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Would You Put Up With This?

From today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required, some excerpts below), this article describes a man who is so obsessed with Second Life that he often spends 6-10 hours PER DAY in his virtual world, including having sex with his virtual wife (much to the chagrin of his real wife!).  I think she should throw him out on the street.  She's obviously enabling his addictive behavior.

I have some first hand experience with the effect of addiction, having lost one of my closest friends to alcoholism.  I learned that you have to stop enabling addicts to let them hit rock bottom.  Sometimes, that's what it will take to get them to turn themselves around.  You can't do this for them.

Obviously, virtual worlds like Second Life can be a fine distraction from the real world, in moderation.  But, as they become more immersive and realistic, it may be hard for a lot of people to pull themselves away.  That sort of addictive behavior is as bad as alcoholism or drug abuse and needs to be treated.

Some scary excerpts from the article:

A burly man with a long gray ponytail, thick sideburns and a salt-and-pepper handlebar mustache, Mr. Hoogestraat looks like the cross between a techie and the Grateful Dead fan that he is. He drives a motorcycle and wears faded black Harley-Davidson T-shirts around the house. A former college computer graphics teacher, Mr. Hoogestraat was never much of a game enthusiast before he discovered Second Life. But since February, he's been spending six hours a night and often 14 hours at a stretch on weekends as Dutch Hoorenbeek, his six-foot-nine, muscular, motorcycle-riding cyber-self. The character looks like a younger, physically enhanced version of him: a biker with a long black ponytail, strong jaw and thick handlebar mustache.

In the virtual world, he's a successful entrepreneur with a net worth of about $1.5 million in the site's currency, the linden, which can be earned or purchased through Second Life's Web site at a rate of about 250 lindens per U.S. dollar. He owns a mall, a private beach club, a dance club and a strip club. He has 25 employees, online persons known as avatars who are operated by other players, including a security guard, a mall concierge, a manager and assistant manager, and the "exotic dancers" at his club. He designs bikinis and lingerie, and sells them through his chain store, Red Headed Lovers.


Mr. Hoogestraat's real-life wife is losing patience with her husband's second life. "It's sad; it's a waste of human life," says Mrs. Hoogestraat, who is dark-haired and heavy-set with smooth, pale skin. "Everybody has their hobbies, but when it's from six in the morning until two in the morning, that's not a hobby, that's your life."

The real Mrs. Hoogestraat is no stranger to online communities -- she met her husband in a computer chat room three years ago. Both were divorced and had adult children from previous marriages, and Mrs. Hoogestraat says she was relieved to find someone educated and adventurous after years of failed relationships. Now, as she pays household bills, cooks, does laundry, takes care of their three dogs and empties ashtrays around the house while her husband spends hours designing outfits for virtual strippers and creating labels for virtual coffee cups, she wonders what happened to the person she married.


By 4 p.m., he's been in Second Life for 10 hours, pausing only to go to the bathroom. His wrists and fingers ache from manipulating the mouse to draw logos for his virtual coffee cups. His back hurts. He feels it's worth the effort. "If I work a little harder and make it a little nicer, it's more rewarding," he says.

Sitting alone in the living room in front of the television, Mrs. Hoogestraat says she worries it will be years before her husband realizes that he's traded his real life for a pixilated fantasy existence, one that doesn't include her.

"Basically, the other person is widowed," she says. "This other life is so wonderful; it's better than real life. Nobody gets fat, nobody gets gray. The person that's left can't compete with that."



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