Thursday, April 28, 2011

This is not a blog post about Culture Shock (at least not the kind you think)

It's a post about this:

I don't like these things. I'm about to tell you why. But maybe you can change my mind. We'll get to that in a minute.

But first, yeah, I've seen so many blog posts about the upcoming Culture Shock event that I feel like I have Culture Shock Blog Post Shock.

So you won't find that here. (Mainly because I didn't get invited to blog it. WHAT?? WHY?? I take the best pictures and write the best fashion posts in Second Life! Ninety-nine people like me! Crushed and confused!)

Kidding. In all seriousness, it sounds like a good cause. I'm glad it's getting a ton of play. Please support it.

Actually, I've been wanting to write about a different kind of culture shock -- at least for me -- for some time now, and that's the culture of child AVs in SL.

I only took one picture for this post, and it's the award-worthy one up top. Even camming in on the back of a child AV in a store made me feel seedy, so much so that I had to borrow the other picture in this post from a friend. So that's why I wanted to talk about it. And I'd like to ask some questions.

This post might offend some people, but those are exactly the people I'm hoping will offer some insights.

Ready? Here we go.

[Unfortunately, this section has now been deleted at the request of someone who does not wish me to share her story, even anonymously. My deepest apologies. To sum it up: I am aware that there are people in SL who are role-playing child abuse scenarios, and it makes me physically ill.]

I realize that in the realm of family role-playing in SL, the violence my friend witnessed that night is deviant behavior and not the norm. I want to assure people that I'm fully aware of this fact.

But that aside, here's some brutal honesty: Child AVs have always creeped me out. The thought of a grown adult sitting in a room somewhere pretending to be a five-year-old disturbs me on a pretty deep level. Add to that the fact that I've seen child AVs -- and stores that cater to them -- increase and become more mainstream during the past year. So apparently the lifestyle is getting more popular, or at least it appears to be. When I first joined SL three years ago, child AVs were sort of taboo. Now they seem to be everywhere.

Photo courtesy of Alicia Chenaux

This one, for example, approached another friend of mine in a public area and asked her to be her mommy. Somewhere out there, an adult was on a computer, dressing an AV like a child and asking another adult to be her mommy.


I don't like them. Or more accurately, my rational mind does not like them. When they approach me in stores and talk to me in baby talk, I usually answer, "Why are you an adult pretending to be a child?" which sends them (literally) skipping away or wailing "Mommmmmmy!" and running to the AV who's playing the parent.

Here's the thing, though, and I'm bolding this statement because it's kind of the cornerstone of this post:

Yes, I'm freaked out by child AVs, but I realize that -- like all prejudices against any different culture, race, lifestyle, religion, etc. -- the roots of my disgust lie in ignorance (as in, a lack of knowledge, not stupidity, although some may beg to differ), misunderstandings and assumptions.

For instance:

1. I don't know anything about the dynamics of this culture (beyond the fact that it seems like it must be mandatory for child AVs to be annoying as hell in public).
2. I can't wrap my mind around the concept because I just don't understand it.
3. I assume that adults who like to pretend to be small children have some serious issues they need to deal with.

I once heard someone say that she's a child in SL because she had an abusive childhood, and SL allows her to experience what it's like to have loving parents, which helps heal the wounds from her past. I just don't know if I can get with that reasoning. Essentially she was saying that she's putting what she considers to be a form of therapy in the hands of strangers online who have no professional training. It concerned me. I wanted to hug her.

In RL, it's my job to do everything I can to ensure the success of the companies and professionals who are my clients. Looking through this business lens, I did think of one reason for becoming a child AV that I'd possibly consider to be legitimate, and that's to provide a paid service to other SL residents. I know people in SL who have gotten married and role-played a pregnancy. For people who want to get that deeply immersed in their SL experience, I can see how the next logical step might be to role-play raising a child together. So, as mercenary as it sounds, I can completely relate to someone who would rent out their services as a child AV as a form of employment. I liken it to being a paid actor.

Beyond that, I can't fathom why anyone would want to live a virtual life as a child. After doing it for a while, it's got to mess with your head, no? I ask because sometimes when I'm spending my lunch hour at my desk at work, I think about horse combinations or create spreadsheets of procreating pixel cats so I can keep track of who's zoomin' who and what their offspring look like. (Yes, that is scary and pathetic, I know.)

I don't like generalizing people, and I don't like it when I realize that I'm judging someone based on appearance or lifestyle. I'm all about peace, love, understanding and laughs, or at least I strive to be. So if you've made it to the conclusion of this post, I leave you with a couple of requests:

1. If you know someone who RPs as a child AV, would you mind asking that person to take a look at this post and shed some light on why he or she does it?

2. I've read some excellent blog posts that do an excellent job of explaining some of SL's other oft-misunderstood subcultures. However, I've never seen a blog post written by someone who talks about the choice to be a child in SL. If you're aware of any, could you please share the link in comments?

I don't have a catchy way to end this post, so I guess I'll just say thanks for reading and have a great night or day or whatever it is when you're reading this.



Alicia Chenaux said...

I plurked this for you because I have some child avatars and some people who do the family thing in SL on my timeline. <3

nimil said...

ok so blogger ate my comment and would not let me post *cries*

i am a child avvie on an alt. i have been for several years. while i'm not very into the kid side of things recently, i do jump on from time to time to enjoy a bit of carefree second life.

yes there are creeps out there. regular me manages 2 bdsm islands for a friend (and i live there) and i have had to chuck out a few disgusting people portraying children in a disturbing way. its against the island rules, and its against the TOS of second life to do that.

that said, 99% of sl kids are NOT creeps. they are wonderful and imaginative adults who just want a second childhood (me included). i was even a mom for a while but i had to stop because my dad died irl and rl needed my attention. i would love to be a mom again in sl, it was a great feeling and helped me with some issues i have about parenting in rl (i am afraid i will suck as a mom when i get to that part of my rl)

i respect your right to be tweeked out, and yeah i would be tweeked out by weirdos too. but i hope you can see that there are sl kids that are not creeps out there. some are really awesome. and if you ever want to meet juliet, lemmie know :D

Tracy Rubble said...

Hi. I read this post and I decided to do a quick reply here, then follow up with a better post on my own blog.

I first set up a child av back when I was new in sl and a friend wanted a child with his new wife. I don't use that av anymore as I have no reason. But it was very fun to do and it had positive effects on my rl. Spending time acting like a child made me reconsider things from a childs point of view, which in turn helped me to understand my own RL child easier and relate to her more.

As I said I'll do a blog post when I get chance and go into depth.

nimil said...

oh yes, also if you want a good read, marianne mccann was my inspiration to become an sl kid back in 06 her blog is here

Emerald Wynn said...

@Ali - thank you!

@nimil - Oh, thank you for sharing that - wow - we learn something new about our friends every day. :)

I appreciate the blog post link and will check it out.

@Tracy - thank you for coming over and sharing that experience. I look forward to reading your blog post!

Deoridhe said...

I think what's most likely is that the creepy child avatars catch our attention, and the ones who aren't (who don't talk baby talk, for example) do not.

I have a "child form" but I don't use it much anymore due to negative reaction. My feeling about it when I made it was that it was fun to be goofy, but I ended up deciding I was going to be goofy as an adult and damn the consequences!

I have a couple of friends who have a few children. I don't know the children well - one is very quiet and doesn't speak and another is sweet and vivacious - but an aspect of it seems to be replaying difficult ages with what you hope is a supportive and loving set of parents. At least once seems to be receiving support and love about being a young, effeminate boy - which honestly, given how effeminate boys are treated he bloody well needs.

I have to admit, I have a tendency to treat them like I do children offline - when they seem interested in me, I talk to them. I use adult language, but I'm probably nicer to them than I would be to an adult. Indulgent, perhaps you could say. I figure if someone is on Second Life being vulnerable like child avis are, they probably need the care.

Deoridhe said...

I should add, I am sometimes taken for a child because I'm short and dress in Gothic Lolita. Despite having, I say modestly, freaking huge boobs.

Blingtardette said...

I made a kid alt once for a) lulz and b) profit. She was skipping around an adoption place when this random woman gave her a lollipop and basically abducted her. I got bribed with some ugly badly made kid outfits and L$50 pocket money, which I spent on hair. Sadly my 'parents' were not very interesting people (all they ever did was put out new houses on their land) so after about a week I went awol for a couple of days on my other alts and when I came back they had banmuted me, lol. I went back to the adoption place and one of my ex-mommies was there shopping for a replacement and pretending not to see me trailing around after her wailing piteously.

If I had been roleplaying as a kid for therapeutic purposes, then I don't even want to think about how damaged I would have been by that incident. As a job, it was tedious, time-consuming and badly paid. It is also really hard to play a child av and not be annoying, because you learn pretty quickly that certain behaviours and patterns of speech are expected of you in order to be recognisable as an SL kid. If you are a decent roleplayer working with decent roleplayers I imagine you could get round that, but I suck at RP and my 'mommies' sucked even worse.

Emerald Wynn said...

@Deoridhe - that made me LOL

@Blingtardette - you must be psychic or something because I was JUST READING your blog this morning and I was laughing so hard I was almost crying. WHY DON'T YOU POST MORE?? *throws a childlike tantrum*

And on that note: "all they ever did was put out houses on their land" - bahahahaha! They should have gotten you a nanny. :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah I've heard all about wanting to roleplay a better childhood and all that as well.

I still think they're weird. We're all allowed an opinion, of course.

Emerald Wynn said...

One of them came into the Biobreeds group chat last night and drove everyone insane by saying, "I'm FIVE!" over and over, along with other irritating comments. I think unfortunately the child AVs who grief and act completely obnoxious ruin it for the ones who don't. Several of my friends apparently have child AV alts. I didn't know it until I wrote this post.

I have absolutely no desire to re-live my childhood in any form whatsoever. When I'm 90, I'll probably want to act like I'm in my late-30s again though! :D

Deoridhe said...

Yeah, Emerald. Those are the ones which drive everyone nuts. I'm honestly not sure what's behind that kind of behavior... maybe a safer form of trolling?