In defence of fantasy

Second Life continues to nose cone social issues. Linden Lab recently flagged the introduction of optional identity and age verification.

Yesterday the official Linden blog included an article titled “Keeping Second Life Safe Together“; an Orwellian post that will generate a fierce backlash from what may be the most liberal community in the world. Encouraging people to notify Linden Lab about “broadly offensive and potentially illegal content” sends shivers down my spine. Who is to define ‘broadly offensive’? Mutual fantasies among consenting adults should not be the subject of censorship.

Mostly, I expect the policy changes are reactions to criticism of age play in the environment. This is a business decision. Any publicity to do with age play damages the wholesomeness that the Disneys of the world require. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were both 16 by the way. Commercial pressures are driving Linden Lab towards the mainstream and away from the interesting fringes which have the potential to influence our social development as a species. I’d rather they had a little less success as a business and a little more success as social engineer.

Here is what precipitated the changes. Report Mainz, a news program in Germany recently covered an age play “scandal” in Second Life, having taken a video of two people role-playing illicit sex. The story frustrated members of the role-playing community in Second Life on two fronts. Firstly, it didn’t mention that two willing participants were involved, i.e. they were role-playing. Secondly, neither person was under-age. Just shoddy journalism.

The story is that the two people involved in the role-play were banned by Linden Lab from Second Life. If they were two consenting adults acting out private fantasies I would be arguing they should not have been banned. In this case, it is said they were charging people to watch the rape scene. You could argue that this is a way of publishing pornography and that the ban is justifiable on those grounds. I’m not so sure. Were they charging $100 or just $1 to stop newbs stumbling in?

The problem is not that people fantasize. Fantasy is universal, stimulating and perhaps even therepeutic. The problem is that some men cannot control their behaviour in the real world. As I understand it, this has to do with aberrant upbringings where there is a lack of love. Boys who are physically or emotionally abused, boys who are not loved and boys who are ostracised are likely to become abusive in adulthood. Their attempts at rape or abuse are a reaction to their sense of powerlessness. Fundamentally that is what needs to be addressed.

Only by treating the current generation of the powerless can we hope to protect the next generation from falling into the same pattern but nothing tried to date (education, publicity, ad-hoc counselling…) has worked. Perhaps a more positive attitude towards fantasy and role-play is a way forward?

Violence and sexual fantasies are normal parts of human make-up. Let me put it this way. If you’re an adult male and you’ve never fantasized about punching someone’s lights out or you’ve never fantasized about having sex with someone underaged, just put a comment to that effect on this blog entry. We can try and suppress our violent/sexual urges and pretend they don’t exist or we can look for ways of expressing these urges which do not harm other people.

I know two ladies in Second Life who were sexually abused as girls. Both enjoy role-playing sexual “victims”. One of them explained to me that this has helped her deal with what happened to her in the real world. In role-play she has control and power in the scene. As a little girl she felt powerless and assumed that what was happening was her fault. Through role-play she has formed a positive new interpretation of who she is as a sexual being.

I haven’t spoken to any men who say they’ve abused women, so I don’t know if they are using the role-play positively.

The role-play in Second Life also creates a community of people who have had similar experiences. They can be anonymous and share openly what’s happened to them in a social situation on their own terms instead of in a serious analytical or clinical context. I submit that those contexts are not always conducive to healing.

I believe that role-play of the sort being practised in Second Life is a healthy thing, even when it involves age-play. It lets abused people externalize their experiences anonymously in a safe environment. Furthermore, stories get told to people who’ve had no exposure to such things. As such there is an educational benefit to the broader community. These stories should be heard.

Where are the psychology and research professions on this? They should be active in this debate.


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