Game Theory

Iam glad that the tenure review committee can't see me now. Two hours ago, I was in a small lecture hall, discussing the documentary 49 Up with a group of college students. Now I'm nervously clutching my notebook as I wait in the plush lobby of xXx Fantasy Escorts. Brieanne Bomazi, one of Second Life's most well-regarded sex workers has agreed to lift the curtain on the virtual world's thriving sex industry.

An instant-messaging window alerts me that Brieanne would like to teleport me to her private chambers. I swallow deeply and accept her invitation. A split-second later, I materialize in Brieanne's room.

She has turned on her "radio," so we can both hear the same audio stream of soothing soft rock. Small but cozy, the space combines zebra stripes with warm red colors, a fireplace, a bed and a sitting area. The wall above the fireplace boasts a dynamically updated picture-frame that periodically pulls up a random image from a database of erotic art.

Brieanne sits on the couch and invites me to join her. Touching an icon labeled "sit," I belatedly realize that I have activated a "cuddling pose ball." My avatar makes a beeline for the couch and curls up in Brieanne's arms. Mortified by this unexpected display of intimacy, I leap to my feet and back away from the couch. Brieanne giggles as I nudge my avatar gently into a nearby chair.

It is an embarrassing moment, but I realize - as I glance around the room - that this mistake could have been much worse. Her room is full of blue and pink pose balls that enable far more risqué behaviors.

Once propriety is restored, the interview begins. "In real life, I am 34 years old," she tells me. "I'm married, and I work at a real-life job as a dispatcher for a plumbing company. During the evening, when my husband is playing a fantasy-themed online game, I work here as the General Manager for xXx Fantasy Escorts."

Many people find it hard to wrap their minds around the thought of sexual activity in a virtual world, but Brieanne says that the process is relatively straightforward. Although all new avatars are born into the world as sexless "Barbie and Ken dolls," it is easy to find shops that sell genital attachments. The most basic models function at a purely visual level, and residents can pay more for highly interactive

"Most people enjoy the visual aspects," reports Brie, "but it's the wordplay that brings it to life. Anyone can go through the motions on a pose ball.

"Second Life allows you to explore those sides of you which, in real life, you might not have the ways, means, or self-confidence to explore," she explains. "It's a way to anonymously fulfill secret fantasies with no threats to your daily life, home, or health. There is no risk of disease, and there are no unwanted

Business is booming. Brieanne sees as many as 20 clients in a typical week. Describing herself as "100 percent Pure Southern Belle," she offers massage and lap dances ($1), private sessions ($4), nude dancing ($6.50), and threesomes ($8). When she can carve out enough privacy on the home front, she provides live voice chat on Yahoo or Skype ($12 per half hour).

However, since she does not own the nightclub, Brieanne doesn't keep all of the money. She happily kicks back one-fifth of her gross to the two women who founded xXx Fantasy Escorts. This money is used to pay for rental costs, advertising, and security guards. Even in a virtual world, this type of protection is necessary. "No girl has to put up with being mistreated," says Brieanne. "Griefers and rule-breakers are ejected and banned.

"This establishment is woman-owned and women-run," she adds proudly. "This was important to me. Women tend to keep a better house as far as the rules are concerned."

Like many residents, Brieanne finds Second Life's phenomenal growth both exciting and disturbing. The world now has more than 1.3 million residents, and is growing at the rate of 20 percent a month. This enlarges Brieanne's potential customer base, but it also puts a serious drain on the world's servers. "The loads on the asset servers sometimes render movement impossible,"she notes.

For now at least, something seems to be working. Brieanne's reviews are wildly positive. "I felt an attraction, not just from her nice SL-looks but from her really sexy mind as well," enthuses Max Sarlo on SL-Escorts.Com. A reviewer named Virtuatravller agrees, reporting that "she seemed to have known me for years, zeroing in on the exact language, tempo, pace, and dirtiness level that I liked. She took direction but wasn't afraid to introduce new ideas."

Brieanne smiles when I ask about her clients. "I have numerous regulars. Everything you can imagine. Husbands. Boyfriends. Single men. Professional ones to blue collar. It runs the gamut. They all have real lives, and real interests. This gives them a place to explore their fantasies."

Brieanne's customers are not the only ones with a secret life. Most of her real-life friends, including her husband, have no clue about her nocturnal activities. "They know that I run a successful club in Second Life," she says with a grin. "But not that type of club."


Aaron Delwiche also writes about digital culture in his web log: