Thoughts On “Thoughts On Ageplay” And The Controversy

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.

Linden Lab

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.

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7 Comments

Filed under Community, Current Events, Philosophy

7 responses to “Thoughts On “Thoughts On Ageplay” And The Controversy

  1. Thoughtful and well put. BTW, I did hear that Michael Jackson has bought the new Neverland Sim.

  2. So what about those of us whose AV is signifcantly older than us in RL? =)

    I am by no means a fan of virtual child molestation (or any form of SL “sex” for that matter), but that notecard LL is passing out worries me. Many of the things that take place in SL are illegal in some areas, even fairly innocent things like weapons possession, and in a “your world, your imagination” scenario I’m not sure it should matter if other people like what you’ve dreamed up or not.

    “Your world, your imagination, so long as everyone else approves,” heh. Not so good.

    Here’s another.. “First they came for the child molestors, but I was not a child molestor so I remained silent…”

  3. Hmm, I don’t think that being older in SL than you are in RL matters, Merle…nor being younger, as long as both you and your av belong to the classification of “legal adults.” There’s nothing wrong with a 40-year-old playing as 25, for instance.

    I’ve commented elsewhere that there just isn’t the same broad-based opposition among the community to various other practices that there is to sexualized ageplay in SL. Not even to the Goreans, who are right up there in terms of “extremes.” (I wouldn’t engage in Gorean roleplay, nor would I recommend it to anyone, but I don’t have the same kind of visceral objections to it that I have to simulated pedophilia.) So I don’t think you have to worry about them “coming for you…and there was no one left to speak up.”

  4. no spam

    This was posted over at the “Second Life Herald” website about that Supreme Court decision. It’s very intriguing and I think that everybody who feels strongly about this issue should read the decision (or at least try to get past all the legalese, lol). After reading it, I am very compelled by the argument that it should not be illegal, and all the counterarguments to what the government claimed make much more sense (like how it somehow hurts real children). Also, notice also that the only real dissent of all the justices was from William Rehnquist, so it came down on principles that both the liberals and conservatives share.

    Anyway, enough yakking, lol, here is what was posted. (The link to the text of the decision is in there).

    Quote:

    On the issue of virtual child pornography, this is what the United States Supreme Court wrote in the landmark case ASHCROFT V. FREE SPEECH COALITION, when it delivered its opinion, considering and rejecting the US government’s arguments and evidence, and overwhelmingly affirming free speech freedoms that all United States citizens are extremely lucky to enjoy:
    http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/00-795.ZS.html
    “Virtual child pornography is not ‘intrinsically related’ to the sexual abuse of children. While the Government asserts that the images can lead to actual instances of child abuse, the causal link is contingent and indirect. The harm does not necessarily follow from the speech, but depends upon some unquantified potential for subsequent criminal acts.”

    “The argument that virtual child pornography whets pedophiles’ appetites and encourages them to engage in illegal conduct is unavailing because the mere tendency of speech to encourage unlawful acts is not a sufficient reason for banning it [..] absent some showing of a direct connection between the speech and imminent illegal conduct [..]. The argument that eliminating the market for pornography produced using real children necessitates a prohibition on virtual images as well is somewhat implausible because few pornographers would risk prosecution for abusing real children if fictional, computerized images would suffice. Moreover, even if the market deterrence theory were persuasive, the argument cannot justify the CPPA because, here, there is no underlying crime at all. Finally, the First Amendment is turned upside down by the argument that, because it is difficult to distinguish between images made using real children and those produced by computer imaging, both kinds of images must be prohibited. The overbreadth doctrine prohibits the Government from banning unprotected speech if a substantial amount of protected speech is prohibited or chilled in the process.”

  5. Prokofy Neva

    Re: “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.”

    Hell, no. I argue very persuasively that the stark insensitivity to the concerns around this issue that Tateru, a very public and influential figure, brought to this inconsiderate and intemperate posting in the highly-visible AOL-sponsored blog, could be directly attributable to her condition. And I think that’s more than fine to raise. In general, it’s a point that needs raising because there’s a tendency to give anybody who waves the Aspberger’s flag, true or false, a huge pass in Second Life and I’m for ending that impunity.

    No, you don’t get to publicly wield a disability and then garner immunity from criticism, nor immunity from queries about whether your leadership role, especially on a controversial issue, is inappropriate.

    I don’t believe in allowing people to get away with emotional blackmail. I think it’s more than appropriate to raise everthing to do with public figures who are powerful and have a powerful effect on shaping the incoming impressions of newbies in particular.

    Solzhenitsyn had a very simple form of this U.S. military oath you cite, as a coping strategy for dealing with Stalinism. “Live not by the lie.”

    To me, Tateru, and her apologists, and apologists on this issue, are engaging in a very big lie. They should know exactly the emotional toll involved on people, the implications for enabling the crossing of moral boundaries, the ramifications of RL social commentary and possibly legal action. And if they can’t grasp it, and they are hobbled by some condition that prevents that, it needs to be called. No, they don’t get to hijack the whole world of SL with their point of view on this matter.

  6. Well, part of my objection to throwing in the whole Asperger’s argument was that it just seemed so unnecessary…you had an excellent point even without bringing that up. Anyway, I can no more blame Tateru for what she is than I can blame anyone else for what they are. It’s actions that speak the most volumes…as is the case with the sexual ageplayers themselves.

    (Personally, if I had Asperger’s myself, I’d want to play that condition very close to the vest. But that’s just me.)

    And, at any rate, Tateru did clarify her position…perhaps acknowledging that she’d inadvertently hit a wrong note in her initial post.

    The issue of moral boundaries is a strong one…for an example in history of what happens when boundaries erode, Kim du Toit cites the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt here (see also the followup here). He’s talking mainly about gay marriage in these posts, but it could equally apply to the discussion at hand as well…

  7. Pingback: And The Sign Said, “______ Need Not Apply” « Evans Avenue Exit

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