But two "Second Life" players told CNET about their experiences witnessing sexual or sexually charged age-play.
When "we have evidence of child pornography or abuse that involves children in the real world..will act to protect the child and notify the authorities," Robin Harper, Linden Lab vice president of community development wrote in a posting on the official "Second Life" forum (free subscription required).
"The individuals involved, if it's proven the exploitation occurred, will be banned." But when the issue of age play has surfaced, as it has on numerous occasions in the forums, Linden Lab has taken pains to address the more complex issues that the behavior raises.
That said, she still thinks the company should find a way to rein in the ability to create child avatars for use in sex or violent play that would make others in the "Second Life" community uncomfortable.
"This is one of those cases where you might want to limit the rights of a few people," Rued said, "to make the majority of the people happy." And that's something Linden Lab would consider--if its community demanded such an action, said David Fleck, Linden Lab's vice president of marketing.
"I've got three kids, so I have zero tolerance for these kinds of things." But does pretending predict real-life pedophilia? It may be a red flag if someone--say an adult male playing an adult male engaged in play with a young female avatar--is repeatedly playing the role sexually aggressing a child in the game," said Joy Davidson, a certified sex therapist and author of "Fearless Sex." "I would be concerned about someone who is continually choosing to play the role of someone sexually aggressing a child." But Davidson said most other cases--the person playing a young girl avatar, or someone only trying out the role of the adult male engaging in digital sexual activity with a child avatar, for example--could well be the behavior of people fantasizing about their own times as a sexually active teen.
Nonetheless, Kelly Rued, who is developing the sex-themed virtual world "Rapture Online", said she thinks Linden Labs has a responsibility to address the age-play issue because the environment enables those with fantasies about sex play involving children to play them out.
"With technology, we can do exactly that if we felt it was necessary or important to do so," said Fleck.
But "the data that we have doesn't support that that's a necessary action at this time.
Even so, legal experts said such virtual behavior between adults isn't likely to break the law, since there are no real children involved.
"It would not be (illegal) under child pornography laws because no actual child was used in the act," said Jack Balkin, a professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School and an expert on legal issues surrounding virtual worlds.
In fact, "Rapture Online" itself will specifically allow sexual age-play, Rued explained, but addresses the issue by making it impossible for avatars to look like children.