By Julia Feeser
Recently Vogue published a story about several women around the world who are engaged in virtual romantic relationships – meaning their boyfriends don’t actually exist.
Virtual relationship apps or games allow users to engage in pre-made storyline with a virtual character. Players develop the romantic story by interacting with their virtual character. In essence, the game offers a simulation of a romantic relationship – without real life consequences or complications.
The popularity of virtual relationships initially began in Asian countries such as Japan, but are now spreading to the states as well, through apps such as “My Virtual Boyfriend.”
“Virtual companionship, once a niche Japanese subculture, has mushroomed into a lucrative global industry. The first wildly popular virtual romance game created specifically with women in mind, called Angelique, was released in 1994 by a team of female developers at the Japanese gaming company Koei. Since then, others have been quick to capitalize. Voltage, the leading company in the Japanese market, currently offers 84 different romance apps.” – Pip Usher, Vogue
One of these women, Mook, is a 24-year-old living in Japan. She describes her experience with virtual relationships as one of escape:
“When she is not engaging with [her virtual boyfriend], she is often flirting with another of her virtual boyfriends, all of whom are available, at all times, in the palm of her hand. ‘[These apps] give me a chance to hide away from my real life, in which I don’t have a boyfriend,’ Mook says. ‘And by playing these games, it hurts nobody.’” – Pip Usher, Vogue
Depending on the app, players have the opportunity to choose a pre-made character (one that is programmed with qualities such as intimacy issues, mysterious, seducer, shy, and of course, exceptionally handsome), or create their own ideal character – one that reflects who they would like to meet in real life.
“‘[Women] dream of a guy who is handsome, controlling, and unreasonably in love with [them],’” says Marcos Daniel Arroyo, a software engineer at Cheritz who has built a career on understanding what women want from virtual relationships. The games allow women to date the kind of men they are attracted to, but without any of the hassle or heartbreak. They fulfill, says Arroyo, ‘the fantasy of a relationship that cannot occur so easily in real life.’” – Pip Usher, Vogue
From the outset, these games would appear to be a good solution to a desire for love and romance without the emotional repercussions real-life relationships can have. Women who desire the drama of romance can play this out in a way that impacts only them, thereby saving not only themselves but others from heartbreak.
Virtual relationships protect the players from experiencing very real hurt, angst, disappointment, or confusion. But they also make a real-life relationship increasingly impossible or unsatisfying because a real relationship can then never measure up to one that can be manipulated at will to fulfill the highest standards of romance and perfection.
Women who find themselves online, hoping to achieve the romance, relationship, and intrigue they desire in a real-life relationship will thus only ever be disappointed by a real person.
In our day and age, we have set impossible standards for ourselves when it comes to characteristics of a potential partner and the kind of romantic relationship we feel is both achievable and deserved.
In his book The Meaning of Marriage, author Tim Keller explains the common perspective and demand of relationships, particularly marriage, by those of marrying age today:
“Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals. Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me. But ironically, this newer version of marriage actually puts a crushing burden of expectation on marriage and spouses in a way that more traditional understandings never did. And it leaves us desperately trapped between both unrealistic longings for and terrible fears about marriage.”
While an initial use of such simulated relationships apps may seem harmless or like a game, a steady stream of influence will eventually leave those involved longing for the same type of relationship in real life.
But real relationships don’t work this way. They cannot be put in a box, controlled, or manipulated to perfection. And if people seeking love continue to train their minds through apps such as these – or movies, or dating apps with endless choices of potential partners – they will find themselves lonely, isolated, and disappointed, unable to find contentment in a real but ultimately imperfect relationship.