It has been already said both about sex and love in Second Life: their manifestation is above all a narrative. Still, at least for sex in SL, pixel images seem to be fundamental for creating a mental imagery that supports and contributes to the process of raising sense from that narrative.
Certainly, most people will agree that good sex in SL is not just a matter of jumping on pose balls or sex-animated furniture and let it happen. The act, in Second Life, has to be verbal – and, in many cases, to a degree that would not fit any interaction of the atomic world.
Of course words can be part of a sexual relationship in what is known as real life (though in RL partners can go silent at that moment, which is hardly the case in SL). However, in Second Life, we are faced with the challenge of having to supply the lack of physical interaction by verbalizing the sexual act. Thus, sex in SL commonly involves series of depictions of how one is touching the other, how the other reacts to those movements, what they feel, how they breathe. It is a narrative – and, in this sense, a story – made of a series of descriptions in a row. And it’s a narrative built in action, while it’s happening, and by the two – or three, or four… – people involved.
Actually, those descriptions are not a mere report of what his happening. They are what is happening: if one doesn’t say how they are touching their partner – softly or roughly, calmly or in an urge, whether they are using their tongue or teeth – there is no mark of that particular touch. In other words, descriptions in a sexual act in SL are performative: they create the very action that they are describing.
Still, sexual relationships in Second Life are not the same as text sex or voice sex, for in SL we do have images.
On the one hand, the idea that images are worth a thousand words may be deceptive. It is generally used as if what we saw would speak for itself and need no description or explanation. Yet, we have learned from Roland Barthes and other authors that images – even those in movement – are frequently so full of possibilities that in order to mean something they may need to resort to other elements: photo captions, for instance, that tell us what is going on in a certain picture.
On the other hand, images also carry with them some powerful denotative elements. The best description of a certain scene may lead different people to build some very diverse sets in their minds. A picture, in turn, will show them how the scene is, reducing significantly the latitude for diverseness in the way they imagine what is being displayed.
It is in that sense that images – be them moving images or stills – help us establish a common ground for the narrative we are building together with our partners while we are engaged in a sexual act in SL. I don’t mean to discuss the psychological effects of those images to the ones who have sex in Second Life. But my point does involve this psychical aspect: actual images of the sex scene do help us to build our mental imagery related to that set – and, in an interaction with someone else, they help us guarantee that the picture that everyone involved builds in their minds will converge much better than in the lack of visual references.
So, even leaving room to the verbal depiction of the sexual act, images provide a common ground for the participants in such an interaction in Second Life to create their sexual narratives. They work like a base from where people can build a convergent imagery for their cooperative sexual playground.