“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Buttercup Thursday.
Children. I love them. They are wise and curious and brave and vulnerable. Some of my best friends are six. I welcome children into my real life. But Second Life? That’s another story.
Let’s remember that the children you see in Second Life, in their velvets and lace, with their moppet haircuts and ringlets, their bouncy, skippy AOs and teddy bears and lollipops, are not children at all. They are adult men and women, who shrink themselves down and speak baby talk and wuv their mommies and daddies. Okay, maybe there is fun to be had, roleplaying as a child. Maybe these adults come into SL as children to explore other sides of themselves. Many of us do that. But to me, children in Second Life are just creepy.
The whole pregnancy thing in SL is already a bit sad and creepy. The only thing worse than a talking penis is a talking embryo. But after a long (but shorter than nine real months), expensive and chatty time, and perhaps a pretend ultrasound to show lucky friends, a female avatar can experience the miracle of giving birth to a new prim. The baby is then the equivalent of a shoulder kitten, except not as cute; and if mama wants to go shopping there is an always-available, free baby-sitter, called Inventory. This scenario is unappealing to me, but I recognize that it is ultimately harmless. It is one of those adult fantasies that are fulfillable in SL, no matter how strange it looks to the rest of us; and the only person it need affect is the person who chooses to roleplay the pregnancy.
But SL “children” are people who speak and interact. They can travel anywhere in Second Life, and frequently turn up on adult sims (where they are frequently ejected). Children inspire tenderness and protective instincts in most of us. They can’t be ignored. Raising and protecting children in real life is serious business. And yet I find myself shopping for a skin in Second Life while a “child”, probably a 40-year old man, skips around and does cartwheels. I’m sorry. It’s creepy.
There were a couple of “children” in a dance club recently. Not in a virtual nursery school, but a club where adults come to meet and dance, late at night. I politely asked in open chat what they were doing, and shouldn’t they be home in bed? They suggested (in IM) that they weren’t hurting anyone so perhaps I could leave them alone. But they were hurting someone. They made my brain hurt and caused a queasiness in the pit of my stomach. A number of people thanked me in IM for speaking to them, as the “children” also made them uncomfortable. I could have left the club, but instead I reported our discomfort to the club owner, who promptly evicted them from the premises and installed a no-child avatar clause in the club’s official policy. Parents: do you know where your “children” are?
I’m willing to believe that there are people in Second Life playing wholesome happy families, with adoring parents and siblings, family portraits and cheerful outings. May they forever enjoy their picturesque rides on carousel horses, and their perfect TV Christmas mornings under huge trees laden with presents. Enjoy away, and thank you for not sharing.
But the fact is that there are child predators in SL (and willing “child” victims) who act out their deviant sexual fantasies inworld in Second Life’s darkest corners. You might as well blame the Internet for this as blame SL. Such predators hide under rocks by necessity, and if one rock is overturned, they scurry to find another one. It is sad that age-play is still a “thing” in Second Life, even after pedophile and child pornography activities were rooted out by Linden Lab back in 2007, and an age verification system put into effect at that time. It is a chilling reality, but probably inevitable as long as such individuals exist. Because all participants seem to be willing does not make their illegal activities victimless, forgivable or even understandable.
I don’t know how many “children” are participating in stomach-churning scenarios in Second Life. I do know age verification, to all intents and purposes, no longer exists; it is possible for minors to travel freely in SL. Minors or adults, “children” are being victimized. Willingly or unwilling, “children” are being exploited. What can I do about it? Nothing. But I don’t have to like co-existing with pretend children, and I don’t.
People remain free to come into SL and enjoy wholesome running about as cutesy tots, sucking on soothers, even though such playground fun with like-minded adults sounds like it might be compelling entertainment for about as long as a real child’s attention span. Maybe that’s why “children” turn up at more interesting/adult locations, which leads me to wonder why they continue to play the role of a child when life in faux Disneyland has clearly lost its appeal. Or perhaps they are peeking out from under a rock, and looking for like minded darkness-dwellers. I can’t tell, unless I or a companion are asked outright (which has happened), so if you please, little “children” I suffer you to NOT come unto me. It is offensive and distressing. I promise to avoid you and think no more about you, if you promise to do the same.
To all the “children” who will cry foul, stomp their baby feet and claim discrimination, note that I am not stopping you. You are entitled to your child’splay, and I am entitled to my opinion.
Second Life is and always will be, to me, an adult activity, an adult world. I don’t care one iota what consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their Second Life. I don’t care that most child avatars are adults. What I do care about is actual children, who deserve not only our love and respect, but also our protection.
For slum magazine.
Illustration adapted from a creepy