Virtual Media, Online Marriage, Self-Representation. Jeong Han Lee (Seminar @ Thursday 1 PM)
In the digital era of emerging Web 2.0 and with its rapid expansion, internet not only became the intimate medium to socialize between the audience, but also a virtual media network to express themselves and present their identity.
As the world slowly accepting virtual media, social network games have become the new phenomenon. This outbreak can be credited to online marriage, which initiated a sensation around the world.
The reading “Understanding Social Media : Social Media Games” by Hinton & Hjorth, the author outlines that the social media games are not only focused for entertainment like the traditional games but also for building relationships. Online marriage game is recognized as one of the most distinctive characteristic of social network games as the game also contains the its strength of social network games of mobility in a “light-attention mode of engagement”. The game is very enjoyable and does not require as much concentration and does not require to play in an “arranged period of specific time” and can be played anywhere in anytime at any occasion that you are allowed to play on your device. Simultaneously, as Hinton & Hjorth cited Reid’s theory, the online marriage game becomes unique in a sense of social dimension, as such MUDs (multi-user games called multi-user dungeons/domains) provides opportunity to create online communities and “forms of rich online sociality”.
However, there has been a discussion on these issues of online marriage game caused by the virtual media has brought a confusion in representation of identity and became an issue and scandal to the publics in society and online community.
“How do media reflect the idea of identity?”
The question leads to the discussion of online identity and community network in Asian context and its media influences and effects to the publics in the society, which is examined through the concept of “Web Marriage”, the newest trend amongst the internet users of Chinese youth culture.
In the reading “Online Intimacy in a Chinese Setting” by McLaren, the impact of the growing online marriage in Chinese network is discussed. It is stated that, this popular demanding digital game of online marriage has become the most entertaining communication network with practices of creative role play and features of fantasy to satisfy the main current of sensitive social standards. Also, the online marriage platforms, to support Chinese commercial network, not only became the newest phenomenon, but also derives the cyber world to lead the electronic government and public news.
A shocking incident has exposed the problems of the current Chinese community network caused by the virtual marriage phenomenon. According to a mass media communication of China, Mr. Ding was suspected of bigamy, as he was married with another woman online and lived a virtual life with a child. The incident has led Mrs. Ding to claim recompense for her spiritual injury.
The incident notified the current status of virtual marriage and granted an opportunity to re-consider and modify the online games in Chinese communities.
“Is virtual marriage, a game or just a platform where people have affairs?”
Even if with the doubt of some scholars, questioning the dimension of “Sociality” within the social network games, arguing that the users of social media games are not as social as they seem to be, as Hinton & Hjorth stresses Rossi’s point, as there are two type of users in social media game, and “real friends (that is, people who they socialise with), and instrumental friends (who are on the user’s friend list within the SNS, but who might otherwise have only a very weak relationship with that user)” and the ‘Instrumental friends’ may only engage with the game, rather than engaging on intimate relationship.
Hinton & Hjorth argue with Huizinga’s point, that games are separate from the virtual world and the reality, as the virtual world only simulates within the virtual world and does not affect the reality and therefore users are “free to play, to try things out and fail without fear”.
Online marriage is now a new phenomenon in China and made a huge profit to web industries, with its strength to replace your perspective to desired value and live a quality life with your virtual partner and child, has appealed the online audiences. It operated as a medium of sub-satisfaction. The effect was strong and influential. People threw themselves into the cyber world, lost their identities and have trouble returning to reality. People could not differentiate the fantasy and the real life. People are afraid to accept reality where their true life belongs, as they are not pleased with their life.
Online marriage has been a temporary way of escaping reality but simultaneously, it has concerned the offline sociological relationships and been an intimidation for the audience in Chinese community network.
Also, the cultural setting of China is focused in the reading, as the individual psychological influence, which led from the relationship between ‘offline’ and ‘online’. The old days of China had ‘one child a family’ policy and therefore in the modern days, these children grew up and has become the mainstream of Chinese youth online culture and the major cause for the growth of online ‘Social Network System’ that brought a huge impact on ‘Online Youth means’ in modern culture.
The members from the online communities defined this online marriage as a simple game, a way of stress relief, in a sense of treatment after over timed work and isolations. The users stated the cause for the matter of virtual marriage, as a medium of self-representation, such as eager to achieve the freedom in cyber world that contrasts to the pressure of daily life in reality.
“They continue to explain that the whole thing is just fantasy. Nowadays, everyone is under enormous pressure in real life — to find a job, to get a promotion, to refrain from upsetting your boss or your spouse. Only in the make-believe world can we pursue the kind of things unreachable or even unfathomable.”
This quote from the news article ‘Marriage bells toll in cyber churches’ by China Daily, questions the audience, ‘what people do with media’ rather than ‘what media does to people. Therefore, the idea assumes that the media will only influence the audience that would react to the message and the audiences are active, playing the role of interpreting and integrating media into their own lives, under the premise of using the mass media to fulfill their satisfactions. Therefore, the idea supports that there are no negative effects as audience are able to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
However, another quote from the article denies the positive statement and argues that there are negative effects of ‘sexual stimulation’ and also it can harm kids mentally of psychologically detrimental.
“Defenders like He Cong seem to be among the minority in China. Most experts, as quoted by the press, are strongly against it. It is psychologically detrimental to kids because it is a form of sexual stimulation, contends Wang Yuexi, a doctor at a Xi’an-based family planning centre. She is referring to explicit language often used among wanghun couples.”
As the cyber world initiated a temporal way to escape reality and provides simulated potential to live in an ideal lifestyle, the Chinese virtual marriage users abandoned their natural identity and considered themselves as someone else with their desired standards. The significant impact caused by the media, motivates to advance the phenomenon and provoked as side-effect and became a threat to the offline perception of marriage.
Nanjing University’s sociologist, Dr. Xu revealed the reason for the phenomenon: “Nowadays, most middle school students are the only child in their families and lack sufficient communication with outside world. The thoughts of teenagers are always changing. However, their parents are usually too busy to talk with them. The endless internet satisfies their various psychological needs, including yearning for communication and acknowledgment in their offline worlds. Sometimes teenagers look forwards to adult life, such as marriage, which they can hardly realize in their real life. Therefore they turn to on-line marriage. I suggest parents should communicate more with their children, know about their children’s psychological development and prevent them from getting addicted to the virtual marriage”, in the article ‘On-line Marriage Can Be a Mixed Blessing’, from ‘All-China Women’s Federation’.
In result of the potential psychological influence, the users’ emotions started to depend on the virtual world.
The mainstream of Chinese news media reported concerns about the phenomenon of web marriage and its influence on users’ psychological behavior towards their real marriage in reality. As users continues to get themselves involved with virtual marriage, it may result in emotional consequences and conflicts with their partner in real life and the ideology of marriage may take place of responsibility.
Since the Chinese communist government did not allow freedom, the current youths yearns for freedom so much that as in result, the modern Chinese contemporary culture has opened to a new generation ‘virtual life’. It became a medium to self-express and also to temporal escape from reality. “It can supplement your real life if it is used wisely”. (Marriage bells toll in cyber churches, by China Daily) Through virtual marriage, people were able to hide their bashful identities behind the virtual life with the new identities of their ‘ideal’ perspectives. Through these acts of online marriage, it has changed the perception of “abnormal” in the modern times both in virtual and real life and has influenced the society. It was able to break free from the conservative views of society by formulating their own ways of self-express themselves. These acts became a means to find their identities of ‘ideal’ perspectives of themselves. Simultaneously, it has become a threat to ‘offline’ social community, but at the same time it showed many of positive outcomes and therefore it is expected to see a huge development in the Chinese modern culture.
Through the researches of the online web marriage of Chinese contemporary culture, it is known that the media is intensively taking its position to form and maintain public’s self-representations of identity via popular culture. Also, drawing on the concept of media and socio-political change in base of representation of identity, media has been distinct to both social and political to publics, which evolves circumstances and these variations occurs in respect to contextual shifts.
l Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Introduction to Social Media
Understanding Social Media (pp. 1 – 6).
London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
l Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). What is Web 2.0?
Understanding Social Media (pp. 7 – 31).
London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
l Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Social Media Games
Understanding Social Media (pp. 100 – 119).
London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
l Zhou, R. (2004). Marriage bells toll in cyber churches
The News Article, China Daily.
l Women of China English Montly. (2005). On-line Marriage Can Be a Mixed Blessing
The News Article, All-China Women’s Federation.
l Boing Boing Video. (2009). Man marries videogame character in Japan (first-ever man/game wedding)
Boing Boing TV, Youtube
l McLaren, A. (2007) Online Intimacy in a Chinese Setting.”
Asian Studies Review (pp. 409 ‐ 422).
l Lo, K. (2009) The Web Marriage Game, The Gendered Self, and Chinese Modernity
Cultural Studies. (pp. 381 – 403)