NOTE: This article contains descriptions of real events that occurred in World 1 Lumbridge. However, the actions and conversations observed violate Jagex's rule against solicitation and may be somewhat disturbing.
An eleven year old girl's first interaction with RuneScape was intriguing from seeing someone who was "Selling pics." The stranger, XX99st_rXX*, encouraged more detailed correspondence through private messages (known as "pm(s)"). In such a message, the mysterious pictures (referred to as "pics") were described as "**** pictures of me and my ***** friends *****." Unfamiliar with the chat filter, she asked what words they represented. The first was, apparently, a shorthand term for pornography, of which she had never heard, accompanied by an explanation of what it was. After sharing ages (XX9st_rXX was seventeen), she was again offered pictures which the stranger claimed showed private areas and had no issues naming.
Initially (modulo censoring), one might conclude that the above would have its fate cemented as an introductory paragraph to some perverted sub-genre of fictional erotica. However, recent experience has shaken my disposition that such a story would remain banished to the realm of fantasy.
I suppose an initial trigger for my suspicion was a combination of rumors and the high density of low level players almost static enough to be considered an "Occupy Lumbridge" movement in World 1. Certainly they weren't all victims of the post-bot-nuke unemployment crisis at this stage, so the question remained: what were they doing?
This, innocently enough, propelled me into creating a fresh, level 3 character with a female avatar and delving into the social dynamic - little did I know as to what I would find. Her fictional personality consisted of two traits: a friendly and outgoing personality conjugate with an eagerness to share her age, and an adoration for the saga Twilight, apparent in her username. Several times I returned to strike up different kinds of conversation and investigate what people would say to me, and most of the time I recorded it. Despite becoming progressively more abhorred, I continued to "play along." I would sometimes reveal my identity near the end of a conversation, if the other player had not logged off, usually to reactions of ambivalence or anger.
One might expect me to rail against the state of such ubiquitous comments that technically violate the rules such as "Need bf/gf [boyfriend/girlfriend]." However, these comments are comparatively mild. Even random, unsolicited, and unprompted private messages whose contents read "*spanks butt*"† were relatively low on the scale.
My first conversation was described in the opening paragraph. A phrase such as "selling pics" in RuneScape's setting seems a bit strange, and although I had a reasonable expectation of what it would mean, a younger person may not. Coupling this ignorance with innocent curiosity could easily yield what I have described. The most shocking fact was that a legal minor was willing to send (presumably illegal) child pornography to a child of a mellow age of eleven, despite affirming her knowledge of the child's age.
The next time I logged in, I decided to discover what "rping" was. And while I was informed that it was an abbreviation for "role playing," by so many people that I failed to be able to respond to the stream of messages, they also eagerly mentioned it meant acting out sexual fantasies on the game. When I asked those people if they wanted to participate in such a fantasy with me, a substantial fraction answered in the affirmative. They sent a few explicit messages, and I responded back along the lines of ":o," "ok," "O," etc. In general, when I was able to confront them about their behavior, their reply was either that such behavior was acceptable (with a much younger partner) under the condition that it was voluntary or an expression of displeasure that they had been tricked.
Next I attempted soliciting friends and eagerly sharing my age, and some people immediately asked questions regarding whether I "do anything naughty" and regarding sexual orientation. When I ignored or tried to avoid answering them, these people continued pressing. While there may be a place for sex education, receiving it from strangers on a game does not seem appropriate.
Vowing this would be my final social experiment, I decided to offer my own, strictly hypothetical (non-decent) "pics." I only needed to type "Pm for pics" into public chat a few times before I was inundated with requests via private messages, some of whom were eager to exchange pictures regardless of my age. When I questioned them on this, they became irritated and demanded the pictures. Again, they cited the fact that the action of taking and sending such pictures was voluntary and hence perfectly acceptable.
Despite the situation, some may remain unconvinced of the magnitude of problem, contending that an exchange of a few complicit dirty words or pictures cannot do harm. A quick Google search with the obvious keywords will uncover the work of people like Dr. Peter Goldberg**, who explains in his thesis, "The Internet provides an ideal platform for targeting and recruiting children since it allows sexual offenders to remain anonymous and to misrepresent their gender, age and identities. Through this misrepresentation, children believe they are talking to other children and developing new friendships. Eventually meetings in a chat room progress to cell phones and then real live encounters" . In other words, children befriend people with false identities and eventually develop enough trust to possibly see them for real. One can infer what happens subsequently. Even if such drastic events do not occur, there could be psychological damage on either the mind of the not fully mature adolescent, or to the older party sometime in the future stemming from regret regarding such communication. And compiled on this is the obvious fact that soliciting child pornography is illegal!
This "problem" that I have mentioned is through no fault of World 1 itself, and although I have not made an effort to track its whereabouts, it is presumably not completely contained there either. It would be equally foolish to argue that everyone in Lumbridge acts with similar demeanor to the cases I have outlined above. There were a number of people who shied away from such interaction or refused to give such information when I told them my age. One person who wanted to "sext" (and defined the term for me), upon learning of my age, said "Oh lord!!!! Bye." The other people on the server engaged in their own conversations in public chat and who did not react much provide a third group. While it is comforting to see this, in reality a child engaging in such behavior would just proceed to the next person, who may or may not refuse.
One may think I would have had to be slightly sick to be able to conduct such research. I assure you that I am not a pedophile, and neither do I hold such a view of any of the people in World 1 with whom I interacted. While I do not wish to perpetuate naivety, I do not think the (older) participants mean any harm. It was emotionally difficult for me to conduct such research. I'm unsure if, given the chance, I could do it over again.
I am neither a victim of this behavior or a former or current perpetrator, but a helpless bystander. Perhaps this article is a manifestation of a subconscious effort to clear my newly enlightened-for-worse conscience. Maybe it is a delayed reaction to my own friends' suspicion of me for me not wanting to divulge information as innocent as a Chinese Zodiac sign. Most importantly, my motivation is not important (no pun intended).
Ultimately, I think only the knowledge that I had convinced someone, even if I never see, hear from, or meet them, can be of any comfort to me. And maybe, just maybe, in that way it could be a unique case of how one person really could make a difference.
**No affiliation with the author.
†A less vulgar word has been substituted instead of the original.
 Goldberg, Peter David. "An Exploratory Study About the Impacts That Cybersex (The Use of the Internet for Sexual Purposes) Is Having on Families and the Practices of Marriage and Family Therapists." Diss. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2004. Web. February 17, 2012.