Grids try to find balance on child avies

Child avatars are a sensitive topic in virtual worlds. For some users, the presence of child avatars opens the possibility of inappropriate sexual roleplay, which is at best extremely creepy and, at worst, illegal. For other users, child avatars are a necessity for grids with an educational focus. And for some, child avatars offer an opportunity for family roleplay or for exploring personal psychological issues.

The largest grids try to find a balance between these concerns.

For example, Kitely, DigiWorldz and Metropolis allow child avatars but do not tolerate inappropriate behavior. Other grids, like Sacrarium, have banned child avatars altogether following recent accusations and controversies.

And a few grids — most prominently, MisFitz Grid and Skytec — do allow child avatars and promote a “tolerant” approach.

At least one grid on the no-child-avatars-allowed end of the spectrum has cut off teleports to MisFitz grid.

“People use child avatars on Kitely for various non-sex-related reasons,” Kitely CEO Ilan Tochner told Hypergrid Business. “Often, the person wearing it is just a student in one of the schools that use our service. Other times, the person uses it to relive their youth. One of virtual worlds’ main benefits is enabling people to express themselves in ways that they can’t in the real world.”

DigiWorldz also does not ban people merely for using child avatars as long as there is no offending behavior displayed by the avatars.

“While we are OK with the use of them, any kind of sexually oriented play or depictions will get a user banned for life,” Noxluna Nightfire told Hypergrid Business. “We understand some people want to be children for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with sexual activity, and so we do not discriminate against those users.”

Metropolis also welcomes child avatars as normal part of everyday life. For them, choosing a child avatar in itself is no reason for restrictions, rejection or a ban, but their TOS prohibits inappropriate use of child avatars.

“There are various valid reasons to portrait children – realistic role-play only being chief among those – provided they act accordingly,” grid master Lena Vanilli told Hypergrid Business. “It is only when explicit actions are taken or clothing displayed — or garments missing — that we as grid admins have to step in.”

There are several people who have been portraying children in the grid for quite a while without incident, she said.

Whatever option a grid chooses, it’s going to come under criticism, like Kazakhstan-based Sacrarium did when it banned users for inappropriate behavior recently

“Right after that, we were subjected to anonymous attacks by hackers,” grid owner Whiteangel Deed told Hypergrid Business last month. “It seems that the pedophiles lost access to Sacrarium and tried to take revenge.”

Sacrarium banned child avatars. (Image courtesy Sacrarium grid.)

Additionally, the grid has filed complaints with the police as a result of fears that the attackers could be “associated with the Nazi lobby,” he added.

“Currently, we cannot disclose some details, since we signed the commitment to non-disclosure in the investigation. But later, when the investigation is completed, no doubt some details will be disclosed.”

On the other extreme, MisFitz Grid is facing questions about its more permissive attitude towards child avatars, including accusations on social media.

One Hypergrid Business reader said that they were approached by a little child claiming to be an orphan and offering to “cuddle.”

Products available in the MisFitz Shopping Center region include barely-dressed child avatars, including some in what appears to be bondage costumes.

The region is accessible to the public via hypergrid.

Most of the grid, however, is accessible to residents only, and use users have to have a recommendation from an existing resident before they can join.

The grid bills itself as “a home for Littles, Furries, and anyone else who is friendly and maintains a tolerant mind,” according to owner Matthew Marlatt, in this announcement on Google Plus.

This is spelled out in more detail on the grid’s website: “From the standard Adult avatar all grids provide, we also allow and provide clothing and accessories to those that enjoy to role play in other forms as well. From Anime, Nekos, kid avis, to crazy compete avatar types, whatever you choose to be, we welcome you.”

There seems to be only one type of behavior that is unwelcome: “We have a strict, zero tolerance for drama on MisFitz Grid.”

In his Google Plus profile, Marlatt, who is also known as Korgi Silvercloud in-world, is himself represented by a child avatar.

Matthew Marlatt’s Google Plus profile photos.

Even the grid’s splash screen features children. Marlatt defended his grid’s position.

“The term ‘child’ is thrown around a lot, even though all users are over the age of 18 and what qualifies as ‘child avatar’ is very vague and a matter of personal opinion,” he told Hypergrid Business.

MisFitz Grid splash screen.

He did not answer questions about whether the grid had a policy addressing inappropriate content and behavior, what the process was for submitting a complaint, and how the grid dealt with problem users and content.

Marlatt also dismissed the reader complaints about inappropriate content and activity.

“I view people who nit-pick like this as nothing more than trolls with nothing better to spend their time on,” he said. “I really would like all of this stupidity to just end.”

He said that the grid complies with US federal and California state laws.

“We abhor actual pornography of minors as indicated under such laws,” he said.

He added that the grid doesn’t allow users under 18. However, some areas are accessible to the public via hypergrid teleport.

“We chose to open ourselves to the hypergrid in order to try and bridge a gap between our community, and the rest of the metaverse despite several of our members being reluctant to do so,” he said. “After this troll attack I am beginning to wonder if opening ourselves to the hypergrid wasn’t a mistake. It seems that the metaverse hasn’t really evolved much as a whole over the past several years.”

Marlatt was previously associated with The Kidz Grid and Littlebird Grid, both of which have also been criticized for inappropriate content.

For grids that do allow child avatars, that means that they need to allow the distribution of appropriate shapes, clothing, and other content.

“Of course it may look strange seeing nearly naked boys and girls on the boxes for sale, but if someone wants to sell a body or shape or skin he wouldn’t present his work wearing a winter coat, would he?” Kroatan grid owner Bink Draconia told Hypergrid Business. “Fact is, all boxes — including the condemned ‘Adventure Harness’ — do not show any naked genitals.”

And if the content is being used illegally, he said, enforcement should be up to the police.

However, even the suggestion of inappropriate content can disturb other users, and create problems for merchants and other service providers doing business on those grids.

Do merchants want their goods to be displayed in proximity to questionable content? Do other grids want to allow teleports in and out? And should currency providers support those grids and merchants?

MisFitz, for example, uses the multi-grid Gloebit virtual currency.

“We’d have to figure out a few things,” Gloebit CEO Christopher Colosi told Hypergrid Business. “Are having or selling these items legal violations?  Is there potential that they would damage our ability to provide our service?  Are they selling these items for Gloebits?  What is our partner’s stance on this content?”

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David Kariuki

David Kariuki is a technology journalist who has a wide range of experience reporting about modern technology solutions. A graduate of Kenya's Moi University, he also writes for Cleanleap, and has previously worked for Resources Quarterly and Construction Review. Email him at [email protected]business.com.