Written 13 July, 2009
Some Thoughts on Child Avatars
I. Safe Space
Whimsy is ABSOLUTELY SAFE SPACE for furries, tinies, dragons, vampires, mechanical avatars, and human avatars of all shapes, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, perceived avatar age, and lifestyle. If you are harassed, please contact sim management immediately.
--- From the Whimsy Covenant
Avatars in Second Life come in almost infinite varieties. Whimsy is safe space for all of them: elves, furries, vampires, tinies, dragons, robots, mermaids… and child avatars. When child avies visit I treat them with the same respect I would show anyone else.
The weekend of the Fourth was a test for this we-welcome-all policy. During our fireworks show/rez-day-celebration-for-Sweetie, we had several child avatar visitors. A couple of people were bothered by this, and one excused herself, saying in IM she couldn’t be in the presence of child avies lest she be pegged as a pedophile. I told her I understood her decision and hoped she would come back to visit later.
A lone child avatar came to see our fireworks show. She IMed me afterward, asking if she could come to the dance platform where a bunch of us had retired. When I said “Yes, of course,” her gratitude was palpable. Later, she asked if she could bring over some friends and I said yes again. Her friends were child avies also, and she and they were perfectly well-behaved. I think they had a good time.
So, Whimsy has lived up to its covenant.
That said, I’m seriously bothered by child avatars.
It has always bothered me that seeming children are controlled by adults. I know that sweet-faced four-year-old is a balding fortysomething alcoholic named Freddy and that two-year-old is a tattooed Alabama divorcee named Mabel. But when I told Sweetie last night I would be writing this blog, she hit the nail on the head.
What bothers her about child avatars, she said, is this: adults are playing innocents.
Sweetie was right. A child avatar is qualitatively different from a twentysomething hotty played by a 60-year-old or a fierce dragon played by an agoraphobic clerk or an anthropomorphized rabbit played by a 19-year-old. It’s an experienced adult portraying our most vulnerable and dependent, a naïf, a child.
Despite the Linden ban, I’m certain a great deal of age play is still going on in private spaces. I can’t help but think this private illicit sex spills over into public, most notably in appearance: I see altogether too many “children” sexualized with adult skins and makeups.
I ran into the avatar pictured above at a public sandbox. She was just creepy. Because of the way she looks and the way her AO causes her to lick the lollypop she holds, I absolutely consider her a walking sexual display. If this Jon Benet Ramsey wannabe were to show up on Whimsy I would ask her to change her appearance or leave— or, more likely, ban her on sight—not because she’s a child, but because she is a sexualized child.
Such sexualized child avatars make it different for the other type of child avies: the ones who do their best to look and act like real children.
But I question the underlying motives of even those folks.
I’d always supposed people who ch0ose to portray children in a nonsexual manner were reliving an unhappy or unsatisfactory childhood—but lately I’ve become convinced many such folks are simply retreating from the pressures of adulthood. They infantilize themselves to escape—what? Job? Family responsibility? Sexual feelings? Their adult bodies?
It bothers me that they’re not portraying children as they really are. Rather, they are walking stereotypes of children—children who are more vulnerable, more innocent than any real child could possibly be. They not only infantilize themselves by wearing the virtual bodies of children; they further infantilize the child they portray in their profiles, and in their chat:
I’s is five yeaws owd and I wuvs my mommy and daddy and all my fwiends at Ms. Sunshine’s Learning Academy. I wuvs to pway on the swings at the pwaygwound and go to the zoo with my pawents. I wuvs my bunny Fwuffy.
Real children absolutely do not talk or think like this. The avatars in Second Life who engage in such baby talk are subverting children in ways other than merely portraying them— they are robbing children of their intellect and language abilities. I cringe when I hear them talking.
So yeah, child avies bother me. But Whimsy will continue to be safe space for everyone.