High school student Xiaoxin is madly in love.
The sweet voice of a girl wakes him up every morning and lulls him to sleep at night, and in between, as the two lovebirds continue to communicate by phone, he shares with her his deepest secrets and longings and they also chat about any other topic under the sun.
But one day, Xiaoxin decides to dump her, the reason being he’s run out of pocket money. He cancels his subscription to the service at an e-commerce website, where he has been hiring his virtual girlfriend for 20 yuan (US$3.25) a day.
The service, called Untouchable Lover, is available at some stores on Taobao, e-commerce giant Alibaba’s online shopping platform. There are more than 700 search results for the keyword “untouchable lover” on Taobao, according to Guangzhou Daily.
Most of the online stores offering the service charge between 20 and 30 yuan a day, the newspaper reports. That may seem like a pittance, but one of the most popular virtual lovers serviced 339 clients as of last count.
The virtual lover service may have been inspired by the Oscar-nominated film Her, which tells of the romantic affair between a lonely hack named Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and an operating system with artificial intelligence named Samantha (Scarlett Johannson).
The movie’s plot is played out in a variety of versions all across China through the Untouchable Lover service.
Developed and operated mostly by young Taobao store owners, the service assigns real people to serve as anonymous virtual lovers. They call the clients to wake them up in the morning, say good night before they sleep, listen to their stories and complaints, give them some pep talk, and do other things. Sometimes they communicate through text messages. Virtual sex is a no-no.
Clients can even choose the style of their virtual girlfriend. Before they pay for the service, they are asked: “Do you want her to be lovely and innocent, mature and elegant, or like the girl next door?”
Virtual boyfriends are also available for female clients.
“Many of my clients ask for my picture and some want me to sing for them, even teach them Cantonese,” 20-year-old Xiaomin tells the newspaper. “But I’m not almighty.”
She says she flatly rejects requests for erotic services.
Most of the Taobao stores that offer the Untouchable Lover service do so to supplement their main business, hoping that it will bring in more web traffic and potential buyers of their main products.
The report says most of the clients don’t extend their use of the service after their first purchase.
When asked whether he will continue with the service once he is able to get enough money for longer-term use, Xiaoxin, the high school student, asks rhetorically, “Does it make any sense [to date a virtual girl]?”
But other clients seem to enjoy the service. “I can’t help feeling slightly wistful about the feeling of sweet love it gives,” says one client in a product review.
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