July 10th, 2007

Heroine Sheik readers will remember the piece I wrote for Joystiq a few months back called “Searching for Sex in Club Penguin.” In it, I talk about sex (or the lack thereof) in what is essentially an MMO for children. Having taken a cue from an old BBC piece on the teen world Habbo Hotel, I was curious if and how sex took place in a heavily monitored environment.

Of course, numerous friendly readers called me a pedophile just for asking the question. Others got annoyed because I hadn’t found sex in Club Penguin. More interesting (and constructive) than any of that though is this comment on the situation left by one Heroine Sheik-ite/penguin. Not only does it answer us about emergent behavior, it also answers the sex/no sex toss-up. Then again, sex does always find a way. Anyways, check it out:

I am a player of about 2 years, and if any of you parents are concerned about safety, I’ll let you in on something – the moderators (who are real) are completely paranoid. I have been temporarily suspended for saying ‘nuts’ when I was hit by a snowball. Most penguins do not chat, and if they do it is not cybering. A few months ago there was a fiasco about ‘making eggs,’ which, as you can tell, is a penguin-ized version of cyber. Well, now the word ‘egg’ and any pluralization or version of it (-ing, -ed) is completely blocked. This means, you can enter it into the speech box and press enter, but the only person who sees it is you.Many phrases are like this. You can type something, and although you will see it on the screen, no one else will.

Also, if you have your child use ‘ultimate safe chat,’ they cannot see any phrases that are not available in ‘ultimate safe chat.’ I have tried this personally with a friend on another computer. She did not have ‘ultimate safe chat’ enabled, and I did. She typed ‘yo yos are very fun toys’ and I could not see it. We were on the phone when we did this, so we are 100% sure of our conclusion.

As of the two years I have been playing I have not once been harassed for cyber any way, and, as I mentioned earlier, the monitors are very, very real. I have been temporairily suspended twice, the first reason listed above and the second was for saying ‘noob,’ which can imply stupidity or incompetence in a game, and is considered an insult. It is slang from ‘newbie’ for any parents who did not know. This is how strict they are.

Tags: MMOs, Thanks reader!, children, controversy, safety, sex

14 Responses to “Club Penguin Air Tight, Sex Free”

  1. ugh Says:

    I think some of the reactions to that article went overboard. It wasn’t a bad article, although it didn’t really deliver hard facts – it would’ve been better if the account in this post had made it in, but hey, that’s timing.

    But as a regular reader, I’ve definitely seen you come back to the issue of underage (

  2. ugh Says:

    That got cut off – anyway here goes:

    I think some of the reactions to that article went overboard. It wasn’t a bad article, although it didn’t really deliver hard facts – it would’ve been better if the account in this post had made it in, but hey, that’s timing.

    But as a regular reader, I’ve definitely seen you come back to the issue of underage (under 18 y.o.) sexuality in this blog in a variety of contexts, from that one Escapist article, to your responses on the Club Penguin thing, to the “Second Life is censoring sex” posts – and a willingness to, well, I don’t want to say “tolerate” child porn/child sexuality because I don’t know if that’s what you’re doing. I don’t think you’ve stated exactly what you’re doing with it. If you want to say it exists and is worthy of critical study, that’s one thing. If you don’t want to condemn it, that’s fine too.

    But there’s a landmine here, and I’m not sure you’re sensitive to it yet. The reason people reacted to sexuality in Club Penguin is that a lot of people with kids think it’s GREAT that they keep sex out of Club Penguin. You may think that’s stodgy, but hey – I don’t want flashers on my local playground. I don’t take my kid to Good Vibrations. It’s a choice. If people don’t like the way Club Penguin, they don’t have to be members.

    When you say that “sex does always find a way” – that’s probably true, but there are places for sex and places where it doesn’t belong. Dan Savage classifies sex as something that’s not for young kids. (Maybe kids play doctor, with each other, but that’s not really the problem.)

    I guess I’m rambling, and I don’t know what I’m saying – but I’m not really sure what you’re saying about it, either. I don’t think it’s bad to say that underage sexuality is very, very wrong when adults are involved. You seem a little hazier on that – you haven’t said you think it’s good, but you’re leaving the door open for something, and I’m not sure what.

    It’s not your job to run around condemning stuff, but stuff that involves kids is not a good area to be “sex-positive.” And most of the sex-positive people out there would probably agree.

  3. Leigh Says:

    Just wanted to chime in with a couple things– I’m now editor of WorldsinMotion.biz and have been sorta touring various virtual worlds, and Club Penguin was the first one I did. It’s wholesome as buttermilk, absolutely squick-free through and through. I hardly saw penguins chatting either, and the worst thing I saw was a playground-style fight over a boy.

    Second, I think a LOT of people missed Bonnie’s point when she did that piece. I really don’t feel (and correct me if I’m wrong, Bonnie) that she meant there “SHOULD” be sex in Club Penguin in the sense that anyone is ENCOURAGED to cyber in a world made for kids. I think what she was getting at is that it was more likely than not that people ARE, kids or no kids, and that she was going to find out either way. I interpreted her aim as taking an objective look at a very common concept– the idea that if given the means to cyber, people will, regardless of who the world is targeted at or what its purpose is– and she was investigating it in the heavily moderated iron fortress of Club Penguin (whose initials, eerily enough, are “CP”, which creeps use as shorthand for “Child Porn.”) I really don’t think that Bonnie feels cybersex belongs in Club Penguin per se.

    Second, I also don’t think Bonnie “tolerates” the exploitation of actual children. Maybe she hasn’t made it clear in explicit terms and that’s the issue so many people are having, but I have always interpreted her position (again, Bonnie, forgive me for assuming your intentions and correct me if I’m wrong) as being that firstly, the virtual world is not the real world and secondly, age-play as part of adult fantasy is a healthy and non-threatening concept. That if adults want to have consensual representative fantasy in the virtual world surrounding fictional characters of certain ages, they should be permitted to do so, and that kids and teens also seem to use the virtual world as a safe and arguably healthy way to explore sexual concepts.

    Children have a sexuality from the day they’re born, as much as this terrifies parents. They’re going to be curious about things and despite your best efforts to control them, they’re going to seek out information and even experiences on their own. I’m not a parent, but if I were, I’d want to focus on making sure my kid had the backbone of a strong value system and some healthy, safe outlets for learning and exploration– like an involved mother to answer her questions and not make her feel like sex was some kind of mysterious blacklisted drug. And eventually, especially when they hit adolescence, kids aren’t going to WANT parental involvement, and they’re going to want privacy to discover certain things about themselves, and to try and fight that, or worse, punish them for something perfectly natural, is neither realistic or constructive. Especially with the internet making all kinds of info and experiences so readily available, parents are better served trying to pay attention to their own kids’ safety and needs rather than trying to change or censor the internet, or games, or anything else.

    It’s understandable that parents want to control the degree of sexual information their kids are exposed to, and it’s absolutely understandable that parents might not want adult strangers, through virtual avatars or otherwise, being the ones to expose their kids to this stuff. I never got the impression from Bonnie’s writing that she was condoning such a thing either, but I feel she’s misinterpreted often.

  4. ugh Says:

    “Secondly, age-play as part of adult fantasy is a healthy and non-threatening concept.”

    I’d disagree with this, and the freak-out by the SL community at Daniel Terdiman’s age play story – where I don’t think he found any actual proof that anyone had taken part in it – suggests that maybe you could do age play in private and not break a law, but no community, real or virtual, will tolerate it.

    (Well, fat middle-aged guys who want to wear diapers and have their wives change them are just funny. But paying someone to wear a nine-year-old girl avatar and blow you is not okay.)

    Leigh, otherwise I agree with all your points, but just to be clear, I’m not scared of child sexuality – kids should explore and be kids – but they should do it without adults hanging around or getting involved. And when anyone can look like anything, that’s really hard to control. I look forward to reading how you cover these issues on your site, it looks really good.

  5. Leigh Says:

    Thanks; I don’t focus specifically on this, but it is an area I repeatedly go back to.

    Can I ask why you feel it’s not OK for an avatar to look like a nine-year-old, but it is OK for them to, say, wear diapers? How do you feel about fetish stuff, like rough bondage or humiliation play or things that appear upsetting to outside individuals but can actually be expressions of love or trust between the people participating?

    It is an uncertain issue, I agree with you– is it child porn if the people involved are not children themselves? Is it dangerous or sick to have certain kinds of thoughts or fantasies, even if the thinker has no plans or even desire ever to actually act on them? Some women, for example, like to fantasize about being raped, but know that they would absolutely never like such a thing to actually happen.

    And I also agree with you that the whole “people can look like anything” idea does complicate the issue– are you concerned that an adult has no way of knowing whether the person he’s interacting with is a 26-year-old girl or a real nine-year-old? Or worse– he could know, and then later defend himself by pretending he didn’t?

    My point is it’s possible for parents to educate and protect their children, and it’s possible for communities to be safe without judging the morals of people’s imaginations or censoring what free and full-grown adults are able to do.

  6. ugh Says:

    “Can I ask why you feel it’s not OK for an avatar to look like a nine-year-old, but it is OK for them to, say, wear diapers?”

    If it’s a grown-up wearing diapers, then it’s a grown-up. But having intercourse with someone who looks like a kid is well into the grey area of simulated child porn. I don’t know if it should be censored or illegal – I’m sure there’s a lot of research and argument about other forms of simulated child porn and child nudity that could inform the debate. But saying it’s valid ain’t the same as saying that any virtual community or society would tolerate it. The theoretical grounding for its purposes and validity doesn’t take away the widespread revulsion against it.

    Rape fantasies, bondage, etc. is all fine in my book, ’cause it’s between adults. I wouldn’t censor it. I’m not a prude about it, either. Anything adults want to do with each other is their business.

    But when I’m ready to let my kid onto virtual worlds, I’ll probably start with something heavily censored like Club Penguin, too. Part of educating my kid will be to discourage him from browsing hardcore exploitative porn or talking dirty with strangers. Yes, I know he’s going to do that stuff anyway. But discouraging it still sends a message about where that stuff belongs and how much he should indulge in it – that maybe hardcore porn sites aren’t representative of human sexuality, and that maybe Village Voice sex columnists who approach him on Club Penguin should be treated with caution :) .

  7. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Leigh comes to the rescue! You’re totally right, Leigh. And my apologies, ugh, if I haven’t been clear in the past.

    I really don’t feel (and correct me if I’m wrong, Bonnie) that she meant there “SHOULD” be sex in Club Penguin in the sense that anyone is ENCOURAGED to cyber in a world made for kids. I think what she was getting at is that it was more likely than not that people ARE, kids or no kids, and that she was going to find out either way.
    Again, totally right.

    Second, I also don’t think Bonnie “tolerates” the exploitation of actual children. Maybe she hasn’t made it clear in explicit terms and that’s the issue so many people are having, but I have always interpreted her position (again, Bonnie, forgive me for assuming your intentions and correct me if I’m wrong) as being that firstly, the virtual world is not the real world and secondly, age-play as part of adult fantasy is a healthy and non-threatening concept.
    Again again, exactly. At least someone understands my babbling :).

  8. Leigh Says:

    You’d think that literate individuals wouldn’t need to take the step of saying “for the record, I disapprove of child porn”, but I guess you do :\

  9. nectarine Says:

    @Leigh: That was a great summary.

    I like reading your articles Bonnie, it’s frustrating to see the extent that which people can be so reactionary. Rather then discuss real issues like adults.

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