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But while virtual relationships and the feelings underpinning them can be real and intense for those involved, the users I spoke to all referred to the real world implications of virtual love.

Max and his fiancee live on different American coasts but are determined to make their relationship last by meeting up offline in the near future.

“A few years ago, people saw online dating as a strange, perverted new trend and now it’s part of normal behaviour” says Dr Barber.

And those who are committed to real-world partners often play together, exploring the same relationship in virtual space.Overall, users emphasised the respectful nature of the platform: some told me about an “underground experience” within VR Chat, consisting of erotic role-play using full body equipment and private worlds especially catered to fetishes – but all wanted to remain anonymous due to the taboo nature of this activity within the VR Chat community.The mother then captured screenshots of the event in order to warn others.She described the incident in a public Facebook post that read, in part: At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.In our Extremely Online series, we explore the apps, trends, subcultures, and all the other weird stuff the internet continues to offer.

Max* met his partner around 18 months ago, when they struck up conversation in a bar.

The mother of the child, whose avatar was the victim of the in-game sexual assault, was nearby when the incident took place.

She says her child showed her what was happening on the screen and she took the device away, fortunately shielding her daughter from seeing most of the activity.

It’s a huge-scale multiplayer virtual reality universe in which players navigate virtual lives as avatars, meeting, interacting, and even, in Max’s case, marrying others.

“The relationship developed just like a real world one, and the feelings we have for each other are exactly the same,” says Max, who speaks to me between his real life part-time job as an office administrator and the ten-hour shifts he puts in daily on VR Chat.

“These relationships do have the same feel as real-life relationships” he says, explaining that VR Chat offers a multitude of maps which lend themselves to the virtual dating scene: cinemas, bars, hotels, island resorts, nightclubs and homes make up just some of the available locations.