Lolita is the name of Vladimir Nabokov's best known novel, a strange and shattering fable of decadent old Europe and brash, ignorant America, as told through the eyes of a sexual predator. And though it would surely pain Nabokov, who makes it plain that his anti-hero Humbert Humbert is a deluded sociopath perhaps to be pitied but definitely to be jailed, "Lolita" has also become code for fetishized underage girls.
It's for this reason that the word itself effectively no longer exists in Second Life. For several years the Lindens declined to act on community complaints against the niche "age play" subculture, in which Residents create pre-adult avatars, often for innocent roleplay, but to the outrage of most, occasionally for sexual fantasy. (Sometimes this would lead to bouts of vigilantism, age play areas beset by sign-waving neighbors, and when that didn't take, neighbors waving weapons.) In recent months, however, the Lindens reversed course and explicitly forbade the obscene variety. (This is likely because Second Life servers are soon to be co-located in European countries where even virtual pedophilia is outlawed.) Related to this, the Lindens removed numerous terms connoting age play from the world's database of groups and places-- and so now, entering the title of a classic American novel as a search query only gets you the terse return, "None found."
And though the Lindens have also said that roleplaying as a childlike avatar is not in itself a punishable offense-- as long is it's not done in lewd contexts-- confusion around the policy has apparently led to some level of moral panic. And in turn, to ostracism of an established real world fashion subculture. Which is why, when Melpomene Rhode recently stopped by a store in search of eyelashes, someone told her to get out.
"Her shape is like she is in real life," her friend and NWN fashion correspondent Iris Ophelia tells me, "relatively short and relatively flat." Melpomene was dressed in Elegant Gothic Lolita (pictured), a style of girlish, doll-like couture that's recently emerged from Japan's thriving street culture. Unsurprisingly, many SL fashionistas have imported EGL into the metaverse. Also unsurprisingly, it's part of a backlash against anything that even hints at underaged, however non-sexual.
So unprovoked, Iris tells me, a Resident walked up to Melpomene Rhode and informed her she "didn't belong there." Iris also tells me of Annelies Fratica, who was invited to a private island to hear live music, but when she arrived as a smallish avatar in a girlish Elegant Gothic Lolita dress, was told by the island owner that she "looked too young", and fearing a backlash from the isle's real life sponsors, ejected her.
Now Annelies carries a notecard, as a way of explaining herself:
"My avatar is a Lolita girl," it reads in part. "Lolita is a fashion style originates from Japan. Lolita life style cultivates the good things of childhood because nowadays we grow up to fast. Lolita style is worn by teenagers and adults in real life, not by young children... About my shape: I just took the standard Haragyaru shape from from my library and made it less skinny and with broader (adult) hips because I don't like... [real world fashion industry expectation] that everyone must have a teen-looking, skinny body. 'Haragyaru' is the part of Tokyo where Lolita style originated. The fashion styles made over there are that popular, that even Linden Lab named a basic outfit after it."
Iris Ophelia has more on her blog. With such a limited sample, it's difficult to discern how widespread the moral panic is, or whether, on balance, it's a minor inconvenience worth the restrictions to keep the world free from the noxious variety of age play. (Fashionistas who like the style can simply refer to it in search queries as "EGL".)
I put the question to Daniel Linden, who recently asked Residents to alert Lindens to broadly offensive (if ambiguously defined) behavior. What to do if some Residents misinterpret Linden's restrictions against obscene ageplay to persecute an established non-sexual, Japanese fashion style?
"That seems a bit beyond our purview," he e-mails me. "We can't require anyone to get along or see eye-to-eye in Second Life, but would instead encourage Residents to mute those they find offensive, leave areas that they find unwelcoming, restrict those with whom they're clashing from areas they themselves own, and file Abuse Reports if they feel they're being harassed."
In the meantime, the fashion has become an underground acronym, existing in the gray area where a work of literature and an unfortunate association have been remanded to a limbo of "None found".