Asking the Devil whether he has ever been bullied is not a task that most researchers would expect to tackle.
But a Nottingham University team did just that, quizzing "Beelzebub", a tiger and a dominatrix with her chained submissive as part of their research into online bullying in the virtual reality world of Second Life.
The research team - a psychologist, two computer scientists and an information technologist - set up an office in Second Life and invited 86 inhabitants of the virtual world to a focus group to discuss their experiences of bullying - or "griefing", as it is known online.
Occupational psychology lecturer Iain Coyne said a growing number of researchers were working in Second Life because it provided a unique environment for psychological experiments.
"We can control the environment (in Second Life), which we cannot do in real life," he said. "If you want to control things experimentally it is a good way to do it."
The researchers found that almost all those who turned up to the focus group - 95 per cent - had been bullied at least once, with 18 per cent harassed weekly or daily. The abuse included name-calling, being shot at and instances of stalking. In one, a victim was pursued by a banana-shaped ringing phone that interrupted all his conversations.
They found that anonymity online made bullying more likely.
The researchers will also look at other forms of cyber bullying in the workplace, such as via e-mail, to see whether there are parallels with bullying in Second Life, such as in its causes and in how it can be controlled.
- Hull University claimed this week to be among the first UK universities to use Second Life to teach courses to students. It has set up a virtual office and teaching space in the virtual world, where students' virtual reality characters can attend lectures and meet their tutors.
The university has also introduced a course for students in the School of Arts and New Media in the "psychology of internet behaviour", where students conduct experiments in Second Life.