You see them sometimes in Second Life: avatars that look like children. Which, in and of itself, is not particularly noteworthy; in a world where everyone can choose to look any way they wish, from supermodel-esque bombshell to bare-chested tough guy to anthropomorphic animal, kid-size avatars probably don’t even cause the Weird-O-Meter to twitch. Often, these avatars are actually role-playing as children…and sometimes, not all that play is “innocent.” For some, this represents a needed safety valve in society; for others, it represents a clear and present danger.
All these practices are sometimes grouped under the rubric of “ageplay,” i.e., role-playing your avatar as an “age” markedly different from your true age. Many people, however, see the term used as solely referring to sexual forms of this play. In a recent post for Second Life Insider, Tateru Nino (the Tireless 🙂 ) attempts to reclaim that term from the sexual ghetto into which it has fallen, pointing out many of the positive, even theraputic, aspects of role-playing as a child. I’ve no doubt her intentions are good here, and, in fact, I agree with much of what she has to say, having seen a few of these ageplayers myself, including one girl who, in another (fully adult!) “guise,” worked as a dancer at the Gin Rummy. (That is, until her inventory was eaten by the asset server and LL seemed powerless to do anything about it. But that’s another story.) But I have my doubts that one of these posts, or even ten or a hundred, can permanently change the perception of “ageplay” in the minds of the reading public.
She did, however, appear to lightly gloss over the notion of sexual ageplay at the end of this piece, which prompted a scathing rebuttal from (as one might have guessed) Prokofy Neva. Unfortunately, Prokofy marred this rebuttal by attributing Tateru’s seeming dismissal of the issue of sexual ageplay to her (publically-documented) Asperger’s syndrome. This was not only, in my view, “hitting below the belt,” it was also unnecessary, as he had an excellent point even without using that argument.
So what, then, is the Reasonable Avatar supposed to think? I posted my own comment to Tateru’s piece; this post represents an elaboration of my own thinking in this matter.
First of all, I would hope that everyone reading this piece would agree: The sexual abuse of children in real life is absolutely evil and wrong, beyond any possible hope of redemption. The people who engage in this behavior prey on the weakest among us, taking advantage of their trust and violating their minds as much as they violate their bodies. Predators such as this are incapable of being completely cured, and civilized society has gradually come to recognize this, with the adoption of various notification laws such as “Megan’s Law.” In my perfect society, the sentence for such actions would be death, preferably a very painful one.
In Second Life, of course, no actual children are harmed, as everyone on the Grid is supposed to be of legal age. (Except that LL has muddied the waters considerably in this respect by doing away with account verification–which makes this issue all the more pressing.) But the question is: Does engaging in sexual ageplay in SL make it less likely that a person will engage in pedophilia in RL, or more? I’ve no doubt you could find the issue argued both ways, and I myself am uncertain. But when I reframe the question as, “Is the potential benefit worth the potential risk?” I am less uncertain; my answer is, “No, it is not.”
Is such behavior in SL legal? Certain people in the Netherlands (as Prokofy points out) don’t think so, while some interpretations of certain U.S. Supreme Court decisions could lead one to conclude that there’s no law against it in the U.S. (or rather, that any that were passed were struck down as unconstitutional). But does it have to be illegal to be wrong? Consider this thought by noted conservative blogger Mrs. du Toit:
The rules of civility, ethics, and morality exist regardless if they are written into law or not. But people will demand they be written into law if people refuse to comply willingly, allowing some discretion, latitude, and forgiveness in the personal sphere, where none will exist in the sphere of laws.
A society that condones, excuses, or lauds irresponsibility, immorality, and unethical behavior is doomed to the Jack Booted Thug.
If you demand that all indiscretions must rise to the level of illegal to be punished or challenged, you will get your wish.
Very well, then. If sexual ageplay in SL is to be considered wrong, then what shall we, as a community, do about it? One answer might be for people to make a declaration: “I will not engage in child sex play in Second Life, nor will I associate or do business with those that do.” (This is indirectly derived from the honor code at the U.S. military academies: “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those among us who do.”) I would certainly not advocate direct action against sexual ageplayers; we’ve seen all too often how even righteous defense of one’s own property can turn into allegations of griefing sworn against the victim by the griefer–and then upheld by LL. Rather, those that stand against this practice should simply employ their own freedom of association and choose not to associate with those that practice it. After all, LL has told us that we are free to ban others from our property, for any reason or none, and given us the tools to do so. If enough known sexual ageplayers start running into ban-lines, perhaps the message will be clear.
There are those who would call this “intolerance.” To them I say: If the word “intolerance” can be stretched to cover your own free choices as to who you will and will not associate with, then it has been watered down to the point where it no longer has any meaning and can be used to mean anything those in power say it means–and that way lies tyranny. Besides, the one thing that the soi-disant philosophy of “tolerance” is absolutely intolerant of is the notion that there are absolute moral standards, things forever beyond the pale for civilized human beings. Give that up, and you lose any notion of a “moral compass” by which to judge your own actions and those of others–and that way lies anarchy.
Whatever we, as a community, decide to do about the issue of sexual ageplay, whether it be adopting the solution I have outlined or another, we had best do it soon, as forces in RL politics are already gathering to take the decision out of our hands by enshrining it in law. And if that happens, as Mrs. du Toit suggests, we won’t like the results.
UPDATE: A fresh post by Tateru on Second Life Insider this morning brings two items of note to the discussion. First, she “find[s] the whole notion of the depiction of any sexual activity with minors to be personally upsetting,” which I was 99.999% sure of in any event, but it’s nice to have confirmation. Since, as she says, “Most of you already know that,” she didn’t feel a need to mention it in the original post. It might have been nice to include that bit of context in there, though, as lots of people may read SLI who don’t know Tat well enough to have heard her opinion personally (and may not yet be in SL at all, for that matter).
Second and more important, LL is cracking down on depictions of sexual activity involving minors. The text of a notecard being circulated to certain residents is as follows:
Dear Second Life Resident:
Linden Lab would like to inform you that your land or business is possibly not in compliance with Second Life’s Community Standards. The depiction of sexual activity involving minors may violate real-world laws in some areas, and the Second Life community as a whole has made it clear that it views such behavior to be broadly offensive. Linden Lab chooses not to allow the advertising or promotion of age play or related activities in any public forum — including in-world textures, classified ads, the Second Life forums, or parcel descriptions.
Advertisements, promotions, or descriptions of such activities must be removed to avoid account sanctions. Any account asserting an age that does not meet Second Life’s minimum age of eligibility will be closed.
Naturally, I applaud LL’s efforts in this regard, but I would encourage Residents to keep an eye out for this kind of behavior as well, perhaps adopting the approach I outlined above. If the community, including LL, can be seen to be effectively policing itself for this kind of behavior, that might put the kibosh on the RL lawmakers’ attempts to impose control from outside.