The internet in general has its fair share of deviance, with s-xual fetishes receiving a significant amount of media attention. Virtual worlds like Second Life are no different – there’s no shortage of vice to be found and it’s something that has fascinated the mainstream media no end.

What has got things really heated over recent months in Second Life has been a couple of incidents. One was an alleged r-pe (one avatar forced to take part in virtual s-x without consent) and the other an occurrence of graphic ageplay within Second Life.

Ageplay is traditionally defined as role-playing in which one of the persons involved pretends to be an infant, child or adolescent. There are numerous avatars wandering around Second Life the size and appearance of children and there are a multitude of shops in Second Life that sell kid’s clothing and accessories — all in a scenario where you have to be 18 to participate.

Asking why grown adults would feel the need to take on the role of children in a virtual world will bring you a range of answers, some sad, some educational and a small proportion that at best may make your stomach turn a little. The reality is that some of those role-playing as children are there for s-xual reasons.

The incident in May involved two avatars engaging in virtual s-x, with one of the avatars having the appearance of a child. When the couple was investigated it turned out both were consenting adults but the incident led to a policy of no ageplay within Second Life. Not an unreasonable stance, but like all policies its implementation has been sketchy at best.

For the sake of this story I purchased a child shape for my avatar and proceeded to walk around some easily-found s-x clubs in Second Life for an hour or so. I placed myself near avatars engaging in s-xual acts and no-one batted an eyelid.

To be fair, I wasn’t approached by anyone seeking s-x and a number of the clubs I visited had large signs stating ageplay was prohibited. That said, the ability to take on the virtual appearance of a child is breaking down a boundary that doesn’t need to be there, given the age demographic of its users.

The natural reaction of the wider population to these incidents is either one of bemusement or a distinct queasiness at the personal boundaries being stretched to the limit.

The legal implications alone are complex. In the US, depiction of ageplay isn’t necessarily unlawful whereas in Australia it may be an issue. According to some legal minds, proving s-xual assault would be challenging no matter the jurisdiction with the likelihood of reliance on laws around electronic harassment/stalking to achieve a prosecution.  

The whole thing is another legal and moral morass that has barely been explored at a societal level and it’s not something that is going to go away. In five years, Second Life may not be the virtual world of choice but the territory it’s charting is likely to have ramifications for whatever is.