Child avatars are a curious thing in Second Life; one that has some residents scratching their heads and others not fully able to explain their appeal. When the question which begins “Why in the world would anybody want to be…” comes up, “a child avatar” fills in the blank at least as much as “pregnant”, “a neko,” or “a furry”. Never mind child nekos or child furries…
Well, I was curious. Part of what roused my curiosity was being mistaken for a child avatar myself (as Mistletoe) a week or two ago; it got the wheels turning. I had considered introducing a young character into my RP family story for some time, since Clover is based on my RL sister, a RL mother of three. Three kids, of course, would be too much of a handful for anyone to want to RP. But one? I could do that.
I named her Petal, and based her on my nine-year-old niece. She’s bright, precocious, charming, always thinking and asking and exploring the world around her. She’s the kind of kid that will debate (not argue, but debate) with her mother to negotiate for a different bedtime or allowance or whatever. Smart as can be, which is both a blessing and a curse sometimes. Sometimes it’s a real challenge to have the upper hand with someone you can’t outsmart at age nine. She’s the niece I’ve known the longest, and so, I brought an avatar based on her into the world of SL.
I had gotten some helpful advice at the Free Script Library, of all places, suggesting that I put my RL age into Petal’s profile to make it absolutely clear that I’m not flirting with violation of ToS. Well, I didn’t put my *exact* age, but I did state that I’m over 30 IRL and I think that should be sufficient. Also, they say you should be mindful of your groups and picks in a child avatar profile in particular. You don’t want anything to even be remotely suggestive of the possibility of “ageplay”, one of few instantly bannable offenses in SL. To clarify, the word as they use it doesn’t mean RPing as an age other than your own; it means RP which involves sexual behavior with a minor. Even if it’s RL consenting adults behind closed doors, it’s subject to permanent banning so don’t even try it. Don’t even hint at the possibility of it.
I learned when I was on Orientation Island that a convincing pre-teen body is tricky to make. It took a lot of trial and error, especially to hide the appearance of breasts and hips. I considered using a male body instead, but the grotesquely huge ribcage/shoulder area made me think the better of it. I’d used head/face stats nearly identical to those of Clover, so there would be an obvious family resemblance. I noticed a problem right away with any skin I tried out for her, however. Even the Male Wood Elf skin had eyeliner, it seemed. Finding a skin for her that didn’t look all pageant-kid took some searching, but I’m pleased to announce that Curious Kitties has an excellent selection. I got Petal the freckled version of an “Ivy” colored skin; the same color as Clovers, only the latter’s does have some makeup about the eyes and lips. I got her ears there while I was at it, and the sapphire blue eyes common to Mistletoe and Clover both. I found her hair in a freebie box at the Child Avatar Information Center–a must for new child avies to check out–as well as a few gestures and a cute “skipping” AO. I made some modifications to the AO later on, so she wasn’t constantly doing handsprings or twirling around when she wasn’t skipping.
I quickly saw that there’s an interesting culture surrounding child avatars in SL. I found a sim called Kid’s Place, where they offered camping just for child avies. It was kind of eerie looking, to see a little munchkin army silently pushing stationary lawn mowers. The population was overwhelmingly female, ten to one or possibly even greater. Many were dressed in frilly egl-like dresses, sporting pacifiers. One had fangs. Those who were at the keyboard to chat tended to do so as though speaking like a toddler. “I fibe years old,” etc. I tried to suspend disbelief, and opted to not ask what a five-year-old was doing with a pacifier. The place had an adoption service; apparently this is where adult avatars find kid avatars to be their SL kids. How the process works, I’m not certain; Petal after all has her own mom already. They also had a BFF matching service for kid avatars. Curious, I read some of the questionnaire notecards; one that was written in especially childish language annoyed me too much to get past two sentences. The questionnaire asked, among other questions, “Are you human or neko?” I sighed, not being either.
I also learned quickly that when you have a child avatar, you are always RPing. You are never NOT a kid. It takes some getting used to, even when you’re used to RPing regularly. Even if you’re a precocious, intelligent kid, you’re still a kid. Remembering how to think like a child is less a challenge than it is fun, however. It’s LOTS of fun.
All in all, so far, I’ve enjoyed having a child avatar. I’ve only met one “creepy guy” so far, and the admins at Kid’s Place took care of the situation right away. There’s another child avatar in Northfarthing already, so Petal already has a friend to play with. Some of my friends are considering child avatars as well, also out of curiosity. As one put it, “I’d love to skateboard and eat ice cream and stuff all day!” And for whatever reason, even in a virtual world, being in a small body makes that more acceptable.
I hope they do try it out. Petal would love to have more friends.
I’ve heard it said that a large number of people with child avatars were abused in RL as children and are trying to re-create a better version of childhood. That may be so, but I have no numbers to back that up. I, myself, was never abused. I did have a situation that caused me to grow up really rapidly, however; I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to “just be a kid”. So I admit, I am relishing this.