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"This one was just posing like she wanted some action.They stand around and look for action like escorts..(they) age play." That's the sort of role-playing that can be quite disconcerting to some people.I've seen "open chat messaging along the lines of 'Daddy's going to spank you if you don't stop flirting with...'" one "Second Life" player said.

But Harper also pointed out that what has made "Second Life" popular among its 170,000 players--and it's growing at a rate of about 20 percent a month--is the freedom it affords people who want to try out new personas, particularly in private sections of the virtual world, she said.

"We've tried very, very hard not to broadly ban role-playing type behaviors," Harper said, "because when all is said and done, the ability to try new behaviors and try new things out is a big reason people are in virtual worlds." Still, it's not clear how often people are engaging in age-play types of pretend behavior.

But two "Second Life" players told CNET about their experiences witnessing sexual or sexually charged age-play.

"I would say it's virtual pedophilia," said one veteran game designer with significant experience studying online community standards.

"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.

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