The Dark Side of online Role-Playing

  • Pitcrew


    When I started getting online I was an underage child twenty-seven years ago. I had my first computer and I came across a mud. I played there and from there I found Furry Muck. To me, a child -- I had just stumbled across this magical world. I had just read Bazil Broketail (a novel about a sentient dragon) and I wanted to be the dragon. It was so amazing to me. I made a character and logged in and started role-playing.

    As I started role-playing in short order it was obvious I was underage, struggling socially, and naive. I was groomed by a player who introduced me to his wife. It began there and then I was introduced to more 'furries' and taken to a few of the more popular conventions. I won't talk about the first convention or the subsequent ones but it isn't a good story and it got worse from there.

    I only want to say this -- look out for your children when they partake in this hobby. My eldest child (15 and autistic) came across something (we talk and he told me) and I took the appropriate legal steps to address it.

    Like in all things in life there is a dark side to everything. But I just want to put it out there in case anybody needs to know. Check in on your children and monitor their role-playing experiences. Turn logging on and check their logs. This isn't snooping -- I communicate that anything they do should be able to be read by me and set that as an expectation early on. My son was old enough that I was able to talk to him about sexual expression online and what was not acceptable in our home. This hobby is anonymous one largely and there are people on the other end of it that are predators who use role-playing and target vulnerable people (not just children). There are people who groom and take their time and by most appearances it is okay until the moment it isn't. They can lull and trap impressionable people and destroy their lives in meaningful and lasting ways.

    Leaving this here:

    Behavioral signs:

    Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
    Develops phobias
    Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
    Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
    Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
    Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
    Nightmares or bed-wetting
    Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
    Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
    Runs away from home or school
    Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact

    Where can I get help?

    If you want to talk to someone anonymously, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800.4.A.CHILD (422-4453), any time 24/7.

    Learn more about being an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

    To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

  • There's a decent article about some of the concerns with this, and some of the forms it currently takes, in the NYT today.

    Definitely worth a read.

  • Pitcrew

    I can thank mushing for making me a very aware parent when it comes to online stuff, and going to conventions from 12+ for making me aware of con safety as well.

    I used to find it pretty hard to have discussions with other parents to get them to take it seriously, but thankfully that really seems to be changing in the past few years.

    Harassment and grooming happens a lot in support chats/boards too. While my kids have done a really good job being savvy in regards to roleplaying and gaming (they do not mush, but it's not like some of the same issues don't come up in alternative formats), one of my kids got majorly harassed privately from a person in a support group that he thought was for trans teens (and most of the people were probably genuine). Death and rape threats, ect. Luckily he involved us almost immediately, but unfortunately you can't really unsee when you've been subjected to that kind of thing.

    Honestly, I also think that people can keep this kind of thing in mind when they look down their noses at people who get caught up in harassment and threats and sexual pressure from people they meet on MUSHing too. I know that some of those same threats (I'll post our conversations to your FB page/all over discord if you don't send me pictures) are leveled against people and it's very scary, even if they are pretty sure it's a bluff.

  • @buttercup Sharing that was very brave and I admire that you followed your ethical compass to post this. You are absolutely right that grooming happens in this hobby, and people should always remember that even someone you've known (in this hobby) for years could really just be presenting an idealized version of themselves to you that contradicts who they are in real life. These people could be sex offenders, convicted felons, or could even be simply lying, catfishing, or grooming by means of "friendship".

    These people are strangers, and everyone should be mindful of how much exposure they provide these strangers. Sometimes just a little bit of information is all it takes to regret it.

    Thank you for speaking up.

  • Pitcrew

    I played a game where RL social life was common, including yearly meetups. I was single, with a 5-year-old at the time and we had a lot of gamers around. So this guy was on the fringes of the UK mud group, and flirted hard with me. I went on a date, seemed alright, and he joined a group of us when we went to a museum, taking my daughter with me. There was a point where I couldn't see her, and someone told me he was with her. I got an epic wave of anxiety, decided to trust my gut and cut him loose.

    A few months later, he pages me on the game to bewail that he had been caught and was being prosecuted for child porn. He then went onto kill himself. Within a month, I had messages from four young women (15ish max age) who played there, all telling me that they knew I was a good friend to him and that they had been in true love.

    Grooming happens in the nicest of communities.

  • Pitcrew Banned

    @Cobaltasaurus said in The Dark Side of online Role-Playing:

    I realize you're a pretty big troll, but you have literally no idea what is and is not acceptable in @buttercup 's house.

    Does it matter what the standard is? It's still setting conditions for parental love which is terrible for a child's development.
    If her kid wants to have his imaginary lion fuck an imaginary deer or whatever furries are into these days it's still imaginary.

    Telling your kid I won't love you if you feel these feelings is just bad parenting. Kids heads are full of hormones and wild non-sense when they are teenagers. Telling them they are not allowed to feel things is just asking for them to start hating themselves. They have zero control over where their hormones take them.

    It's perfectly healthy to tell a kid no, you can't meet people from online but if your kid wants to wank it to Dumbo Trunk-F***ing Mikey Mouse then just leave the kid alone. They have enough problems without parents making them feel guilty for feelings they have no control over.

    Micro-managing your kid's sexual impulses is the surest way to guarantee they grow up messed up in the head.
    I've seen it way too many times. Just let the kid do their thing until they grow out of it.

    The unconditional love of a parent should be just that unless you want your kid to grow up a neutronic mess.

  • Pitcrew

    @Carex Jesus, you are reaching in this context.

  • Pitcrew

    @Carex You are building a straw man to attack. The argument you are having did not actually exist in the post you are responding to.

  • Tutorialist

    @Carex Please quote in Buttercup's post where they said any of that. You literally have no idea what is acceptable and is not. As I said, it could be about the kid's safety and what is socially acceptable behavior in a family unit. e.g. It is not really socially acceptable to be engaging in sexual activities (whether physical or writing them out) in a public family room. It is also not SAFE for the child to make OOC sexual contact either physical or say through the phone with people they know online.

    Buttercup never once said anything about the content of their child's thoughts, feelings, etc. Only that they discussed what is and is not acceptable in the house.

  • Pitcrew

    @Carex Wow.

  • @Carex

    Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harbouring hostile thoughts.

  • Tutorialist

    @Carex Why would you assume that I mean there was only one computer? Most teenagers have phones these days, and phones give them access to both mushing and porn literally anywhere they are.

  • in what world is like-- don't engage (AS AN UNDERAGE PERSON) in a sexual way with people you don't know who they are online an abusive stance? w o w.

    pure troll.

  • Pitcrew

    Wooooow wtf is happening here. Nothing @buttercup put up there is that radical? And yeah like, he doesn't want his impressionable kid communicating with internet strangers behind closed doors so the computer is in a public space. That's not wild.

  • I recommend reporting and blocking the guy. He's clearly not here to engage in good faith.

  • Pitcrew

    Oddly, I can sort of see where the one person was going? If I was 15 and my parents were logging EVERYTHING as @buttercup says she does? I would feel like I couldn't explore the net and topics I might want to, out of fear of their reaction.

    Of course, I was raised in an abusive household, too. Maybe most parents are more lax, but privacy as a teenager is pretty important.

  • Pitcrew

    I hit that submit for moderation button so fast on that idiot's post. This is disgusting.

    My own ick stories are nothing to compare with most, but I dearly wish that my parents had known how to monitor my use and had known how to have these types of conversations with me. I would have been saved some serious heartache. I applaud @buttercup 's parenting.

  • Pitcrew


    I think there is a huge difference between the kid knowing it is happening and not also. Then following it with real authentic conversations.

    Parents can also use this to be abusive, you are right. It doesn't have to be though.

  • Pitcrew

    @silverfox Yes, the kid knowing it is happening only makes sure they won't poke into things they don't feel comfortable talking about. I can only imagine how many of my LGBTQ friends would have never found support groups, or felt able to come out, ask questions... if the parents had been watching logs of what they do on a computer.

  • Tutorialist

    @Macha said in The Dark Side of online Role-Playing:

    @silverfox Yes, the kid knowing it is happening only makes sure they won't poke into things they don't feel comfortable talking about. I can only imagine how many of my LGBTQ friends would have never found support groups, or felt able to come out, ask questions... if the parents had been watching logs of what they do on a computer.

    I'm … kind of with @Macha on this one. I don't really think that is completely appropriate. And half of the warning signs listed in the post are like -- typical teenager. Changes in hygiene, behavioral changes. Some of them are valid and legit, but I think that if someone used some of those as 'warning signs' to invade a teenager's privacy, there could easily be lines crossed.

    I'm not trying to tell anyone how to parent their child, especially not @Buttercup, and I"m sure that the context in this particular case matters, but in general I would be a bit more cautious drawing conclusions from that, and I can see how some people might be weirded out by some of the things mentioned. Without knowing all the details, a lot of that is really control-y-creepy.

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