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The Legal Dilemma of Age Play in Virtual & Augmented   Reality
B. J. Murphy   Apr 9, 2015   Ethical Technology  

A few months ago I made the case here on IEET on the future possibilities of sex crimes as a result of exponentially growing technologies, from drones to haptic body suits. I didn’t make the case to try to convince people from refraining to use these technologies – especially for sexual purposes – but rather to stoke a discussion on the possible risks of said technologies and start developing a means to mitigate these risks if and when they present themselves.

Here lately I’ve been looking into another similar avenue of risk among a growing technology – virtual reality (VR).

Virtual Reality:

“The computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way.”

Just last month Peter H. Diamandis, who is the co-founder of Singularity University, noted that the year 2015 was going to be the beginning of VR transitioning itself from a deceptive technology to a disruptive technology. I would agree, seeing as how the current trajectory of development in virtual reality devices has accelerated at such an astonishing rate. Today we have Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Google, and HTC who attain their own VR device, alongside an increasing acceptance of VR media, most recently by Youtube.

The risk of this technology, however, is similar to those of which I went into in my previous article on future sex crimes. With VR, is there any possible way of committing a sex crime? Answering this question requires an understanding of what has come to be known as “Age Play.”

Age Play:

“A form of roleplaying in which an individual acts or treats another as if they were a different age, sexual or non-sexually.”

Throughout the kinkster community there has been a known element of roleplaying known as “Age Play,” in which consenting adults play the roles of certain ages and perform both sexual and non-sexual fantasies. This also includes adults roleplaying as prepubescent children, which is only able to maintain a legal right in performance due to it pertaining to consenting adults. The issue here isn’t “Age Play,” let alone consenting adults practicing roleplaying fantasies; rather the issue is in the risk of “Age Play” being performed in a virtual world.

This isn’t a risk that could arise within the framework of a growing technology, but is actually a risk that is already occurring. A few years ago Sky News did a report on the virtual world known as Second Life. What they uncovered was deeply disturbing – a pedophile ring operating semi-covertly within a user-created park known as ‘Wonderland’. Here people were able to perform in virtual “Age Play” using both children and adult avatars for sexual purposes.

Unlike in the physical world, where we can clearly establish a legal boundary line between consenting adults and legitimate pedophilia in regards to “Age Play,” in the virtual world we’re left with the anonymity of avatars, in which is much more difficult in establishing a distinction between harmless “Age Play” and legitimate pedophilia. Fact of the matter is that we have no idea who is really behind those avatars. While it’s certainly possible that consenting adults are using the virtual world to enhance their roleplaying by integrating “realness” in their characters, there is still the subsequent possibility of those hiding behind both children and adult avatars are, in fact, underage children in reality.

Which would then raise the question: if two avatars are having sex in a virtual world, and one of those controlling an avatar is an underage child and the other an adult, can we consider this a clear act of pedophilia? I’d suspect this would become a legal nightmare for attorneys, given the fact that no physical nudity – other than virtual nudity – is established and equally no physical contact is made, other than the contact made within the virtual world. This shouldn’t be seen as an argument in favor of this loophole for pedophilia via virtual “Age Play,” but instead should be seen as a cause for concern and, if not yet established, a re-look at how we should define pedophilia to accommodate its virtual cohort.

With VR growing in popularity, don’t expect to see an end to virtual “Age Play” – quite the contrary! With VR helping establish greater immersion for users within the virtual world, pedophiles will certainly be taking advantage of these advanced technologies to help expand their reach towards underage victims. Though VR won’t be the only technology that’ll enhance both “Age Play” and pedophilia, rather so will augmented reality (AR).

Augmented Reality:

“A technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.”

AR is another exponentially growing technology that is starting to emerge in society, with the most recent development being Magic Leap whom acquired $542 million in funding by Google just last year. Here people will be able to teleport the virtual world into the physical, material space – the blurring of our online world with the offline. The company Atheer Labs is also helping integrate AR into society in a significant way, developing what they call Augmented Interactive Reality (AiR), which superimposes 3D holographic objects into material space that can be manipulated with the physical touch.

The range of potential possibilities as a result of this amazing technology is almost limitless, but then we must also keep in mind any possible negative implications as well. Just like VR, AR will allow people to partake in sexual ventures with virtual avatars. With AiR, the level of immersion in which it promises will certainly enhance those ventures as well insofar that it nearly mimics the physical act of sex with other people. The difference being that it won’t be taking place in an open virtual world, but instead in the privacy of one’s own property. Anonymity will become that much more secured.

When you couple this technology with that of haptic sensors – a technology in which allows the sensation of physical touch with virtual objects – you create a scenario where sex in the virtual world becomes just as real as sex in the material world. In terms of partaking in “Age Play,” the controversy behind such an act will become all the more complex.

Again, this technology could be used to help enhance “Age Play” between consenting adults by destroying the distance barrier, whereby people will be able to acquire their sexual fantasies by teleporting their avatar to wherever their consenting partner may preside. However, given the anonymity established via the use of holographic avatars, there is also the possibility that one of the avatars is being controlled by an underage child.

So when you mix AiR technology with haptic sensors, unlike when using VR, physical touch is, technically, being established. This might provide more leeway for attorneys to work with in terms of prosecuting virtual pedophiles, seeing as how an adult is clearly making physical, sexual contact with a minor. However, there is still the possibility of defense attorneys making the argument for their clients that no legitimate physical contact was made, since the physical touch was established with a virtual, holographic avatar. Even then, figuring out a way in exposing these pedophiles past the layers of anonymity constructed will prove itself just as difficult as well.

None of what I said, however, should be misinterpreted as advocacy in preventing these technologies from being developed and sold on the market. In terms of enhancing sex, these technologies will come to prove themselves quite useful and would be counter-productive if we were to prohibit the use of these technologies to the general public. The risk of sex crimes being a possible negative implication shouldn’t deter us away from embracing said technologies. Instead I propose we take a proactionary stance, whereby we begin discussing these risks and, consequently, start establishing action plans to help prevent them from ever materializing. In doing so, we will be able to provide a fun and entertaining venue of technology-enhanced sex, all while ensuring safety precautions for those most susceptible in being taken advantage of using these technologies.

B.J. Murphy is a Technoprogressive Transhumanist activist within the East Coast region of the U.S. He's worked with the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources as a member of their Planetary Community Vanguard, helping campaign funding for the ARKYD 100 Space Telescope, an open-source means of space exploration. He is a Writer, Editor, and Social Media Manager for and runs his own blog called The Proactionary Transhumanist. He's a co-author of both Longevitize!: Essays on the Science, Philosophy & Politics of Longevity and The Future of Business: Critical Insights On a Rapidly Changing World From 60 Futurists.


Hmm.. mind boggling conundrum to be sure
Can we obsolete the dilemma? I will try..

Starting with the punchline..

“What type of society do we want to create and encourage, (VR/AR or not)?”

The reasons for all forms of exploitation of sex workers and sadly/tragically today even of minors is always motivated in some manner by profit and monies?

Q: Would VR/AR exacerbate the problem by extending markets and the potential for Profiteering?

On first look the answer appears to be yes?

Of course for the purposes of “VR/AR punters”, there is no real reason for any exploitation of minors online any longer - again depends on the motives and coercion of supply side Profiteering?

Examining the potential for abuses of minors online in VR/AR environments(?)

Q: Would VR/AR help mitigate the real world abuses that minors and sex workers suffer?

Well, it could perhaps aid to do so depending on what is deemed as “physical harm”? Yet I dare to say the psychological harm to minors can be just as damaging in VR/AR environments?

Q: Would VR/AR actually help remove and lessen the burden of real world abuses on minors?

No. In fact it’s worse? For those without access to VR/AR it may even increase the abuses and poor attitudes towards minors in the physical world and in societies?

So what’s the answer?
Kindly refer to the above punchline, (something only a democratic world society can decide)?

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