Harassment in virtual reality

As the gaming world advances, women are faced with online threats that have previously encountered only offline. Players and producers are pondering how to remedy this.

Crossing over with a snow-covered fortress, with a bow and arrows that eliminated other zombies, Jordan Belamire felt invincible – until someone named BigBro442 did not find it appropriate to touch her breast vigorously, making her feel like another powerless woman. “. When I started running away, he chased after me, doing moves within my chest – Jordan described Medium on the game incident called QuiVR, taking place in virtual reality. “He disappeared so much that he even wandered my virtual crotch and started rubbing it.”

Sexual harassment has been present in the online gaming world since the onset of the Internet. Until recently, however, this violence was confined to the verbal and visual spheres. But since virtual reality (VR) technology has so immersed players in it, the boundary between our real and virtual bodies begins to blur. So will the world we build online be equally unfriendly to women as the real world? And what do we do when using in the virtual world will be just as painful as a real physical attack?

Over the past 20 years, American writer Julian Dibbell has been very convincing in describing the emotional effects of rape “that took place in the text space of the game called LambdaMOO. That rape “was that someone had broken access codes to the operating system and began to describe the sexual acts in which the avatars of other users were to take part. There was no touching of bodies, “Dibbell later wrote in Village Voice. And yet, in the eyes of victims, the harm was real: the tears of the experienced trauma flowed through her face – a fact that should have been sufficiently proven that the emotional content of these words was not mere play. ”

“If you identify yourself with your avatar and present yourself in a genuine way, then you feel like being raped,” says Jesse Fox, a professor at Ohio State University who studies the social implications of virtual worlds. – There is no difference between the situation when someone is harassing you in an email sent to you for work and a chat in the chat room.

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Fox warns that virtual reality is still creating new threats. – What is characteristic of virtual environments is the increased immersion level of the player. Whether someone is beating you in the real world or in the virtual world, the visual stimuli will be the same: you will see it, “warns the researcher. – This will happen to your body. The similarity to real life will only make you feel even more harmed.

What’s more, pincing in virtual space is accompanied by an additional shock: this kind of incident destroys the sense of immersion in the virtual world. Belamire claims that the virtual harassment resembled the real harassment she had experienced twice before. “The trauma that was associated with it was similar every time,” she told the Guardian. – The shock I suffered from online and offline wiping was the same. You are wondering what kind of person is prepared to behave in such a way and you are disgusted with what you have done.

The ability of users of virtual reality to harm each other raises ethical and legal dilemmas. Mark Methenitis, a lawyer who watches closely with video game regulations, thinks that society is not yet ready to penalize virtual attacks. “To identify sexual assault or rape, you always need to show some type of physical contact,” she observes. – Although I agree that in virtual reality you can experience something similar, it is considered easy to challenge the recognition of such an act as a real attack.

– Only when we reach the stage where players will experience sensory sensations – as in Matriks – we will speak a kind of breakthrough, because then what we experience in virtual reality will be much more real than before – predicts Methenitis. “But this change is just waiting for us somewhere in the technological ether.

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Experiments with haptic technology – vest that allow players to feel when they are kicked or punched – let us assume that the technological ether will soon surprise us. “The harshness with which companies build haptic spaces increases the risk that women will be physically and virtually attacked – which would be unbelievably depressing,” warns Fox.

But if the virtual worlds can get into the same wickedness as in real life, then online solutions are available that do not exist in real life – like virtual shields or supermolecs.

So when the creators of QuiVR, Aaron Stanton and Jonathan Schenker, learned of the distress that Belamire encountered, they introduced modifications, so called. Personal bubble “, which they believe will secure players from online harassment. “I felt the irritation, frustration and helplessness that Belamire experienced,” Stanton says. “Imagining what had happened to her, putting herself in her place had left a lasting impression on me.

Then Stanton and Schenker began to wonder how to deal with the psychological consequences of harassment in virtual space. – In VR we ask the player to pass a large part of the control to the game itself. We ask him to forget that sometimes he doubts his own power, “notes Stanton. “I think that if we are expecting something from the player, then it is our responsibility to create safe conditions for the players.

Developers have come up with the idea of ​​a power gesture – the physical movement that a player can perform, which results in launching a personal bubble that gives the supermoc. “This is actively gaining strength – something that can be done to win the advantage,” Stanton explains.

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