Audition offers very little in the way of chat or language filters, and many prospective sex seekers register with names like "Looking for a girl in Seoul 25 and under" or "100 dollars an hour paid up front for girl in Seoul 20 or younger" to save valuable chatting time. KH Games tells the story of 16-year-old Jung Na-yung, who was lured to an off-line rendezvous with the promise of a quick meet-up and perhaps some in-game items, and was then trapped and raped by an in-game friend turned real-world tormentor.
One assumes that, like Sociolotron's Dominic, for Jung Na-yung's rapist, the thrill of the breaking was the whole point, but in this case (unlike Mr. Bungle's rape) the assault didn't occur in-game, nor (as in the case of Dominic) was it consensual. A U.S. version of Audition is currently available.
"I think where parents should be the most concerned is online worlds that are not rated and where emergent sex occurs," Brenda Brathwaite, the industry's foremost expert on in-game sex, told Wired News last year. Was anyone listening?
Emergent sex is the next battleground, the undiscovered controversy. Incidents like Bungle's assault on LambdaMOO, the creation of a Dominic in Sociolotron and the rape of Jung Na-yung paint a grim picture, but to date, they are isolated occurrences far removed from the mainstream. Consenting adults who meet to trade sex for game gold may be an accepted fact of life on the fringe, but minors trading "bobba" for anything should sound an alarm bell or two.
According to Maslow, the sex drive is an unstoppable force, as primal as the need for food, and just as our many other modern tools have evolved to service us in this regard, so too have online worlds evolved, and so too have those who would seek to satisfy their needs (whatever they may be) through coercion or force. But the question isn't whether or not we'll allow our children, our hormonal, curious children, to participate in this evolution (they will whether we want them to or not). The question is whether or not we'll allow their curiosity to take them places we wouldn't dare allow them to go in the real world.
Sociolotron and its like are the equivalents of real-world swingers clubs or singles bars, and they have formidable barriers in place to restrict minors from entering, which is as it should be. We would not, after all, allow minors into a strip club. But in places like Habbo and Audition, we're allowing the sociopaths into the preschool. This year's political circus may be centered on the role of videogames in violent crimes, but even if every school shooter in the United States had played videogames to prepare for his rampage, chances are on that very same day more children, exponentially more, were playing doctor online. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily the problem - it's who they're playing with we should be concerned about.
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.