>The short diaphanous gown skims the top of her creamy white thighs casting enticing shadows with each small movement.

I went on to describe the full swell of breasts tipped with the suggestion of rosy pink flowers, flaming curls of hair that dance with each movement and soft lips set in a suggestive smile. The exact wording is mercifully lost on a hard drive two computers ago, but once upon a time that was me, back when I was the goddess of sex, beauty and, nominally, love.

Of course, one doesn’t start out as a sex goddess. I started out as a humble, barely computer-literate player on a tiny MUD (multi-user dungeon) that was still in beta. A MUD is a text-based online game played with people from around the world in real time. You chat, form parties, kill, grind, level and act out all your deepest needs, wants and neuroses. My little slice of internet fantasy was a roleplay-enforced MUD based on a popular Dungeons & Dragons setting. The administrators of the game, called Immortals, were each assigned a godly profile from the campaign setting. At the height of my online sexual rampage, I rightfully carried the title of Goddess of Love and Sex.

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It might be hard for modern MMOG players to understand the appeal of comparatively primitive MUDs, but for me there will never be anything to compete with the power of words. You have the ability to shape your character with complete freedom. My physical description could linger on the flare of my hips, and my movements were only limited by my imagination. I lightly brushed, slowly caressed, rapidly thrust, inhaled sharply, coyly smiled, brightly blushed, flushed, moaned, gasped and laughingly tossed my hair in a swath of destruction and broken hearts. Beyond my own movements, I could shape the world around me. A few deft words described the shadows, the light, the tastes and the sounds. I’d like to see an avatar do all of that.

It started in a tale as old as the modem itself. My college boyfriend was ignoring me for a MUD. He would drag me to the university library on the weekends so he could get his fix. This was especially ugly because we went to different schools three hours apart, and I only saw him on the weekends. I had two options at that point: moon around the library sighing despondently, or join the game. (I guess there was the third option of dumping him, but that didn’t occur to me until later.)

My boyfriend was already an Immortal by the time I joined the game, and administrators were not allowed to have player characters. This left me to find my own playmates. In my days as a player character I had a very strict code of conduct. I would only communicate with others in character. I would never divulge personal data about myself or share my name. And I would not chat via instant messenger outside of the game with anyone.

Inevitably, I struck up an in-character relationship and got my first taste of online romance. It was sweet and exciting in the beginning. He wrote me poems and showered me with attention. I found myself spending more and more time online. It was fun to feel the rush of a new relationship even through a character. When the time came to take the relationship to the next level it seemed the natural in-character move, but I was in a dilemma.

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I wasn’t sure how I felt about online sex. Did I want to participate? Was it dishonest? Would I get caught? I didn’t feel like it was being unfaithful to my real-life boyfriend because of the clear demarcation between me and my character. In the end I went along with it because I couldn’t come up with a good reason to say no.

After the first time I was hooked. It was exciting, arousing and a great way to spend a boring weeknight. Whatever moral pangs I felt got lost under the novelty. However, my playmate quickly became a drag. He kept trying to get to know me outside of the game. Worse still, he was ruining the game for me. He demanded more and more of my time and attention to the point that I couldn’t even go out to level anymore. I would cast invisibility and hide from him.

Around this time, I became a builder for the MUD. A builder designs new areas and writes text descriptions for the rooms, objects and monsters. To become a builder I had to create a small sample area. I knew the administrator I had to impress was a man with a bawdy reputation, so I made a bordello. I earned the position as builder, along with an extremely complicated relationship with the administrator.

Being a builder tore down my carefully crafted boundaries. I was interacting as myself and not a character. Still, I treated everything online as something of a fantasy and firmly believed I could keep online separated from real. When the building administrator started flirting with me I had a hard time ignoring his advances. I needed a new playmate after all, and I knew he did this with all the female builders. It was still just a game even if we used real names. However, we began “playing” more frequently, and our games moved to instant messages. He was older and more experienced then me and taught me a lot about the possibilities of sex. We met online everyday and enjoyed a little afternoon delight. Then the good times ended with the abrupt announcement he was falling in love with me and could no longer talk to me. I was left incredibly confused and suddenly aware that my games might have real implications.

Somewhere during the messy affair I became an Immortal. My primary duty was to run quests for the players and reward roleplaying. It was during these invisible jaunts that I encountered the most entertaining and head-scratching sexual exploits, such as two real-life males roleplaying a lesbian encounter. It became apparent almost every single player was using the MUD as a sexual playground.

Keeping the theme of my godly persona, I ran adventures based on romance and sex. One of my favorite pastimes was taking a dryad character out for a spin, luring a high level player into a cabin and locking him in there naked and helpless. I was very patient, often working on players for days to get them to trust me. I got high off the conquest, and I had an insatiable thirst for that endorphin rush that comes from meeting and charming a new person. By the time I got them back to the cabin I was already bored with them, but I didn’t know how to extricate myself from the situation. I was ravaging the male player base.

Eventually, though, I met my match and was conquered in and out of game. My dryad character failed to lure one of my targets to bed. Instead, she spent the evenings with him discussing the stars and the ocean. I ended up marrying him in real life.

Since then, I’ve given up playing online games. I think I would have anyway. I spent over five years dealing with – and causing – a great deal of drama, and it had become tiring and boring. I’ve changed all my online identities so the past can’t find me. I use to be afraid if I played online or talked to people from those times I wouldn’t have the willpower to say no when presented with temptation. Fidelity in the digital age is a tricky proposition. But beyond moral dilemmas, I’ve moved on and would rather spend time offline.

I haven’t stopped enjoying the quick thrill of falling for someone. I’ve found single-player RPGs with romance plots give me the small vicarious thrill I need. I’ll forever be devoted to BioWare because of this, and I still enjoy the occasional sappy JRPG.

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Though I’m not particularly proud of the things I did, I am grateful for the unique opportunity MUDs gave me. I got to explore my sexuality and desire with a wide range of partners in a safe space. I’m probably among the first generation to come of age on the internet, but as online social interaction becomes more commonplace I know my story will be repeated. I learned through MUDs what I needed and wanted out of a relationship. When one of my former online flings tracked me down years later and began making advances, I very clearly told him, “No, I don’t do that anymore.” I have finally learned to say no.

Amanda Yesilbas is a librarian by trade and gamer by calling.

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