When virtual reality is immersive and real, the toxic behavior that occurs in that environment is also real, says Catherine Cross, who researches online harassment at the University of Washington. “Ultimately, the nature of VR spaces is designed to deceive the user into believing that they are physically present in a particular space, and that all physical movement occurs in a 3D environment,” she says. . “It’s part of the reason why emotional reactions can be stronger in this space, and why virtual reality triggers the same internal nervous system and psychological responses.”
This was true in the case of the woman who was touched in Horizon Worlds. According to The Verge, her message read: “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in virtual reality adds another layer that makes the event even more intense. Not only did I grope last night, but there were other people supporting this behavior that made me feel isolated in the Plaza [the virtual environment’s central gathering space]. “
Sexual assault and harassment in virtual worlds is nothing new, nor is it realistic to expect a world in which these problems will completely disappear. As long as there are people who will hide behind their computer screens to evade moral responsibility, they will continue to happen.
Perhaps the real problem lies in the perception that when you play a game or participate in a virtual world, there is what Stanton describes as “a contract between developer and player”. “As a player, I agree to be able to do whatever I want in the developer world by their rules,” he says. “But once that contract is terminated and I don’t feel comfortable anymore, the company’s obligation is to get the player back to wherever he wants and back to feeling good.”
The question is: Who is responsible for ensuring the convenience of users? Meta, for example, says it gives users access to tools to keep them safe, effectively shifting responsibility on them.
“We want everyone at Horizon Worlds to have a positive experience with security tools that are easy to find – and a user never goes wrong if they don’t use all the features we offer,” said Christina Milian, a spokeswoman for Meta. “We will continue to improve our user interface and better understand how people use our tools so that users can report things easily and reliably. Our goal is to make Horizon Worlds safe, and we are committed to doing that.”
Milian said users must go through a qualification process before joining Horizon Worlds that teaches them how to launch the Safe Zone. She also said that regular reminders are uploaded to screens and posters inside Horizon Worlds.
But the fact that the victim groping the Meta did not think about using the Safe Zone or was not able to access it is a reality accurately The problem, Cross says. “The structural question is the big issue for me,” she says. “Generally, when companies deal with online abuse, their solution is to outsource the user and say, ‘Here, we’re giving you the ability to take care of yourselves.'”
This is unfair and useless. Safety should be easy and accessible, and there are plenty of ideas to make that possible. For Stanton, all it takes is some kind of universal signal in VR — perhaps a Quivr V gesture — that can convey to psychics that something is amiss. Fox wonders if automatic personal distance will help unless two people agree to be closer. Cross believes that it would be helpful for training sessions to clearly set standards that mirror those in ordinary life: “In the real world, you wouldn’t randomly touch a person, and you have to transfer that into the virtual world.”
Until we discover the task of protecting users, one of the key steps toward a safer virtual world is to punish abusers, who are often error-free and remain eligible to share online even after their behavior becomes known. “We need deterrents,” Fox says. This means making sure bad actors are found and suspended or banned. (Milian dead said”[doesn’t] Sharing details about individual cases “when asked about what happened to the alleged man.)
Stanton regrets not paying more for the industry-wide adoption of the force gesture and failing to speak more about the Bellamere touchdown incident. “It was a missed opportunity,” he says. “We could have avoided this accident in Meta.”
If anything is clear, it is this: No one is clearly responsible for the rights and safety of those who participate anywhere online, let alone in virtual worlds. Until something changes, the metaverse will remain a dangerous and problematic space.