Sex sells in the virtual world, too

Settling in for a hopefully quiet week after some hectic holidays, I perused Wired News to find this little gem about cyberporn. I try not to use any word prefixed by "cyber-", but it seems there's no other way to describe a porn magazine being sold in an online world, displaying images entirely of computer-generated women.

Some background information: Second Life is an online game somewhat similar to The Sims, where you join a community and build a life inside the community, interacting with all the other (real) people in it, who are represented by avatars. There's a system of money, and all kinds of commerce happens inside and outside the community.

And now there's porn! For a small fee, readers can view a porn magazine called Slustler. Some notes about Slustler: 1. all the images in the magazine are women; 2. all those women have Charlie-Chaplin-style pubic hair. It's not clear whether the images are generated by the magazine's editor or submitted by citizens, but my guess it that it's a combination of both.

I'll admit that when I opened up the images on the Wired article (not safe for work), I was expecting the worst; Second Life is certainly known in the geek world for its loads of adult content and activity. Given the chance to create "ideal" women in "ideal" positions and situations with little to no restrictions, I would've expected much more exploitative and/or violent images. So, seeing mostly pictures of women in exotic but benign settings -- albeit impossibly groomed and shaped -- was somewhat of a relief.

The editor of Slustler notes that there are many more female avatars in the game than male because the female avatars are much more customizable in interesting ways than the males; this results in a large number of men representing themselves as women online. That's the reason? Maybe these are the guys that desperately wanted to play with Mommy's makeup as kids. Maybe they're clued into the idea that fashion (and specifically, women's fashion) isn't totally oppressive and can be creative and interesting.

Which leads to Big Question that often revolves around gaming: does acting out behaviors within a game setting (even as some argue that Second Life isn't a game, but a community) serve to encourage the behavior in real life, or is it a much-needed outlet for otherwise repressed feelings and thoughts? Creating porn that would be otherwise impossible to produce with real women has the potential to get people off in a safe way, but could also plant some pretty negative ideas about sex and body image that folks might otherwise not have. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument: which comes first, the thought or the porn?

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