roger; from the constant barrage of energy from my new boss, to whom everything is a crisis; from some purely physical exhaustion brought on by lack of sleep, jet lag, and allergies; and from what is probably just another regular low point in my emotional cycle anyway. So I reacted at the time by trying to decide to just abandon There as well as TSO, and then becoming self-critical and self-pitying in a conversation with another friend.
This morning I feel somewhat chagrinned, but still uncertain what I’ll do, whether I’ll go back to There where I’ll have to decide whether and how much to interact with Daniel and Josh, or take the easy way out and abandon it altogether. It’s just a game, people say… mostly, people who haven’t participated in this kind of virtual community.
And as I write this, I realize what a self-involved, petulant whiner I sound like and might be, and how poorly I feel that I can express in this daily entry what has taken six months of real time to begin, develop and change, and continue changing daily.